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Fear, Anger and Enthusiasm About the EU: Effects of Emotional Reactions on Public Preferences Towards European Integration

Sofia Vasilopoulou
University of York
Sofia Vasilopoulou
University of York

Abstract

How do emotions affect public opinion on the EU? This paper goes beyond existing explanations that focus on either identity or utilitarianism, and argues that citizen EU attitudes depend on their emotional reactions. This is because emotions such as anger, fear and enthusiasm affect how individuals deal with threats and how they seek out, process and use information. We show that compared to anger, anxiety about the European Union leads to more nuanced opinions about integration as well as a greater willingness to renegotiate the terms of membership. Those angry with the EU are less receptive to cost-benefit considerations and more likely to wish to leave the EU than anxious citizens. Our analyses, carried out using a cross-sectional survey conducted in the UK in April 2015 (n=3.000), support our hypotheses. These results have implications for understanding EU citizen attitudes and help us predict the effectiveness of campaign strategies in referendums.