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Terrorism, Migration Trouble Many in Europe

Terrorism, Migration Trouble Many in Europe

by Steve Crabtree and Sofia Kluch
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Terrorism outranks migration as serious issue in most countries
  • Concerns about both are interlinked

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Worries about terrorism and immigration levels fueled the rise of nationalist parties that shook up European politics in 2016. Across 14 European countries that Gallup surveyed last year, a median of 66% of residents say acts of terrorism by non-residents are a serious problem in their country, and 64% say the same about resident-perpetrated terrorist acts. Concerns about immigration levels are less common: A median of 55% of residents say current immigration levels are a serious problem in their countries.

Terrorism, Immigration Both Commonly Perceived as "Serious Problems" in Europe
Please tell me whether you think each of the following is a serious problem or not a serious problem in your country.
  Acts of terrorism against this country by non-residents Acts of terrorism against this country by residents Current immigration levels
  % % %
MEDIAN 66 64 55
France 96 96 67
Belgium 92 88 66
Portugal 87 89 55
Denmark 76 70 61
Netherlands 72 66 56
Luxembourg 73 67 36
Malta 68 63 86
Germany 66 70 56
Sweden 65 64 52
Switzerland 54 48 55
Cyprus 53 49 61
Finland 40 30 51
Ireland 32 38 32
Iceland 15 15 18
Percentage who say each item is a serious problem

Debate within the European Union has been growing in recent weeks about badly needed reforms to the bloc's asylum policy. The EU's governing body wants most member states to accept more refugees to take some of the burden off front-line countries such as Malta, Greece and Italy. However, this idea has been met at times with resistance or outright refusal, with some leaders voicing the fear that -- as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban put it -- migration is a "Trojan horse" for terrorists seeking entry into the EU.

The threat of terrorism may be linked -- at least in the public's mind -- to public support for anti-immigration policies. The percentage of residents who say their country's level of immigration is a "serious problem" varies widely, from 86% in Malta, where it outweighs concerns about terrorism, to 18% in Iceland. Residents' tendency to view immigration as a serious problem in their country rises with their likelihood to describe terrorist attacks -- by either residents or non-residents -- the same way, even though some of the recent attacks in Europe have been carried out by native-born residents rather than recent migrants.

Concerns About Immigration Rise With Terrorism Fears in Europe

At the respondent level among the 14 countries studied, the relationship between concerns about immigration and terrorism is statistically independent of individuals' feelings about racial and ethnic minorities in their communities. In other words, the tendency to respond similarly to questions about whether immigration and terrorism are serious problems is the same regardless of whether or not they appear tolerant of minorities in their areas.


As EU members debate reforms to the union's asylum policy, they should at least acknowledge the connection between immigration and terrorism in many residents' minds, while also seeking to inform themselves and their constituents with accurate information.

Terrorism fears have fueled the rise of reactionary nationalist parties across Europe in recent years, posing a threat to European integration and in many cases leading to heightened anti-Muslim sentiment. However, research in behavioral economics has shown that the high-profile nature of terrorist attacks often leads individuals to overestimate the threat that they represent, thanks to a psychological bias known as the availability heuristic. For EU policymakers, the result may be fear-based decisions that lead to further divisiveness and instability in the face of challenges that make solidarity more important than ever.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted during 2016 with a random sample of approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in each of the 14 countries included in the analysis with the exception of Iceland, where they are based on interviews with 529 adults. For results based on the total samples of national adults, the margins of sampling error range from ±3.5 percentage points to ±5.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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