I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste. William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30
- A majority of the European public can be classified as nostalgic. 67 percent think that the world used to be a better place.
- Feelings of nostalgia are most pronounced among Italian respondents and least among Polish respondents. 77 percent of Italians think that the world used to be a better place, while 59 percent of Poles think the same.
- More or less equal shares of French, German, and Spanish respondents harbour feelings of nostalgia. 65 percent of the French, 61 percent of Germans, and 64 percent of Spaniards think that the world used to be better.
- Nostalgia is least pronounced among younger respondents, those below 35 years of age.
- Men are more likely to be nostalgic than women, 53 versus 47 percent respectively.
- The majority of those (53 percent) who feel nostalgic place themselves on the right of the political spectrum, while those who do not feel nostalgia (58 percent) place themselves more on the left.
- 78 percent of those who feel nostalgic think that recent immigrants do not want to fit into society, while 63 percent of those who do not feel nostalgic think the same.
- 53 percent of those who feel nostalgic think that immigrants take away the jobs of natives, while only 30 percent of those who do not feel nostalgic think the same.
- Those who feel nostalgic do not differ much from their non-nostalgic counterparts when it comes to their views on Europe -- with one exception. While a large majority of those who are not nostalgic want to remain in the EU (82 percent), a lesser share of those who feel nostalgic do (67 percent).
- Fighting terrorism is the biggest priority for those who feel nostalgic (60 percent), followed by managing migration (51 percent). Only 47 percent of those who are not nostalgic think that terrorism should be the top political priority in the future, followed by 43 percent who say that migration should be.
- Who is nostalgic?
- Where do people who feel nostalgic place themselves on a left-right political spectrum?
- What policies do people who feel nostalgic support?
This report answers these questions by presenting evidence based on a survey conducted in July 2018 in which we interviewed over 10,000 EU citizens. We present two sets of evidence. One set is based on a sample capturing public opinion in the EU28, and the other completes the picture by focusing more in-depth on respondents from the five largest member states in terms of population: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain.
The report is organized into five parts. First, we provide a short introduction to the concept of nostalgia and introduce our measurement of it. Second, we examine the degree to which the European public displays feelings of nostalgia and which socio-demographic profile characterizes them. Third, we explore the ideological left-right profile of those interviewed about nostalgia. Fourth, we contrast the policy positions and priorities of those who feel nostalgic with those who do not. Finally, we conclude by highlighting the most fruitful political responses to increasing feelings of nostalgia and the nostalgic political frames employed by populist and far-right and far-left political entrepreneurs.
 Note that due to our online sampling methodology our survey only includes respondents between 16 and 65 years old.
- Immigrants take jobs away from natives.
- Recent immigrants don't want to fit into society.
- Immigration is good for the economy.
- Immigrants enrich the cultural life of the nation.
The results suggest that those who think that the world used to be a better place are more likely to hold more negative views about immigration. Among those who feel nostalgic, 53 percent agree with the statement that “immigrants take away jobs from natives” and 78 percent agree with the statement that “recent immigrants don't want to fit into society”. These shares are considerably lower among those who do not feel nostalgic, 30 versus 63 percent respectively. A large majority, over 60 percent of those who do not feel nostalgic agree with the statements that “immigration is good for the economy” and “immigrants enrich the cultural life of the nation”, while only 45 and 50 percent of those who do feel nostalgic agree. Figure 6 aims to put these views about immigration in the context of views about other groups in society. The results are based on responses to a question asking which of the following six groups of people respondents do not wish to have as their neighbours:
- gays or lesbians;
- people with a different religion;
- people who speak a different language;
- families with children;
The results reaffirm our previous impression that people who feel nostalgic are more wary of immigrants: 27 percent of them do not wish to have them as neighbours, while only 15 percent of those who do not feel nostalgic are of the same opinion. Among those who feel nostalgic, opposition towards immigrants as neighbours is the most pronounced compared to negative feelings towards any of the other groups. This is not the case among those who do not feel nostalgic. They are most strongly opposed to having smokers as their neighbours. The overall opposition towards immigrants as neighbours within our sample as a whole, is with less than 25 percent, not so high. It is important to keep in mind in this respect that respondents may want to give socially desirable answers to this question in order not to appear prejudiced. In a second step, we compare and contrast the EU attitudes and policy priorities of those who feel nostalgic versus those who do not. Figure 7 and Figure 8 provide this information. Figure 7 shows the share of respondents who wish their country to remain a member of the EU, wish to see more political and economic integration in Europe, want the EU to play a more active role on the world stage, want more EU involvement in border control, and think that EU citizens should be allowed to work and settle in other EU member states. Interestingly, the differences between those who feel nostalgic versus those who do not are much less pronounced when it comes to people’s EU preferences compared to their attitudes towards immigration or immigrants. The exception to this pattern is the share of those wishing to remain in the EU. The remain share is considerably lower among those who feel nostalgic compared to those who do not feel nostalgic, 67 versus 82 percent respectively. Finally, Figure 8 provides an overview of what people think the policy priorities of the EU should be in the future. The top policy priority of those who feel nostalgic is the fight against terrorism. 60 percent of those who feel nostalgic think that fighting terrorism should be the most important policy goal that the EU should pursue in the coming years. The second most important policy priority is the management of migration. Interestingly, as in our previous report on globalization fears, feelings of nostalgia coincide with an increased concern about migration and terrorism. For those who do not feel nostalgic, securing peace and protecting citizens’ rights are almost equally important compared to fighting terrorism. Taken together, the findings in Figures 5 and 6, as well as 7 and 8, suggest that the policy preferences of those who feel nostalgic differ most strongly from those who do not feel nostalgic when it comes to migration and immigration.
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This report presents an overview of a study conducted by Dalia Research in July 2018 on public opinion across 28 EU Member States. The sample of n=10.885 was drawn across all 28 EU Member States, taking into account current population distributions with regard to age (14-65 years), gender and region/country. In order to obtain census representative results, the data were weighted based upon the most recent Eurostat statistics. The target weighting variables were age, gender, level of education (as defined by ISCED (2011) levels 0-2, 3-4, and 5-8), and degree of urbanization (rural and urban). An iterative algorithm was used to identify the optimal combination of weighting variables based on sample composition within each country. An estimation of the overall design effect based on the distribution of weights was calculated at 1.46 at the global level. Calculated for a sample of this size and considering the design-effect, the margin of error would be +/-1.1 % at a confidence level of 95 %.