In this report, we assess the long- and short-term trends in public opinion concerning Europe, and consider the deeper issues – such as the economy, cultural change and trust in politics – that these trends might reflect or reveal.

Euroscepticism is on the rise. Whether it is seen in decreasing levels of trust in Europe or belief in its virtues, or in an increasing desire to leave the European project behind altogether, public opinion seems to be hardening across the continent, including in the UK. Given the serious implications of this shift for the future of an integrated European community, understanding the factors that underpin and drive these changes is of vital importance. Europe has evolved over the past 40 years, from common market to single market to union, and expanded its borders from western Europe into the former communist states of central and eastern Europe. What determined someone's support for Europe in the past may no longer apply now.

We consider the pattern of electoral support for populist anti-EU parties in recent European and national elections. This analysis highlights two crucial trends:

  • Euroscepticism has taken root even in the 'core EU' nations of western Europe.
  • The majority of voters with anti-EU attitudes still support mainstream parties, which means that efforts to focus attention on the supporters of populist parties like Ukip actually ignore the significant majority of voters who have negative opinions about the EU and European integration.

To consider the longer-term trends, we trace approval of EU membership against various factors, across Europe and in four case study countries: the UK, France, Denmark and the Netherlands. This analysis reveals that:

  • Middle class class voters over time have become more closely aligned with working class voters than upper class voters in terms of attitudes to Europe.
  • Educational attainment is a strong indicator of attitudes to Europe, with support for Europe remaining strong (or even just positive) only among graduates, especially in the UK.
  • Feeling that EU integration creates a level of 'cultural threat', in terms of loss of national identity, has intensified as a signal of Euroscepticism. Among the four case study countries, the UK is the most extreme outlier, with British people most likely to perceive cultural threat, and where those people are most negatively disposed towards the EU.

Finally, we test attitudes taken from a 2012 European survey of attitudes to EU integration against various factors, to determine which are the strongest predictors of Euroscepticism. The key findings are that:

  • There is a correlation between believing your key public services (health and schools) are deteriorating and holding anti-EU opinions, with the implication that austerity measures could be a contributing factor in rising levels of Euroscepticism.
  • Attitudes to immigration are strong predictors of Euroscepticism, especially in the UK, where 'cultural concerns about immigration' were identified as the strongest driver of all those we looked at across the four case study countries.
  • Attitudes to mainstream politics, expressed either as trust in political parties or satisfaction with national democracy, are also strong predictors of Euroscepticism. This also has profound implications for the future of European integration – not only does it imply increasing support for populist (non-mainstream) political parties, it also implies that mainstream parties may increasingly struggle to gain public support for their position in any future EU referendum.