A majority of Europeans opposes any more immigration from Muslim-majority countries, according to a poll conducted before U.S. President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order temporarily curtailing immigration from seven countries in the Middle East and Horn of Africa.
The survey points to “significant and widespread levels of public anxiety in Europe over immigration from mainly Muslim states,” say analysts at Chatham House, the British research organization. The survey found that most people across the 10 European Union countries polled want to stop all future immigration from Muslim-majority countries.
Chatham House found opposition to Muslim immigration is more intense among the retired and older Europeans, while those under 30 years old are significantly less opposed. There are also divides in opinion when it comes to education levels: respondents who only completed high school were 59 percent opposed to further Muslim immigration, while less than half of college graduates favored curbs.
Those living in rural areas are more likely to want a halt to further Muslim migration than those living in cities. The age, location and education breakdown in the poll mirror the same divisions present with Brexit, Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union.
‘Underlying’ anti-immigration support
Overall, across all 10 of the European countries surveyed, an average of 55 percent want all further migration from mainly Muslim countries stopped; 25 percent neither agree nor disagree about curbs and 20 percent disagreed with a ban. Majorities in all but two of the 10 states agreed on curbs, ranging from 71 percent in Poland, 65 percent in Austria, 53 percent in Germany and 51 percent in Italy to 47 percent in Britain and 41 percent in Spain.
In no country did the percentage who disagreed with a ban surpass 32 percent. With the exception of Poland, the countries surveyed have either been at the center of the refugee crisis or suffered recent terrorist attacks.
The researchers — Matthew Goodwin and Thomas Raines, who are analysts at Chatham House, and David Cutts, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham — say the poll shows that there is “an underlying reservoir of public support” for Europe’s anti-immigrant alt-right parties.
The Chatham House poll comes as mainstream politicians prepare for possibly epoch-changing elections later this year. Germany, France, the Netherlands, and possibly Italy will hold elections in 2017 and in all of them, far-right parties are gaining ground and predicting electoral breakthroughs, buoyed by Trump’s upset election win in the United States.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front party, who is likely to make it to a runoff for the French presidency, has predicted 2017 will be “the year of the patriotic spring.”
“Our results are striking and sobering,” the Chatham House analysts said. “They suggest that public opposition to any further migration from predominantly Muslim states is by no means confined to Trump’s electorate in the U.S., but is fairly widespread.”
The urgent question for establishment parties “is whether or not those who support a ban on travel and immigration from Muslim-majority countries will lead nationalist parties to victory,” said John Lloyd, a former editor of Britain’s left wing New Statesman magazine and a fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.
“The brief experience of the Trump presidency is that success, at least temporarily, goes to those who stay on the hard side of immigration politics,” he argued.
Europe’s alt-right leaders have been energized by the change in leadership in Washington, and populist right-wing figures such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Britain’s Nigel Farage and Matteo Salvini of Italy have heaped praise on Trump’s travel ban, which is currently being contested in U.S. courts.
Mainstream European politicians have chided the U.S. president.
Earlier this week in Britain, the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, told lawmakers he did not want to invite Trump to speak to parliament when the president visits the country later this year, stating, “I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.”
Bercow’s comments prompted a political dispute in London, with Conservative lawmakers accusing him of insulting Britain’s most important ally.
The Chatham House analysts note that their survey is in line with other broad-based polls in recent years of European attitudes to immigration. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey of 10 European countries found majorities had an unfavorable view of Muslims living in their country.