Czech Republic Hungary News Poland Politics & International Slovakia

Central Europeans (may) head to the polls this month. But why?

Budapest, Hungary – Feeling of civic duty, social discontent, political frustration and anger, yearning for change… There are many reasons to vote, as the most recent Eurobarometer survey demonstrates. central europeans

As citizens all across the EU prepare to head to the polls in the European Parliament elections, let’s take a look at why do Europeans vote? And how do Central Europeans compare?

Why do Europeans vote?

On average, EU respondents said they would mainly go vote out of civic duty and to have a say in the EU-decision making process: ‘it is their duty as a citizen’ (44% of respondents), ‘they usually vote in political elections’ (28%), ‘they feel European’ (26%), ‘they can change things by voting’ (23%) or ‘they want to support the EU’ (22%).

Next came the negative reasons, driven by anger, discontent or domestic purposes: many Europeans stated they would vote to ‘support their country’s government’ (18%), to ‘express dissatisfaction with their government’ (17%), to ‘express discontent about their life situation’ (14%) or ‘dissatisfaction with the EU’ (14%). Those who identify themselves as the least likely to vote usually report much higher rates of these negative motivations, compared to those more likely to vote.

In a sad turn of events, and telling illustration of the lack of interest in and visibility of the European campaign, only 6% of respondents say that ‘the information they received during the campaign has persuaded them to vote’.

NB: Respondents of the survey could give up to four answers.

The main campaign topics for EU citizens

How do Central Europeans compare?

Now, how do citizens from the Visegrad Group compare in that regard?

The most Eurosceptic nation in the bloc, Czechs were most likely to go vote to support a political party (29%, second highest rate in the EU), express dissatisfaction with the EU (24%, highest rate in the EU) and support the Czech government (23%). The Czech Republic also reported, by far, the lowest rate in the EU of people feeling it’s their duty as a citizen (22%) and declaring they feel like an EU citizen (16%). Only 9% of Czechs said they would go vote to support the EU, while 12% believe their vote can change things.

Slovakia, which holds the title for the lowest turnout in the last 2014 European Parliament elections, first cites their duty as a citizen (34%, although second lowest rate throughout the EU after Czechs), and also appear to head to the polls to support a specific candidate (27%, second highest rate in Europe). The EU’s abstaining champions, Slovaks report the lowest rate of people saying ‘they usually vote in political elections’ (17%).

In Poland, respondents mainly said they would vote out of civic duty (39%) and because they usually vote in European elections (25%). Illustration of how domestic politics are overshadowing the European elections, nearly one fourth of Polish respondents (24% and 23% respectively) said they would vote to support the government and to support a political party, higher rates than in most European countries.

The results in Hungary are quite similar to those in Poland: most Hungarians would go vote because it’s their duty as a citizen (36%), they usually vote in political elections (27%) and to support the government (24%, second highest rate in the EU).

Interestingly, more than a quarter of Hungarians also declare they’d vote because they feel like an EU citizen (26%), while also reporting the highest rate of people (14%, tied with Austrians) who say that the information they received during the campaign – largely focused on immigration and the alleged threat presented by refugees – has persuaded them to vote.

On the other hand, the reasons for abstaining from voting remain quite consistent throughout the EU and within the V4, with most abstaining voters saying their vote won’t change anything or that they distrust the political system.

The immigration topic is becoming less and less of a topic in most EU member states

What are the main campaign topics for European voters?

At the EU level, voters believe that the main campaign topics that should be addressed relate to the economy and growth (50% of respondents) and the fight against youth unemployment (49%).

The highly-divisive issue of immigration is seen as much less important than six months ago (44%, a 6 point drop since 2018) in almost every EU country, and is followed by concerns regarding climate change and environmental protection (43%) and the fight against terrorism (41%) as the main campaign issues.

What are the main concerns for Central Europeans?

In Central Europe, the lines of demarcations are pretty clear: in short, Czechs and Hungarians are worried about immigration, Slovaks about food safety and consumer protection and Poles about the economy.

In the Czech Republic, immigration comes as the main campaign topic (54%, but a 10 point drop since September 2018) as well as the fight against terrorism (54%, the single highest rate in the EU). The protection of the EU’s external borders (47%) and consumer protection and food safety (41%) are also seen as significant issues to address. Czechs rank among the lasts when it comes to concerns regarding the economy, youth unemployment, climate change and human rights.

Hungarians, who mostly hold negative views on the issue of extra-EU immigration and refugees, believe the main campaign topics should be immigration (55%), the economic situation (51%) and the fight against terrorism (38%). Hungarian voters are also concerned about youth unemployment (39%), the protection of external borders (39%, the highest rate in the EU), as well as matters pertaining to the European security and defense policy (38%).

Slovaks’ campaign concerns are slightly different than their Czech and Hungarian neighbours: Slovakia is the only EU country where consumer protection and food safety comes first (48%, the highest rate tied with Croatia), a clear consequence of the recent scandals regarding dual food quality throughout the EU. The economy (47%), immigration (47%) and youth unemployment (46%) are also on top of their list.

And finally, Poles are particularly concerned about growth and economy (48%), by far the most cited campaign topic, well ahead of other key issues like the fight against terrorism (38%), security and defense policy (36%) and the promotion of human rights and democracy (33%). On the other hand, Poland is not the least concerned about immigration (28%, the second lowest rate in the EU after Romania) – a recent survey highlighted how Central and Eastern European countries were more worried about emigration, rather than immigration. Nor about climate change and the need to protect the environment (25%, second lowest rate after Bulgaria).