What do Czechs perceive as a threat to society?

Within the context of current developments in Europe, Czech citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about Islamic fundamentalism, the situation in the Middle East and the influx of migrants in particular. According to the public, both terrorism and international organized crime represent stable risks. The rise in concern over the threat of politics in Russia, documented in May, was not confirmed in the September survey.

The STEM survey cited here was conducted on a representative sample of the Czech population aged 18 and over from 18 to 28 September 2015. Respondents were selected using a quota sampling method, with some 925 people taking part in the survey. Information from STEM Trends Survey 9/2015. Issued on 15. 10. 2015

In the September survey STEM asked citizens to rank ten selected threats that could pose a danger to the country. The public was asked to rank their concerns on a scale of one to nine where one indicated “no threat” and nine indicated a “very significant threat.” The results of the September survey can be compared with the results of a similar survey carried out in May of this year.

Islamic fundamentalism is perceived as a significant threat for most citizens. Indeed three-fifths of the population (59 %) gave it the maximum rating on a scale of one to nine. A total of 85 % of citizens considered it a significant threat, ranking it 7, 8 or 9. This proportion is slightly higher than in the May survey (by 3 percentage points).

Furthermore, the number of people who perceive the influx of refugees as a significant threat was up from 71 % in the May survey to 76 % in September. The fear of migrants thus represents the second highest perceived risk. A similarly high proportion of citizens feel threatened by terrorism and international organized crime, but these perceived threats have not gained in magnitude since May.

However, concerns over the development of the situation in the Middle East rose (up from 59 % to 65 %).

In May we pointed to a significant change in the rating of Russia as a security risk compared with previous surveys. The proportion of people who perceived the politics of Russia as a significant threat to their country in May had more than doubled compared with 2011. This change is clearly linked to Russian policy towards Ukraine and the general sense of threat from Russia. However, in the September survey the proportion of citizens who regarded the politics of Russia as a significant threat decreased (from 59 % to 43 %). Now more people consider poverty in developing countries as a significant threat to our country (49 %). The politics of Russia is now considered a significant threat by almost the same proportion of the population as the politics of the United States. At the same time there has been a slight increase in the perceived threat of US foreign policy since the May survey.

The reason for the decline in concern over Russian foreign policy can be attributed to the diminishing amount of information on the situation in Ukraine. The public has therefore become accustomed to reading about it as less significant issue. Furthermore, there has been an escalation of security risks in other hotspots which has manifested itself in an increase in concern over migrants, Islamic fundamentalism and developments in the Middle East. Indeed, the September STEM survey found that more than half of Czech citizens consider the influx of refugees to be currently the most important problem facing their country.

 

Comparison of the ratings of threats to our country – March 2011, May 2015 and September 2015

(Comparison of the proportion of 7, 8 and 9 answers on a scale of 1-9, where 1= “no threat” and 9= “a very significant threat”)

Source: STEM, Trends 2011/3, 2015/5, 2015/9

How great is the threat to our country? – September 2015

(Rating on a scale of 1-9, where 1= “no threat” and 9= “a very significant threat”)

Source: STEM, Trends 9/2015, 925 respondents

In general, the over-60s are somewhat more sensitive to the various security risks facing our country, but these differences are not significant. Differences in terms of age group are for the most part fairly insignificant, even if you allow for the differences in ratings compared with the May survey (see graph below).

Comparison of the ratings for the influx of refugees as a threat to our country by age

(Proportion of 7, 8 or 9 answers in % on a scale of 1-9, where 1= “no threat” and 9= “a very significant threat”)

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/5, 2015/9

Likewise, the level of fear of the politics of Russia also depends on respondents’ age: older respondents are more likely to consider Russia a significant threat to the country than the under-30s. The most significant decline in the level of fear of the politics of Russia is also for this age group (a decline of 21 %).

Comparison of the ratings for the politics of Russia as a threat to our country by age

(Proportion of 7, 8 or 9 answers in % on a scale of 1-9, where 1= “no threat” and 9= “a very significant threat”)

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/5, 2015/9

The political affiliation of respondents largely affects how they rate security risks. Those to the right of the political spectrum mostly rate the risk of the threats named in the survey as less serious than those to the left or center of the spectrum. Furthermore, for the most part, the level of fear of right-wing citizens has not increased since May (see graph).

Comparison of the ratings for the influx of refugees as a threat to our country by political affiliation

(proportion of 7, 8 or 9 answers in % on a scale of 1-9, where 1 = “no threat”, 9 = “a very significant threat”)

Source: STEM, Trend 2015/5, 2015/9

An exception to the above correlation is the public’s perception of the threat of politics in Russia which, on the contrary, is more frequently perceived as a significant threat by right-wing individuals. Despite the fact that the level of fear of the politics of Russia has fallen across the political spectrum, the politically-intensified differences between left and right remain.

