National over the European in Poland: Evidence from RECONNECT pre-election survey


As part of the RECONNECT project, between April 2 and April 22, 2019 the University of Vienna conducted an online survey with about 2,000 respondents in Poland as well as in 6 other EU countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain). The survey included extensive questions about people’s attitudes and behavioral intentions for the upcoming 2019 European Elections. In this short blog, we will look into some of the most interesting aspects of public opinion prior to the European Parliament (EP) election campaign. Our survey will again track these attitudes amongst the same respondents immediately after Election Day to test if voters change their mind after exposure to the ‘heat’ of the European election campaign.

by Marta Żerkowska Balas and James Wilhelm


The Campaign in Poland: Old Wine in Old Skins

The European election campaign in Poland appears to be ‘old wine in old skins’: media coverage of the European Union is scarce, and the European elections are treated by Polish political parties as primaries for the national parliamentary elections. The campaign so far has focused on domestic rather than European issues, with the few mentions of Europe in party manifestos focusing on strengthening the position of Poland within the EU (rather than on more general European issues). Heightened Polish influence is the objective of most Polish parties and coalitions, with disagreement only on the means to achieve this. Only Spring (Wiosna) – a rather small pro-European party running in the European elections for the first time – touches upon European issues more broadly.

In terms of public discourse, much attention has been recently devoted to the question of the relationship between the Church and the State in Poland – with a strong focus on pedophilia, due to the recent release of an undercover documentary by journalist Tomasz Sekielski. This issue has been presented as an axis of conflict between supporters and opponents of the governing party and opposition. Meanwhile, the two key players dominating the electoral contest, the Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) – of the political right – and the European Coalition (Koalicja Europejska) – a coalition of the political centre, focusing mainly on strengthening Poland’s position within the EU –  have made attempts to strengthen their own image and make inroads into rival constituencies. Despite this, the level of support between these two key players remains stable. So far, it appears that new issues appearing during the campaign are rather transient and entrench old cleavages rather than reshape them.

Issue Priorities at the Voter Level

Figure 1 provides a breakdown of the most important issues facing Poland today, according to the 2,000 eligible voters in Poland we surveyed prior to the start of the election campaign (interviewed between April 2 and April 18, 2019).[1] The issue of health care dominates the issue concerns of the Polish respondents we surveyed, with almost 20% selecting this as most important – suggesting that for Polish voters, the primary issue for voters ahead of the European Parliament election campaign is highly domestic in character. This focus on healthcare aligns respondents in Poland with those we surveyed in Hungary, for whom healthcare is also the main concern; and differentiates Polish respondents markedly from those in Germany and Denmark, for whom climate change tops the list of issue priorities, and Spain and Italy, where unemployment is clearly the dominant issue. Our Polish and French respondents share a concern with inequality in society; yet, whereas in France inequality is clearly the key issue (20%), it is of lesser concern in Poland (9%).

Also of importance to our sample of Polish respondents in the pre-campaign period are the issues of justice (13%) and economic growth (10%). It is noticeable that the often highly controversial issues of immigration (3%) and asylum rules and policy (1%) are less important amongst our Polish respondents than in many other countries where we ran the survey: namely France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Denmark – with Spain as the other notable exception. Thus, it seems that there is little foundation for these issues to become salient in the latter part of the election campaign in Poland.

Positivity towards European Integration

Figure 2 shows where our sample of Polish respondents placed themselves on a 0-10 point European unification scale, where 0 indicates that European unification has already gone too far, and 10 that it should be pushed further.[2] Most Polish respondents we surveyed agree that European unification “should be pushed further”, with 64% placing themselves towards this end of the scale, and a full 19% placing themselves at the farthest point, indicating strong support – in fact, this was the position most commonly chosen by our Polish respondents. This contrasts with just 20% of respondents who placed themselves towards the “already gone too far” end of the scale. Thus, the pre-campaign disposition of our Polish respondents towards European integration can be described as highly positive. Only the respondents we surveyed in Spain demonstrated clearly more pro-integration attitudes.

A Late European Debate Unlikely

Despite this, it is unlikely that the campaign will change direction on the final straight, with the local focus of the campaign – as a conflict between governing party and opposition – set to continue. Only a change in the intensity of this conflict seems likely (increased negative campaigning, more attention to emotional issues, etc.). In light of this, it seems unlikely that much attention will be devoted to European policy debates in the final week of the campaign.



[1] Question in English: “Now a question about the issues facing Poland today. Among the following, which do you think is the most important one? Please select one.” (Respondents presented the items listed in Figure 1). Question in Polish: “Teraz zapytamy o problemy, przed którymi stoi dziś Polska. Która spośród poniższych odpowiedzi jest Pana/Pani zdaniem najważniejsza? Prosimy wybrać tylko jedną odpowiedź.”

[2] Question in English: “Some say European unification should be pushed further. Others say it already has gone too far. What is your opinion? Please indicate your views using a scale from 0 to 10, where ‘0’ means unification “has already gone too far” and ’10’ means it “should be pushed further””. Question in Polish: “Niektórzy uważają, że Europa powinna się zjednoczyć jeszcze bardziej. Inni sądzą, że zjednoczenie Europy już zaszło za daleko. A jakie jest Pana(i) zdanie? Proszę wskazać Pana(i) poglądy korzystając ze skali od 0 do 10, na której 0 oznacza „zjednoczenie Europy już zaszło za daleko”, a 10 oznacza – „Europa powinna zjednoczyć się jeszcze bardziej””


This blog post has also appeared in the RECONNECT Blog.


Prof. Marta Żerkowska-Balas is Assistant Professor at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw. Dr. James Wilhelm (postdoc) is a specialist in the areas of public opinion, political psychology, voting behaviour, European studies, survey design and analysis, and experimental methods.



Figure 1: Most important issues facing Poland today, according to eligible voters in Poland (Notes: Unweighted data. Data collected between 2-18 April 2019. N=2,000.)
Figure 2: Attitudes towards European unification, according to eligible voters in Poland (Notes: Unweighted data. Data collected between 2-18 April 2019. N=2,000.)