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The Urban-Rural Divide in Anti-EU Vote

Cover of Working Paper "The Urban-Rural Divide in Anti-EU Vote

In recent years, protest voting, voting for populist parties and, specifically for Europe, votes for parties opposed to European integration, have increased substantially. This has focussed the attention of researchers and policy makers on the causes behind this trend. Most of the existing research looked at voters’ characteristics, mainly values, education and age, or economic insecurity, such as rising unemployment or a declining economy more in general. This paper focuses instead on the urban-rural divide in anti-EU sentiment, and tries to explain why cities – and urban areas in general - in Europe tend to vote less for Eurosceptic parties. Using electoral data for national elections at the electoral district level for the years 2013-2018 and political parties’ orientation as assessed by the Chapel Hill Expert Survey, we find robust statistical evidence of a lower anti-EU vote in cities, towns and suburbs than in rural areas. We also find that drivers of voting for anti-EU parties differ significantly between urban and rural areas in the EU and UK, despite some similarities.

We show that three factors are associated to a higher anti-EU vote in all areas:

  • growth in unemployment,
  • a low turnout and
  • a higher share of people born outside the EU.

A sluggish economy is associated to a higher anti-EU sentiment in rural areas, but not in cities and towns and suburbs. Higher shares of university graduates, people aged 20-64, and of people born in a different EU country reduce anti-EU voting in rural areas and towns and suburbs, but have no impact in cities.