Published: our working paper on 35 years of public opinion surveys and European social citizenship


Working paper 35 years of public opinion surveys and European social citizenship: What can we conclude?

EuSocialCit members Gianna Eick, Marius Busemeyer and Brian Burgoon have published a working paper entitled 35 years of public opinion surveys and European social citizenship: What can we conclude?

What type of European social citizenship does the public across the European Union (EU) prefer on the national- and EU-levels? This paper empirically investigates the development of public opinion towards European social citizenship from 1985 to the present from a birds-eye perspective. The paper summarizes the large literature on welfare attitudes, adds new empirical evidence and points towards potential future research areas. To do that, we will review, consolidate and valorise existing large-scale quantitative research on the perceptions, attitudes and preferences of EU citizens concerning social rights. It does so by drawing on and expanding a newly-compiled database, the Comparative Social Citizenship Dataset (CSCD), that brings together existing country-year macro data on policies, regulations, laws, social, economic and political conditions relevant to social rights, as well as public opinion data on these matters. Based on analyses of these CSCD measures, the paper focuses on painting a broad picture of a European social citizenship model from the perspective of public opinion, i.e. individual citizens’ perceptions and preferences.

First, the paper identifies critical perceptions, attitudes and preferences related to the future of European social citizenship. The European public shows overall high and relatively stable levels of support for more government redistribution from 1985 to the present, not only in general but also across different policy fields, such as education, employment and family policies. Particularly in countries with higher levels of exposure to social risks, such as income inequality or unemployment, public opinion is favourable towards more government redistribution – a pattern suggesting associations between institutional arrangements and public opinion. The results also demonstrate that many EU citizens generally support a stronger involvement of the EU in social policy matters, including sub-fields such as education, employment and family policy arrangements.

Second, the paper explores the convergence versus divergence of public opinion on social citizenship across and within EU member states from 1985 to the present. Our analysis reveals some (upward and downward) convergence trends across countries and time in attitudes and preferences, which might indicate the emergence of a public support base for a more comprehensive European welfare state model. These trends were reinforced during the post-crisis years after 2007/2008 (financial crisis) and, potentially, through the development and establishment of the social pillar of European integration in the 2010s. However, the convergence trends vary across different policy fields. While social investment policies, such as education or Active Labour Market Policies, enjoy increasing levels of support, we see opposite trends for unemployment benefits. This may be explained by changes in European welfare states that placed greater emphasis on individual responsibilities and social investment policies. Related to the overall convergence trend within EU member states, some socio-economic cleavages are declining over time, particularly educational cleavages. This could signal a broader coalition in support of more social policy involvement of the EU, possibly because of the stark increase of employment risks across different groups.

To sum up, the patterns presented here suggest that the CSCD is a valuable data source for exploring the public opinion on social citizenship. Still, more quantitative and qualitative data, especially on policy trade-offs, is needed to inform future EU policy-making. This is an issue that will be further explored in later papers of this Work Package. We find an overall emerging European welfare solidarity across and within EU member states and growing public support of a European welfare state model. Importantly, the paper demonstrates that such preferences increase in times of rising social risks and crises, which has important implications for social citizenship during and after the current Covid-19 pandemic.