Two-thirds of Europeans think the past was much better

A massive 67 per cent of EU citizens agree with the statement “The world used to be a much better place”.

That was one of the findings of a survey of more than 10,000 people, which explored links between feelings of nostalgia – defined as agreeing with the above statement – and people’s political beliefs.

The survey found that Italians are the most nostalgic people in the EU, with a “staggering” 77 per cent of Italians surveyed saying that the world used to be better. Poles are the least nostalgic, at 59 per cent.


Men were slightly more nostalgic than women, with the gender split 53 – 47 among those who were defined as nostalgic.

More crucially, feelings of economic anxiety were substantially more common among people identified as nostalgic, at 27 per cent versus 16 per cent in those who were not nostalgic.

Asked about their political feelings, 53 per cent of those classed as nostalgic said that they think immigrants “take jobs away from natives”, versus 30 per cent of not-nostalgics. Some 78 per cent of nostalgics said that recent immigrants “do not want to fit into society”, versus 63 per cent of not-nostalgics.

Only 67 per cent of nostalgics said their country should remain in the EU, versus 82 per cent of not-nostalgics. Some 80 per cent of nostalgics said the EU should be more active in world affairs, compared with 85 per cent of not-nostalgics.

The research was carried out by the Germany-based Bertelsmann Stiftung, a private foundation that says its goal is to “contribute to social reform”. Researchers Catherine de Vries and Isabell Hoffmann said in their report that the findings pose questions for political parties.

“Research from the fields of psychology and sociology suggests that nostalgia
can be a coping mechanism to deal with feelings of anxiety or insecurity. Currently,
we are going through a period of considerable societal change and upheaval,” de Vries and Hoffman said.

“To date many mainstream politicians focus mainly on technocratic solutions, thus ignoring these emotional needs. Nostalgia could be allowed to create a politics which exaggerates insecurities, but it might also be invoked to establish a politics which curtails anxieties and establishes a more secure future. This would require politicians to develop rhetoric that is sensitive to the past, while at the same time hopeful towards the future.”

Words: Craig Nicholson
Table: Bertelsmann Stiftung

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