World Europe First Look

Despite leaders' chiding, Europeans may think Trump is right about immigration, survey says

A recent survey asked Europeans from ten different countries whether they agreed with the statement 'All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped.'

A woman holds a picture of Jesus Christ during an anti immigration rally in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016.
Alik Keplicz/ AP
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A majority of Europeans would support measures similar to President Trump's temporary immigration ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, according to a recent survey conducted by Chatham House, a London-based foreign affairs think tank.

Mr. Trump's executive order, which was temporarily halted by a federal judge in Seattle, sparked waves of protests in the United States and abroad, with protestors' concerns echoing those of many European leaders and politicians. But despite the large numbers of protesters, the Chatham House survey may indicate that they could be in the minority.

The survey was given to 10,000 people from 10 different European countries, and found that in almost every state, a majority of those surveyed would support the statement, "All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped." 

While the research was conducted before the executive order was put in place in the United States, the researchers drew a parallel between the statement and the spirit of Trump's ban.

"There is evidence to suggest that both Trump and these radical right-wing parties reflect an underlying reservoir of public support," they noted.

Overall, 55 percent of Europeans surveyed agreed with the anti-Muslim immigration statement, and only 20 percent disagreed. The rest neither agreed nor disagreed.

This majority opinion stands in contrast to that of many European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she felt the need to explain "the United Nations Refugee Convention to the president in a phone call," as the study notes, and French President François Hollande, who said he told Trump that "the ongoing fight to defend our democracy will be effective only if we sign up to respect to the founding principles and, in particular, the welcoming of refugees."

But many mainstream European leaders like Mr. Hollande and Dr. Merkel have begun to feel the heat in recent years as anti-immigration sentiments and economic woes fuel the rise of far-right populism across Europe. Trump's unexpected anti-establishment victory in the US in November put many leaders in the EU on the defensive, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in December:

Political disaffection has been a long, slow-burning fuse in a Europe still feeling the effects of the financial crisis. Few citizens feel any emotional attachment to remote European Union government agencies, and many are anxious about how the arrival of a million-plus refugees will change their continent.

The EU’s internationalist ideals are in danger of foundering on the rock of nativist sentiment, bolstered by fear of Islamist terrorism and uncontrolled globalization. As voters prepare to go to the polls in France, the Netherlands, and Germany next year to choose new governments, the rising anti-establishment mood would be familiar to Americans.

“There are clearly similar trends,” says Sheri Berman, an expert in European history at Barnard College in New York. “Factors motivating people to vote for Trump are motivating populists elsewhere, too. People who are very, very unhappy with the status quo are willing to try new things.”

The recent survey results could spell bad news for establishment eurozone politicians still reeling from unexpected anti-EU victories such as the Brexit vote last year, which was also driven in part by immigration fears. Britain, however, was one of only two countries surveyed where approval for the anti-Muslim immigration statement fell below the majority threshold, with only 47 percent approval. Spain had the lowest agreement rate, at 41 percent, while the highest went to Poland, where the agreement rate stood at 71 percent.

In France, where establishment politics are under threat by the rise of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in polls for the upcoming presidential election, the approval for the statement stood at 61 percent. In Germany, where pro-refugee Merkel will try to win a fourth term in September, a tighter majority approving of the statement, at 53 percent, though only 19 percent of Germans said they disagreed with the statement.

The survey also noted that people with lower levels of education tended to be more likely to agree with the statement. Older, retired survey-takers tended to support the statement as well, compared to survey-takers under the age of 30.

In every country surveyed, at least 38 percent of people "strongly agreed," and no country saw more than 32 percent disagree.

"Our results are striking and sobering," the researchers wrote about the survey. "They suggest that public opposition to any further migration from predominantly Muslim states is by no means confined to Trump's electorate in the US but is fairly widespread."