UK Citizens Lack Simple, Objective Knowledge of the European Union

Research output: Working paperResearch

Since 2002 the Eurobarometer surveys of public opinion in the EU provide data of ‘objective knowledge of the European Union’ through a series of true or false responses to factual statements about the EU. These questions are generally very simple, for example, how many EU member states are there? Taken together these surveys provide us with over 2 million data points on objective knowledge of the European Union.

This data demonstrates that amongst older, larger member states surveyed UK citizens are the least knowledgeable, most incorrect, and most unable to answer questions on the EU. When asked three very simple questions about the EU during 2010-2016, 24% of UK respondents could answer three questions correctly, 17% could not answer any question correctly, and 45% answered at least one question ‘don’t know’. When asked simple questions about the EU during 2005-2010, 13% of UK respondents could answer three questions correctly, 30% could not answer any question correctly, and 60% answered at least one question ‘don’t know’. When asked the simplest question of how many EU member states are there? over the 14 year period 2002-2016, 46% of UK respondents could answer this question correctly.

Taking this evidence together, it is clear that in absolute terms UK respondents have very little objective knowledge of the EU. In relative terms compared to the EU average, UK respondents were 54-42% less likely to answer three questions correctly, they were 58-70% more likely to not answer any question correctly, and they were 30-33% more likely to answer at least one question ‘don’t know’.

The data leads to a further observation on UK objective knowledge of the EU. When asked a series of incorrect questions: ‘The President of the European Council is directly elected by European citizens’ (EBS 214); ‘A direct European tax will be created’ (EBS 214); ‘National citizenship will disappear’ (EBS 214); and ‘Most of the European budget is spent on administrative and personnel costs’ (EB65) UK respondents were far more likely to answer incorrectly that these were true. This is likely the result of disinformation in UK politics and media.

The data suggests that not only are UK respondents unable to answer simple questions about the EU, but that they are relatively more likely to answer incorrectly rather than admit they did not know, reflecting disinformation about the EU in the UK. This lack of simple, objective knowledge of the EU means there cannot and should not be a referendum on UK membership of the EU without significant long-term education, civic knowledge, and public information campaigns.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2017

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