In one of its latest reports, The power of the past – How nostalgia shapes European public opinion, the Bertelsmann foundation analysed the European electoral landscape through the lenses of the concept of “nostalgia”. Far from being a sentiment concerning the individuals only, nostalgia is a “political tool” as well, the report explains.
Researchers argue that both leaders on the far-right and far-left, such as Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, Sarah Wagenknecht and Bernie Sanders “exploited feelings of nostalgia” to increase their electoral bases.
The analysis therefore investigates:
- Who are nostalgic persons across Europe?
- Where do nostalgic people place themselves on a left-right political spectrum?
- What do nostalgic electorates support in terms of policy options?
The results of the report are based on a representative survey conducted in July 2018. The datasets provide information about the European Union as a whole, and about the five largest countries in terms of population: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain. Overall, 10,885 EU citizens were involved in the study.
How did researchers catch the “degree of nostalgia” among interviewees? Respondents were given four options to reply to the single statement: “The world used to be a much better place”. Answer categories included “completely agree”, “agree”, “disagree”, and “completely disagree”. Interviewees opting for one of the first two answers were considered “nostalgic”, and vice-versa.
Overall, 67 percent of EU citizens argue that the “world used to be a better place”. Whereas France, Germany, and Spain feature similar proportions (65, 61, and 64 are nostalgic), Italy stands out as the most nostalgic country. Contrarily, Poland appears to be the most future-oriented country, so to speak.
Concerning the distribution of nostalgic and non-nostalgic persons by age cohorts, data show that nostalgia increases along with age until a specific threshold, namely the 36-45 cohort. After that, there seems to be little difference between relatively older and younger individuals. Crucially, the report points at Italy as the country characterised by the highest level of nostalgia among 16-25 old-persons.