Measuring Attitudes Towards Social Europe: A Multidimensional Approach

Abstract

Although the notion of ‘Social Europe’ can refer to different principles and policy options, most research narrows down attitudes towards Social Europe to a unidimensional construct. In this study, we instead propose a multi-dimensional approach, and contribute to the literature in three ways. First, we elaborate the notion of ‘Social Europe’ conceptually, and distinguish between the decision-making level for social policy, European social citizenship, harmonization, member-state solidarity and interpersonal solidarity. Second, analysing the 2014 Belgian National Election Study by means of confirmatory factor analysis we evidence that citizens indeed have distinct attitudes towards the policy principles and instruments of Social Europe. Although these attitudinal dimensions are interrelated, they cannot be reduced to a single Social Europe factor, meaning that citizens differentiate in their attitudes between various aspects of Social Europe. In addition, our research indicates that member-state solidarity is the primary aspect of Social Europe in public opinion, whereas the feature that has received most scholarly attention in empirical research to date—the preferred decision-making level for social policy—cannot be considered as a key component of attitudes towards Social Europe. Third, we investigate whether citizens with different educational levels conceptualize Social Europe similarly using multigroup confirmatory factor analysis. Results indicate that the attitudinal factor structure of Social Europe is largely equivalent among lower and higher-educated citizens.

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Fig. 1

Source BNES (2014)

Fig. 2

Source BNES (2014)

Notes

  1. 1.

    For a discussion of the notion of the ‘European Social Union’ see Vandenbroucke (2013, 2014) for the ‘European Social Model’ see Alber (2006) and Jepsen and Pascual (2005), and for ‘European social integration’ see Threlfall (2007).

  2. 2.

    We do not include the social dialogue or collective bargaining at the EU level in our conceptualization, despite the fact that these can also be considered aspects of Social Europe (e.g. Gold 1993).

  3. 3.

    The Treaty of Maastricht (1992) formally introduced EU citizenship, setting out that any national of a member state is legally also a ‘citizen of the Union’.

  4. 4.

    The agricultural fund of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is also sometimes perceived as an element of the EU’s social dimension (Seeleib-Kaiser 2013).

  5. 5.

    The ML estimation procedure assumes that the indicators are continuous and follow a multivariate normal distribution. Given that most of our indicators are five-point Likert items, this assumption is not fulfilled. However, simulation studies show that the ML estimator is robust against a violation of the normality assumption as long as there are at least five answer categories and the data is not overly skewed (DiStefano 2002; Muthén and Kaplan 1985; West et al. 1995). As a robustness check, we re-estimated the first and second-order factor models (Models 1–5) using robust weighted least squares (WLSMV) estimation for categorical data. This yielded very similar results, although factor loadings were slightly stronger and model fit was, depending on the fit index considered, marginally worse (χ2, RMSEA) or somewhat better (CFI, TLI). In this article, we report the ML estimates because this procedure is more straightforward for testing measurement equivalence. The WLSMV results are available on request from the first author.

  6. 6.

    In the uncorrelated model, factor loadings for the two indicators of ‘interpersonal solidarity’—Q121_3 and Q121_7—were set equal (constrained to 1) for reasons of model identification.

  7. 7.

    The (standardized) factor loading of member-state solidarity had to be constrained to 1 among the low educated, because the loading exceeded the value of 1 for this group.

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Acknowledgements

This study was made possible by grants from KU Leuven research council (OT/13/30), the Belgian National Lottery and the National Science Foundation FWO-Vlaanderen (Grant Number G068816 N).

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Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table 5.

Table 5 Support for Social Europe among Belgians (percentages weighted by age, gender and education)

Appendix 2

See Table 6.

Table 6 Survey questions on a European social security system

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Baute, S., Meuleman, B., Abts, K. et al. Measuring Attitudes Towards Social Europe: A Multidimensional Approach. Soc Indic Res 137, 353–378 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1587-3

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Keywords

  • Social Europe
  • European integration
  • Social dimension
  • Public opinion
  • Attitudes