Europe in Context
Municipalities are generally considered to be “schools for democracy”. Spatial proximity enables more intensive contacts with politicians, offers more opportunities for engagement, and enables greater familiarity with political processes. Therefore, the local level strengthens the legitimacy of the political system and promotes confidence in democracy. Consequently, municipalities should have a positive impact on citizens’ political orientations. However, this plausible hypothesis and widespread argumentation is rarely empirically tested. For this reason, the study “Europe in Context” investigates the effects of individual features and the local context on political orientations. From this perspective, the main emphasis is to clarify which meaning the local context has for political orientations, as well as how possible reciprocal dependencies and influences of individual and contextual characteristics come about. The study is particularly focused on the effect of the local setting on European orientations. More than 12,000 respondents from 28 randomly selected municipalities have been interviewed for the empirical analyses. In addition, data collection includes interviews with local politicians and a comprehensive collection of statistical information concerning the political, social, and economic situation of those municipalities. Multi-level analyses combine these individual and contextual data. The central result of this research project is that the local setting has a very minor impact on political orientations and behaviour only. This conclusion is of special relevance because in the design of this study the basic conditions for detecting contextual effects were exceptionally favorable (e.g. the explicit consideration of the local setting, significant differences in the selected municipalities). Apparently, modern means of gathering information, communicating, people’s mobility or changing social group memberships in different places weaken possible contextual effects of the local setting. Ongoing globalization and Europeanization presumably will further reduce the impact of local settings on political orientations.