Research Methodology: The Survey 

GraphThis note briefly summarises the background of the survey that was carried out to collect data on open society attitudes across the six countries in the project (Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, France and Germany). The questionnaire was developed to address two main areas of concerns: first, to evaluate the composition of open and closed society attitudes conceptually and second, to examine how individuals respond when asked to decide whether a particular open society attribute was more, less or equally important than an attribute associated with closed societies.


Open society constructions

In the first part of the survey respondents were presented with 14 items (in random order) and asked to indicate how important they thought the respective item was for a good society. Half of the items (7) were attributes defined as open society characteristics and half (7) were attributes more closely associated with closed societies.

The data collected in this first section allows us to apply dimension reduction techniques to examine how the items relate to each other. The items were:

Based on the answer options we computed two scores, one for the rating of open and one for closed society attributes. To calculate the score, the order of the answer scales was reversed (so higher values indicated higher levels of rating an item as essential). Then all seven respective item scores were added up, resulting in a score between 7 and 28. We then standardised the scores between 0 and 1. So both scores respectively measure how essential respondents rated the open and closed society attribute items respectively. A score of 0 means respondents said “not at all essential” to all seven items, a score of 1 means they said “absolutely essential” to all seven items.Trade-off experimentsIn the second part of the survey respondents were presented with 14 direct comparisons between two items and asked to evaluate their relative importance. For each of the seven open society attributes from the first part of the survey, respondents were presented with two alternative items and asked to make a decision in each of those comparisons. The order in which the comparisons were presented was randomised. The full set of comparisons was as follows:

Table 2


Other questions

In addition to the instruments presented above, we also included a number of socio-economic questions and correlate questions about attitudinal domains, such as attitudes towards immigration, civil society and their political affiliations across all countries. Additionally, a few country-specific questions were added in each country to support the analyses within each country-specific context.


Survey development

The survey was developed by dpart’s core team for the Situation Room project and in close cooperation with all five country partners. After initial scoping about issues and instruments, a draft questionnaire was developed that was then discussed in a workshop with representatives of all country partners, d|part and OSEPI. Based on that workshop a second draft questionnaire was developed that went through further iterations with feedback from all partners. The final survey (in an English master version) was then translated by professional translators into the six country languages.. Country partners then checked the translation, in addition to checks carried out by the core team. Feedback was then given to the translators to further improve the translations. Country partners formulated draft questions specific to their own contexts that were reviewed and edited by the core team before going through a final round of checks together with the master questionnaire.


Fieldwork and data

The fieldwork was carried out by Lightspeed Germany in close cooperation with the core team. The survey was administered through an online panel in all countries. Programming of the survey was pre-tested by several people in each country to check for user experience, correct routing and the implementation of translations. Quotas for age, gender, geography, education and income and several cross quotas were applied, to achieve good representation in the samples. Quotas were only relaxed at later stages in the fieldwork and in case they could not be filled adequately otherwise. Before commencing with the fieldwork, a soft launch pilot was carried out with 50 respondents in each country to test the survey instruments and check initial distributions and participation. Subsequently the full launch took place with over 1000 respondents recruited in each country. The survey was carried out between 12 February 2018 and 5 March 2018. Where achieved sample distributions deviated from actual population distributions, weights were calculated and applied to account for those deviations.

Why Germany’s leading political parties should seek votes from the “in-betweens”

By Jan Eichhorn

Far from being polarised, research by the Open Society European Policy Institute and dpart shows surprising nuances in people’s attitudes towards open and closed society values.

The in betweensPolitical parties have long used economic surveys to frame public attitudes in terms of Left and Right. But this Left-Right confrontation tends to overlook values, and does little to help understand the development of political opinions and choices. Germany’s political parties have begun to understand this and are now trying to engage potential voters on cultural issues.

CDU and CSU politicians are arguing for a so-called ‘Leitkultur’ (a leading culture) and the German Ministry of the Interior has been promoting the concept of ‘Heimat’ (the romantic notion of homeland).

These debates centre on the inward-looking nature of a closed society, while other parties are championing open society values. The SPD’s election manifesto advocated a ‘modern Germany open to the world’, and suggested that open society values are under threat. The party emphasised the need to ‘fight for the freedom for everyone to voice their opinion and publish it.

