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Madrid Forum Aims to Help EU Populations Be Heard

by Gergely Hideg and Nicole Naurath


BRUSSELS -- European social scientists, journalists, and policy-makers will gather in Madrid on Friday for a European Commission (EC) forum, "Understanding European Public Opinion." The goal of the conference, as stated by EC vice-president Margot Wallström, is "to deepen our understanding of European public opinion and to explore new venues to make the best use of existing tools and research at the national and at the European level."

Among the presenters will be Dr. Allan McCutcheon, Director of the Gallup Research Center, and Alec Gallup, Chairman of The Gallup Poll. McCutcheon, who is also the General Secretary of the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), will speak on the question: Are national boundaries "natural" boundaries for understanding European public opinion? McCutcheon's presentation will examine new analytical methods that improve researchers' ability to investigate the origins of cross-national similarities -- and differences -- in public opinion.

The Madrid conference is the result of concerns about about a disconnect between the European Union's governing institutions and its constituent populations. The issue became more prominent in 2005 after founding European Union (EU) members France and the Netherlands rejected a proposed EU constitution that would have led to tighter European integration. The referendum results made it patently obvious that while the EU has expanded its role in the everyday lives of its constituents, open communication has lagged behind. That realization has led the EU's executive body, the European Commission, to take steps to better connect with the people in its 25 (soon to be 27) member countries.

One of those steps, as the conference demonstrates, is to develop a better understanding of public opinion across Europe, and here Gallup is playing a privileged role. In February 2006, the EU selected a consortium led by Gallup's Brussels-based affiliate, Gallup Europe, to run for the next four years the Flash Eurobarometer opinion polls. A premier tool of European political decision-makers, the Flash Eurobarometer collects and analyzes European citizens' thoughts on topical social, political, and economic issues. Gallup CEO Jim Clifton says that the Eurobarometer contract is extremely important because "it recognizes our leadership in the field of innovative survey research in the service of public policy."

Clifton also notes that the Eurobarometer project dovetails well with Gallup's commitment to provide decision-makers with in-depth information on global issues by conducting a World Poll with nationally representative samples in 150 countries. The largest undertaking of its kind, the Gallup World Poll measures the attitudes and wellbeing of the world's citizens by regularly polling 95% of the Earth's adult population. In the future, Flash Eurobarometer results will be featured on the World Poll Web site.


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