Book chapter

Public Opinion in European Union Politics (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Public contestation regarding European integration is becoming increasingly important for the future of the European project. While traditionally European Union (EU) scholars deemed public opinion of minor importance for the process of European integration, public support and scepticism is now seen as crucial for the survival of the European project. One important reason for this change in perspective is the increasing politicization of the EU in domestic politics. In recent years, a burgeoning literature on public contestation concerning European integration has developed. Students of public opinion in the EU have primarily focused their attention on the explanations of fluctuations in support and scepticism. This work stresses both interest- and identity-based explanations showing that support for European integration increases with skill levels and more inclusive identities. Less attention has been given to the conceptualization of the precise nature of public opinion and its role in EU politics. When it comes to the politicization of European integration and its effects on public opinion, many scholarly contributions have aimed to explore the conditions under which EU attitudes affect voting behavior in elections and referendums. Yet, the way in which public opinion affects policy making and responsiveness at the EU level has received much less scholarly attention. This suggests that more work needs to be undertaken to understand the conditions under which public contestation of the EU constrains the room to maneuver of domestic and European elites at the EU level, and the extent to which it poses a challenge to, or opportunity for, further integrative steps in Europe. Only by gaining a better understanding about the ways public opinion limits the actions of domestic and European elites or not at the EU level, will scholars be able to make predictions about how public opinion might affect the future of the European project.