The often-posed claim that Europe is a pessimistic continent is not unjustified. In 2012, 53 percent of European Union (EU) citizens were pessimistic about their country. Surprisingly, however, societal pessimism has received very little scientific attention. In this article, we examine to what extent political and economic factors drive societal pessimism. In terms of political factors, we expect that supranationalization, political instability, and corruption increase societal pessimism, as they diminish national political power and can inspire collective powerlessness. Economically, we expect that the retrenchment of welfare state provisions and economic decline drive societal pessimism, as these developments contribute to socioeconomic vulnerability. We assess the impact of these political and economic factors on the level of societal pessimism in the EU, both cross-nationally and over time, through multilevel analyses of Eurobarometer data (13 waves between 2006 and 2012 in 23 EU countries). Our findings show that the political factors (changes in government, corruption) primarily explain cross-national differences in societal pessimism, while the macro-economic context (economic growth, unemployment) primarily explains longitudinal trends within countries. These findings demonstrate that, to a large extent, societal pessimism cannot be viewed separately from its political and economic context.

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Keywords Economic crisis, Europe, political instability, societal pessimism, supranationalization
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Journal International Journal of Comparative Sociology
Steenvoorden, E.H. (Eefje H), & van der Meer, T.W.G. (Tom W G). (2017). Continent of pessimism or continent of realism? A multilevel study into the impact of macro-economic outcomes and political institutions on societal pessimism, European Union 2006–2012. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 58(3), 192–214. doi:10.1177/0020715217710809