In Europe, a clear political divide between urban and rural areas is increasingly noticeable. Therefore, it appears that European political polarization in the twenty-first century is strongly linked to the place of residence of the citizen. This is according to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge.
It is based on data collected since the beginning of this century over more than a decade and a half in thirty European countries – the member states of the European Union plus Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. According to the researchers, this finding indicates that European democracy faces a major challenge.
British scientists noticed this in Europe A true geography of disappointment can be painted. “Political divisions across the European continent are fueled by disillusionment and distrust of democracy,” said study leader Michael Kenny, professor of political science at Cambridge University.
This divide also spreads from major urban centers to suburbs, smaller cities, and rural areas. Rural Europeans show the least confidence in their country’s current political system. On the other hand, they are clearly more likely to vote in elections than city dwellers.”
“Residents of suburbs, regional cities, and then the countryside, increasingly describe themselves as politically conservative,” the researchers explained. “This group is also vehemently opposed to immigration and the growing influence of the European Union, while urban dwellers in general show a more progressive attitude.”
However, the poorest rural areas do not appear to be the most disappointed. Residents of small towns and the countryside report higher levels of life satisfaction, while at the same time expressing dissatisfaction with democratic institutions.”
Researchers point to a deep geographic divide in European societies, and say it may lead to a resurgence of stark political divisions between urban and rural areas in the early 20th century.
“Europeans who live outside the major urban centers have less faith in politics,” says Michael Kenny. “The growing disillusionment in more rural areas has provided fertile ground for nationalist and populist parties and movements. This trend also appears to be continuing.”
“Regular politicians who hope to re-engage the residents of small towns and villages must provide economic opportunity, but also take action against the pervasive sense of detachment from prevailing politics and the changes that come with a more globalized economy.”
By contrast, opinions about the welfare state and trust in the police — two important components of the postwar conflict of words between left and right — did not identify any divisions between urban and rural areas, according to the researchers. Kenny suggests that “concerns about law and welfare may no longer be key to the geopolitics of Europe in the new populist era”.
Last year, a study by the University of Cambridge noted a global decline in satisfaction with democracy. The new research suggests that growing dissatisfaction is – in Europe at least – most acute in rural areas.
“The current patterns of political disillusionment have a clear geographic underpinning,” Kenney argues. “As disillusionment grows in Europe’s hinterlands, democratic politics risks being eroded from within by citizens who participate in elections, yet distrust the system and are drawn to populist anti-regime parties.”
Among the countries surveyed, France showed the largest gap in political attitudes between urban and rural areas. “Large cities such as Paris and Lyon are seen as highly globalized centers and are home to progressive populations, while small towns and rural areas are mostly populated by long-term immigrants and working-class indigenous peoples,” the researchers say.
“An aging population in small towns and villages, along with years of austerity measures, has put pressure on rural public services. However, these services are often central to the social ties necessary for a society to thrive.”
“The revival of these services could be key to narrowing the emerging political divisions between urban and rural populations across Europe.”
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