Mass Public Support for the European Union: Diffuse or Specific in Its Character?

Zuzana Ringlerova, Purdue University


The 2008 economic crisis and the Eurozone crisis gave rise to more voices challenging the European Union (EU), which in turn led to concerns about the resilience of the EU’s popular legitimacy. In times of crisis, democratic political regimes draw legitimacy from diffuse political support from their citizens. Is there, however, diffuse support for the European Union? The existing literature provides an ambiguous answer to this question. I this thesis, I aim to address this shortcoming. My approach to the study of political support is novel in three ways: 1) While the existing literature mostly studies political support from a cross-sectional point of view, I take a novel - longitudinal - view of political support. I find that public support for the EU was highly stable at the individual level over the time of the 2008 economic crisis. This shows that political support for the EU is highly resilient to events such as an economic crisis. 2) I explore how much early life political socialization affects stability of political support in later life. Existing literature suggests that early life political socialization plays some role. I take an advantage of the EU's expanding geographical scope in order to provide a better answer to the question about the influence of early life political socialization on resilience of political support. I find that experiencing early life political socialization within the EU does not influence the level of diffuse support in later life. 3) I examine stability of political support for the EU using an experiment. I find that the structure of political support for the EU resembles the structure of political support in nation-states: support for incumbents is least diffuse, support for the institutions of the political regime is diffuse to a moderate extent, and support for the political community is most diffuse. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that there is a substantial degree of resilience in mass public support for the EU. This finding implies that in times of crisis mass public support constitutes a source of stability for the European Union.




McCann, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political science

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