The geography of EU discontent and the revenge of the places that don’t matter

Authors: Andres Rodriguez-Pose*, London School Of Economics, Lewis Dijkstra, European Commission, Hugo Poelman, European Commission
Topics: Economic Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Anti-Europeanism, antisystem voting, populism, economic decline, industrial decline, education, migration, European Union
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Diplomat Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the last decade the ascent of populism and antisystem votes in Europe has been relentless. Explanations of this rise have heavily relied on the individual characteristics of antisystem voters: older, working-class, male voters on low incomes and with few qualifications to cope with the challenges of a modern economy. Yet, there is also increasing evidence that the reaction may have been linked to an emergent geography of discontent and the revenge in the ballot box of the so-called “places that don’t matter” – areas that have suffered long-term economic and industrial decline. This paper maps for the first time the dimension of antisystem vote – assessed by votes to parties opposed to one of the most common populist scapegoats: European integration – in the last national election between 2013 and 2018 across more than 63,000 electoral districts in the EU28, before assessing the factors that explain the surge of anti-Europeanism. The results suggest that economic and industrial decline are key drivers of anti-European vote and, once these factors are taken into account, many of the purported determinants of the geography of discontent – with the exception of education – matter much less than expected.

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