Despite what Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini and Steve Bannon have said, the EU elections will not be a referendum on migration. While migration is important for some voters, it is not the only battleground for votes ahead of the European Parliament elections, according to a major new poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). The think-tank’s poll finds that emigration and domestic issues, such as corruption, the cost of living, health, housing, and unemployment, also feature prominently among voters.

Corruption is more worrying than immigration

The poll, carried out by YouGov across 14 European Union (EU) member states covering 80% of the seats in the European Parliament, provides a snapshot of opinion across major issues, such as security, migration, climate change, living standards and national economic performance. Its findings challenge the view of anti-European leaders such as Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini, as well as pro-Europeans like Emmanuel Macron, that the forthcoming elections will be fought on a single issue: migration.

Among its top lines, the new poll reveals that domestic subjects, such as corruption, housing, health, pensions and unemployment, rank alongside or above immigration in many member states, and that, in Western Europe, voters are generally supportive of refugee resettlement efforts. It also suggests that, despite anti-European efforts to frame the European Parliament elections as a referendum on migration, voters in the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain are more concerned about people leaving their country than coming in.

On other issues, such as economic performance and climate change, the poll shows that voters are generally pessimistic about the strength of their national economies, and that there are majorities in 13 of the 14 polled member states for the introduction of greater protections for the environment – even at the cost of impacting economic growth.

The battle for a united Europe

Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said:

“The EU elections have been sold as a battleground over the heart of Europe. Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini and Steve Bannon have tried to turn the election into a referendum on migration, mobilising a sovereigntist coalition to dismantle the EU from inside. The findings from this poll should give heart to pro-Europeans, and show that there are still votes to be won on major issues such as climate change, healthcare, housing, and living standards. They will be making a strategic blunder if they accept the framing of the anti-European parties that this election will be won or lost on migration alone. To mobilise these voter constituencies, though, pro-European parties need to provide a serious and honest assessment of the EU’s failings. They must be international and outward-looking reformers, who will speak and act for Europe’s moderate majority.”

At a pan-European level, the polling finds that:

  1. Islamic radicalism is widely identified as the single-biggest threat to the future of Europe.
  2. There are majorities, in every member state, for better protecting Europe’s borders – with voters in Austria (80%), the Czech Republic (84%), Greece (89%) and Romania (77%) most supportive of this statement.
  3. Immigration is a recurring issue but is not always among the two dominant subjects for voters in member states.
  4. Health, housing, unemployment, and living costs are standout issues in many countries – with notable voter traction in the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Spain, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Romania.

  5. In Spain and Italy, unemployment, rather than immigration, is a primary issue for voters – with almost half of those polled in each country (42% and 47%) identifying it as their chief concern.
  6. The four countries that identified immigration as a lead issue were: Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden.
  7. In many countries, such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain, voters are more concerned by emigration than immigration.
  8. There is a general consensus, in Western Europe, that refugees should be more fairly distributed across member states – with the key countries affected by the 2015 migration crisis, such as Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden, most supportive of this policy proposal.

  9. Corruption is cited as a major domestic issue in Greece (by 78% of voters), Hungary (by 72% of voters), Italy (by 70% of voters), Slovakia (by 68% of voters), Spain (by 74% of voters) and Romania (by 69% of voters).
  10. There are majorities in each member states to issue stiffer sentences to people who break the law.
  11. In every Member State, apart from Denmark and Germany, a minority of voters think their economy is performing well.
  12. Voters in Greece, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Spain are most pessimistic about the strength of their national economy.
  13. Voters in every member state, save Denmark and Sweden, believe that big business is taking advantage of ordinary working people.
  14. In 13 of the 14 polled member states, climate change is seen as a major threat that should take priority over other issues – even to the point of impacting national economic growth

Spain is different: fearing emigration, not immigration

At a national-level, it shows that:

  1. Spanish voters are more concerned about people leaving their country (34%) than coming in (19%).
  2. Almost two thirds of voters (63%) would like to see their national government take steps to prevent people leaving the country for long periods of time – with this figure rising to 73% among voters aged 55 and upwards.
  3. 49% of Spanish voters think immigration has had an adverse impact on jobs and wages
  4. Just under a third (32%) of Spanish voters believe migration has had a negative impact on national identity
  5. 69% of voters think the government should give more economic help to developing regions to grow their economy and discourage immigration
  6. 42% of Spanish voters think unemployment is one of the two most important political issues facing the country – along with corruption (39%) far higher than any other issue.
  7. 73% of Spanish voters believe law and order would be better enforced with stiffer sentences.
  8. A majority of voters in Spain feel too many people take advantage of the country’s welfare system
  9. 60% of voters would like to see protection of the environment given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth
  10. 74% of Spanish voters see corruption as a major issue in their country

Susi Dennison, Senior Fellow and Director of the European Power programme at ECFR, said:

“Pro-European parties should see clearly in this data that there are different elections to fight in each member state, and a significant proportion of the mobilised electorate who want to hear good arguments on these issues. In Germany, Austria and Greece, voters are as – or more – worried about the effect of the rise of nationalism on Europe than migration. The level of pessimism among European voters shows that pro-Europeans cannot afford to allow the anti-parties to frame them as defenders of the status quo. More of the same is not a good message on any of the salient issues.”