A new survey released by London-based think tank, Chatham House, found that majorities in eight European countries supported a ban on immigration from Muslim countries, mirroring far-right European political support for Donald Trump’s Muslim ban in the United States.
The poll, published on February 7, was conducted before Trump’s executive order was issued and asked 10,000 Europeans in eight countries whether they supported the idea of banning Muslim immigrants.
According to the survey, an average of fifty-five percent of participants agreed with instituting a ban, with Poles registering the highest proportion in favor at seventy-one percent; Muslims constitute just 0.3 percent of Poland’s population. Sixty-five percent supported the ban in Austria, sixty-one percent in France, fifty-eight percent in Greece, and fifty-three percent in Germany. Large minorities in the UK and Spain also supported a ban, at forty-seven and forty-one percent respectively.
“Our results are striking and sobering,” researchers from Chatham House 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 US but is fairly widespread.”
Opposition to Muslim immigrants was more intense among the retired, elderly, and rural dwellers, while divisions also seemed to correlate with educational levels. Fifty-nine percent of those with secondary-education and below supported the ban, compared to forty-nine percent with university degrees. Strikingly, the overall percentage of respondents who disagreed with the ban averaged only twenty percent.
The poll reveals a disquieting normalization of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, and is a worrying harbinger for the resurgence of far-right populist parties, whose anti-immigrant policies have clear public support. Perpetual anxiety over immigration to Europe has been ruthlessly exploited by far-right populists, who have seized upon the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks to fuel public hostility towards Muslims for political gain.
These communities, whether citizens or refugees fleeing conflict, have been cynically misrepresented as an ominous threat to the security, economy, and culture of Europe. Polls last year, for example, showed that European publics vastly overestimate the Muslim population in their countries. In France, respondents estimated that thirty-one percent of the population was Muslim, compared to the actual number of 7.5 percent.
In another poll, half of respondents in eight out of ten European countries believed that Muslim refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism and take away jobs and social benefits. Such views tacitly drive, and legitimize, hate crimes, which soared in Britain, for example, following the divisive EU referendum last year.
While the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a suspension of Trump’s Muslim ban last week, majority support for similar policies in Europe may well translate into electoral wins in 2017 for far-right parties, with elections coming up in Holland, Germany, and France. As such, Europe faces a potentially irreversible shift to illiberalism, and with it, the erosion of democratic pluralism and equality.