After eight years of coalition governments (2005-2009 and 2013-2017) and now in another so-called ‘grand coalition’, the two parties apparently want to define their differences along open and closed society lines.

This polarisation encourages political argument and debate, but it also conveys a sense of insurmountable, perhaps irreconcilable, duality. This suggests that on the one hand there are those who care deeply about German traditions and culture, and on the other there are more globally-minded Germans who want to help refugees and ensure respect for human rights.

These political parties each shape their strategies with their different messages. They tend to assume that voters’ attitudes are at opposite ends of the scale. Yet our research raises significant doubts about the validity of this binary concept of Germans’ political and social attitudes.

Figure 1: The importance of open and closed society evaluations in Germany (scatterplot)

Figure 1

We have used data from a survey conducted in Germany in January and February 2018 to challenge this long-established approach. We asked participants to assess the importance of seven open society and seven closed society views.

We then computed the two scores to measure the overall importance that people attached to each area (methodological details are in our note about the survey). Figure 1 shows the distribution of both scores jointly, and is important in that it reveals the absence of any clear trend. While some of the people held strong closed society views and disliked the values of an open society, and vice versa, many were equally attached to both open and closed society values. The weak relationship between the two scores meant that for many people the two opinions are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. Many who gave a high rating to open society attributes similarly gave a high rating to those of a more closed society.

Figure 2: Choosing between two open and closed society options (Some respondents skipped the question)

Figure 2

We then looked at concrete examples in which people were asked to choose between a specific open society attribute and a specific closed society one.

Figure 2 covers two of the 14 choices that were offered. Respondents were allowed to say whether one option was more important than the other, but they could also say that both were equally important. Many chose the latter.

When choosing between freedom of religious expression and respect of shared values, about a third selected each of the two options respectively, and another third the in-between option. These thirty-four percent of the Germans surveyed saw no problem in finding both options equally important, and the same holds true for the second example. In this, people were asked whether protecting minority rights was more important than protecting the interests of the majority. Twice as many people favoured the majority (40%), but nearly the same percentage (38%) said the two were equally important.

What this suggests is that 59 percent would either emphasise the protection of minorities or say that this protection was as important as the interests of the majority. Ignoring the in-between group and assuming a strong duality of open and closed society views adds up to a substantial distortion in our longstanding perception of German public opinion.

Figure 3: Value choices compared with party choice (most commonly selected option in 14 evaluations of open and closed society pairs of attributes)

Figure 3

These insights are particularly important for the main political parties, as illustrated in figure 3. This shows the most commonly chosen option across all 14 sets of choices (two examples feature in figure 2). Unsurprisingly perhaps, the fewest in-betweens, or those who do not favour closed over open society values, or vice versa, are among AfD voters (10%). They are also rare among FDP voters (21%), who have the second highest level of voters emphasising closed society choices (44%), after the AfD (54%). The highest levels of open society choices are among voters for the Green Party (43%) and the leftist Die Linke (37%).

The two biggest parties, the CDU/CSU and SPD, differ markedly in terms of their open and closed society attitudes. While 34 percent of SPD voters tend to make open society choices, only 19 percent of CDU/CSU voters do so. Conversely, 38 percent of CDU/CSU voters have a closed society profile, while this only applies to 19 percent of SPD voters.

This might lead us to think that the two big parties would be right to develop binary narratives on value-based issues, as outlined earlier. But that would ignore the large group of people who gave equal importance to open and closed society choices – 36 percent of CDU/CSU voters and 40 percent of SPD voters. In the SPD’s case, it is the most common profile.

These parties in particular should consider the wants of these “in-betweens”. In the case of a large part of the population, it would be wrong to assume that those people who are concerned about “German” values - the position of the majority and the stability of the system - necessarily disapprove of protecting minority rights, or of being an open, globally-minded country.

Laying emphasis on the extremes therefore risks further alienating people from the two main parties that claim to capture broad groups of the population (as so-called ‘Volksparteien’). Addressing these “in-betweens” could help both the CDU/CSU and SPD to reach some of the voters they lost in the recent elections. In other words, they need to appreciate that for many Germans, open and closed societies are not opposites.


The author of this article, Dr Jan Eichhorn, is the research director of d|part and oversees the work on the Situation Room project. He also teaches Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh.

