I passed my PhD in April 2020. The PhD studied the effect of European Integration on support for political institutions, but in doing so developed a general theory of how integration influenced mass politics. I spent the subsequent 200 pages proving I was wrong. The PhD was examined by Professors Sara Hobolt and Gerry Stoker, who didn’t mind null results. The abstract is below.
Does European integration affect public support for political institutions and, if so, how? This is the broad research question this thesis poses. The central theme of this thesis is whether the long-term constraints entailed by European integration have had an impact on domestic mass politics in the European Union, and specifically on political support. That integration, European or otherwise, leads to the loss of political support has been claimed extensively within the literatures on Europeanisation, globalisation and political support, with little empirical examination. This academic interest has become more relevant as political elites and the public alike call for greater control over national decision-making and a reinvigoration of democratic participation. Building on the literatures on political support, Europeanisation and globalisation, the thesis tests the theoretical claim that European integration has had a negative impact on political support. Using a number of advanced quantitative methods which combines data from individual and aggregate level public opinion, political parties and countries, the thesis provides a rigorous empirical examination of how the purported ’politics of constraint’ shapes public opinion and the linkages between elites and their publics within the EU.
The four empirical chapters provide a rebuttal to the ’constraint’ hypothesis. On the contrary, the linkages between domestic institutional changes, such as integration, and political attitudes are highly mediated by their domestic contexts. The chapters show that whilst there is some evidence of a negative effect in the nine longest-serving countries, this is heavily mediated by economic conditions. However, there is clear evidence of a growing ’support gap’: that integration is embedding a domestic cleavage between those with high and those with low education. The thesis also shows that this does not operate in a clear way through direct perceptions of constraint or through integration’s impact on public-elite congruence. On the contrary, integration has no identifiable impact on the congruence between parties, parliaments and governments on one hand and mass public opinion on the other; and, if anything, perceived constraint boosts political support.
A key conclusion of the thesis therefore is that more fundamental determinants are at the domestic level, and that the core determinants of political support are how our institutions perform in producing policy. Whilst processes like integration are independently important, it is how they are refracted through domestic politics that leads to change amongst the public.