 

Comparison of the ratings for the foreign policy of Russia as a threat to our country by political affiliation

(proportion of 7, 8 or 9 answers in % on a scale of 1-9, where 1 = “no threat”, 9 = “a very significant threat”)

Source: STEM, Trend 2015/5, 2015/9

In light of the strong media coverage of the refugee crisis, we examined whether respondents’ perceptions of security risks differ depending on the television channels they watch, specifically the news. The survey found that privately owned channels TV Nova and FTV Prima viewers perceive the threat of the influx of refugees and that of terrorism as a significant threat slightly more frequently than the national broadcaster Czech Television (ČT) viewers and those who do not watch the news at all (ČT is the national broadcaster, TV NOVA and FTV Prima are privately-owned channels).

How the influx of refugees is rated as a threat to our country according to which main evening news programmes are most frequently watched by respondents

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/9, 925 respondents

In general people who do not watch the news at all perceive the other security risks on the list as less serious. In terms of television channel preference, there were no significant differences between the fear perceptions of respondents.

How the situation in the Middle East is rated as a threat to our country according to which main evening news programmes are most frequently watched by respondents

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/9, 925 respondents


 


Czech attitudes towards Western European countries, especially Germany, are deteriorating

Czech citizens have the best relationship with Slovakia, with 86 % of the population giving Slovakia a ‘one’ or a ‘two’ on a scale of one to five, with one being the most positive rating. Austria (72 %), the Netherlands (71 %), Sweden, France and the United Kingdom (all at 70 %) also received high ratings from the vast majority of the public. When compared to a previous survey carried out in 2013, the attitude of Czech citizens to the majority of western European countries has deteriorated, most evidently in the case of Germany. Ukraine (24 %), China (25 %), Russia (30 %), Serbia (31 %) and the newly included Turkey (15 %) fared the worst in the ratings.

The STEM survey cited here was carried out on a representative sample of the Czech population aged 18 years and over from 3 to 11 December 2015. Respondents were selected using a quota sampling method, with 1,014 people taking part in the survey. Information from STEM Trends survey 12/2015.

Since 1994 STEM has been regularly monitoring the attitudes of our citizens towards certain countries in Europe and the world powers. The December 2015 survey indicated a significant shift in the attitudes of the Czech public to certain countries when compared to a previous survey carried out in 2013. This shift is most likely linked to the current situation in Europe and to the refugee crisis.

First, let us sum up the current results. Respondents were asked to rate their relationship with the various countries on a scale of one to five, with one being the most positive. Slovakia clearly rated the highest, with 86 % of respondents rating the country at one or two. Citizens also gave Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom positive ratings, with roughly 70 % of citizens giving them a one or a two. More than half of respondents surveyed also favorably rated Croatia, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Hungary, Japan and Slovenia. Roughly fifty percent of the population rated their relationship with Poland and Germany favourably, giving them scores of one and two. Turkey fared the worst, receiving the most ‘bad’ marks (Turkey was included for the first time in this survey). Few positive ratings were also given to the United States, Serbia, Russia, China and Ukraine.

When compared to the 2013 survey, there has been a significant drop in positive ratings, primarily in the case of Czech attitudes towards Germany (represented by a downward slide on an imaginary country popularity chart). This change likely reflects the attitudes of Czech citizens towards Germany’s migrant policy and skepticism by the Czech public as to whether Germany can manage to handle the refugee crisis. However, as reflected in the chart, the situation in Europe has also affected the public’s relationship with other western European countries, with countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, in particular, experiencing a fall in positive ratings when compared to the previous study. The Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom were also rated less favourably, but not significantly. Besides a worsening of their relationship with European countries, the Czech public’s attitude towards the United States has also deteriorated.

By contrast, there has been an improvement in the public’s relationship with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. China also received a slightly better rating, although it still remains among those countries with the lowest ratings.

When comparing the recent survey to that carried out in 2013, it is also worth noting that Russia’s proportion of positive ratings has remained unchanged.

 

Country popularity chart

“I’m going to read you the names of various countries and, using the school grading system, I’d like you to rate your relationship with them on a scale of one (most favourable) to five (least favourable).”

Rating in % (school grades: one = best relationship, five = worst relationship)

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1014 respondents

Country popularity comparison from 2013 and 2015

“I’m going to read you the names of various countries and, using the school grading system, I’d like you to rate your relationship with them on a scale of one (most favourable) to five (least favourable).”

Proportion of 1 + 2 grades in % (school grades: one = best relationship, five = worst relationship)

Source: STEM, Trends 2013/10, 2015/12

The following graph, which plots the attitudes of Czech citizens towards Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States for a period of over twenty years, clearly shows a dramatic deterioration in the ratings of these countries in the latest survey, most notably in the case of Germany. This drop in ratings is similar to that experienced in 2004 when our accession to the European Union generated widespread public discourse on defending the national interest (at that time US policy in the Middle East, and in Iraq in particular, certainly had an impact on attitudes towards the United States).

 

Development in the ratings of the selected countries (1994-2015)

(Ratings using the school grading system: one = best relationship, five = worst relationship; proportion of 1 + 2 grades in %)

Source: STEM, Trends 1994-2015

Let us focus now in greater detail on the development of the population’s relationship with Germany. The analysis shows that in comparison with 2013, attitudes towards Germany have worsened among the university-educated population in particular. Whereas, in the past, attitudes towards Germany were strongly linked to level of educational attainment, attitudes are now almost identical for respondents in all educational categories. With respect to age, there was a drop in positive ratings for Germany in all the age categories, with the least significant drop recorded among respondents aged 45-59.

 

Differences in attitudes towards Germany by education (2013 and 2015)

(Proportion of 1+2 grades in %)

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1014 respondents

* Maturita = Secondary School Leaving Certificate,equiv. A Levels in the UK, High School Diploma in the US.

Differences in attitudes towards Germany by age (2013 and 2015)

(Proportion of 1+2 grades in %)

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1014 respondents


Fear of refugees – what lies behind it

There is a widespread fear of refugees among the Czech population which runs through all sections of society. It would be a big mistake, however, for this fear of refugees to be seen in isolation. The predominant issue is rather a fear of the spread of Islam in this country, a fear of an escalation in Islamic fundamentalism and its link to terrorism and organised crime. The current irrational, emotion-based and unstructured fear of this whole set of risks is weakening our anchoring in the European Union and also calls into question the results of the country’s post-November 1989 development.

The STEM survey cited here was carried out on a representative sample of the Czech population aged 18 and up from 18 to 28 September 2015. Respondents were selected using a quota sampling method, with some 925 people taking part in the survey.

In the September survey, STEM focused in greater detail on the perception of the refugee crisis and attempted to analyse the thematic areas linked to the fear of refugees. At present roughly two-thirds of the population have a fear of refugees. However, Czechs consider the spread of Islam in this country to present an even greater threat, with over eighty percent of the population fearing the spread of Islam.

Fear of Refugees and Islam

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

As expected, the fear of refugees and the fear of the spread of Islam are related to the age and education of the respondents: older people and the less educated expressed greater levels of fear. These differences are not so significant but are apparent nonetheless.

A fear of the spread of Islam in particular pervades the different groups in our society. The large majority of Czech citizens express a fear of Islam, irrespective of age and educational attainment.

Comparison of fear of refugees and of Islam by age group

(total percentage „definitely yes“ + „more likely yes“)

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

Comparison of fear of refugees and of Islam by education

(total percentage „definitely yes“ + „more likely yes“)

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

If we combine the two types of fear, this serves the basis for a simple typology. Some 30% of the Czech public have a very intense fear of Islam and of refugees. A further roughly one third of the population has significant concerns, but this is not actual fear. Almost one-fifth fears the spread of Islam but does not make an unequivocal connection between Islam and the influx of refugees. Only roughly one fifth of the population fears neither refugees nor the spread of Islam in the Czech Republic.

Typology of the fear of refugees and the spread of Islam in the Czech Republic

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

A deeper analysis of the different fears of the Czech population, published in its basic form by our institute on 15 October 2015, indicates that for many people the fear of refugees is a mere substitute for the fear of terrorism, international organised crime and Islamic fundamentalism. This is illustrated in the chart below which is based on correlations between and the size of the factor scores. All four factors are closely linked in people’s minds. A fear of the influx of refugees is distinctly less pronounced than that of the other factors.

Fear Structure Chart

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

Merely fear-mongering about refugees on the part of politicians and in the media, as witnessed by us in the recent past, evidently fails to capture the core of the issue. The data suggests that a targeted communications campaign aimed at clarifying the refugee problem should begin with the interconnection of Islamic fundamentalism with terrorism and organised crime.

Looking at the data, we cannot help but feel that the refugee crisis is being used as a tool between rivals on the domestic political scene. While the fear of Islam is universal and permeates all political camps, the fear of refugees is concentrated among the centre-left which represents the largest group of potential voters. This group does not have such fixed attitudes and opinions and can be influenced easily.

Comparison of fear of refugees according to political affiliation

(total percentage „definitely yes“ + „more likely yes“)

Source: STEM, Trends 09/2015, 925 respondents, aged 18 +

The current irrational, emotion-based and unstructured fear of the whole set of risks outlined above is a serious societal phenomenon. The data clearly indicates that in the consciousness of the people this fear weakens our anchoring in the European Union, calls into question the results of the country’s post-November 1989 development and also indirectly our trust in the democratic system. Overcoming this fear will be complicated and is undoubtedly a task which will demand a long-term plan of action. This requires weakening emotions through factual information and patient argumentation. It also demands an understanding of the sources of the problems and the possible tools and strategies which could be implemented in finding solutions to these problems.


Are we interested in how the EU works?

“Do you want to know how the European Union actually works? Are you interested in its activities and the problems it faces?”

„Zajímá Vás, jak vlastně Evropská unie funguje, jaké jsou její činnosti a problémy?“

Source: STEM, Trends 1999-2003, aged 18+; STEGA, Communication on European Affairs, 10/2005 – 6/2006, STEM, Trends 11/2006, 1/2009, 1/2010


Public opinion on the adoption of the euro

“Do you personally support the adoption of the euro in the Czech Republic?”

The date for adopting the euro is a matter of economic and political choice. Although the Czech Republic is committed to adopting the currency, public support is not strong enough, at least for the time being.

 

Source: STEM, Trends 2005-2015