Twitter: @eichhorn_jan


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Dr Jan Eichhorn.


Why the AfD’s threat to the open society should not be overstated

By Magali Mohr & Luuk Molthof


When the coalition talks between the CDU/CSU, the FDP, and the Greens collapsed two weeks ago, there was at least one party that rejoiced at the failure of ‘Jamaica’. The right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), excited about the possibility of a new vote, was hoping to improve last September’s results in a new election. Even if a new vote stays out, the AfD may still benefit from the recent developments. If conversations between the CDU/CSU and the SPD lead to another Grand Coalition, for instance, the AfD would become the main opposition party in the Bundestag, increasing its significance in German politics. Both scenarios – the AfD making electoral gains in a new vote and the AfD becoming the main opposition party in case of another Grand Coalition – are making German politicians and commentators very nervous indeed, leading some to argue for the establishment of a minority government[1]. A similar unease was present last September, when the AfD secured 12,6% of the vote and successfully entered the Bundestag, raising significant concerns among commentators about the potential implications for the open society. However, in this article, we argue that the AfD’s threat to the open society should not be exaggerated. Although the recent rise of the AfD and its entry into the German Bundestag pose new challenges to Germany’s democracy, we argue that, as long as there is an open public discussion and engagement with the AfD and its electorate, Germany’s open society need not be undermined.

Six reasons why the AfD may not pose a threat to Germany’s open society

Christian Social Union (CSU) patriarch Franz Josef Strauß once famously noted that “there must never be a democratically legitimate party right of the CSU”. It seems that, for a long time, the German electorate agreed with him. While in other European countries, populist parties – such as the Dansk Folkeparti (DF) in Denmark, the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) in the Netherlands, and the Front National (FN) in France – gradually gained ground over the 2000s and 2010s, Germany long appeared resistant to the ‘populist surge’. However, the Pegida-movement, the successes of the AfD in several state elections, and the AfD’s election to the Bundestag have shown that Germany is not immune to right-wing populism.

With its nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric and standpoints, the AfD rails against certain core principles of the open society, including freedom of religion and cultural pluralism. Its rise in popularity has therefore raised concerns among commentators about the future of the open society in Germany[2]. However, the AfD’s threat to the open society should not be exaggerated. Here are six reasons why.

1) The AfD closes a gap in German political representation

From a European point of view, Germany is rather late to the party. While right-wing populism - in this magnitude - is a relatively new phenomenon in post-war Germany, many of Germany’s neighbours have faced its challenges for more than a decade. The entry of a right-wing populist party into the Bundestag is arguably just the latest step in the gradual ‘normalisation’ process Germany has been undergoing after reunification. Right-wing populism, it appears, is now an inherent - though not necessarily dominant - feature of modern European democracy.

Going a step further, one could claim that far-right political parties are a product of our open societies. A crucial feature of the open society is tolerance for different ways of thinking. This means that even those who oppose core democratic principles should have a right to express and organise themselves. While far-right political parties pose new challenges to our open societies, as long as their grievances are expressed through democratically legitimate means, their participation in the public debate does not necessarily undermine the open society. In this context, the AfD’s entry into the Bundestag could be seen as closing a gap in German political representation.

2) AfD’s success not as impressive as it first seems

Considering that Germany welcomed more than one million refugees since 2015 and experienced several terrorist incidents since then, the AfD’s electoral feat last September may not be as impressive as it first seems. The AfD’s share of the vote (12,6%) still lies below that of many other European populist parties[3]. Moreover, over the last year, the AfD’s support dropped from 16% in September 2016 to 12,6% in September’s elections. This means that the terrorist attack on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin of December 2016 did little to expand the AfD’s base. In other words, while the German elections were dominated by the topic of immigration, the AfD was only partially able to capitalise on this, suggesting that even in an environment prone to anti-immigrant sentiments, a large majority of the German electorate remains committed to cultural and religious pluralism.

3) September election results not a vote against open society principles

Last September, in the context of increased concerns about immigration and security, the large majority of the German public, rather than turning to closed borders, more nationalism, and less Europe, continued to support a tolerant and open society. Of particular note in this regard is Angela Merkel’s win. Although it is increasingly uncertain whether she will be able to serve a fourth term, the fact that she won September’s elections is certainly significant. Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders in the summer of 2015 contributed to a widespread perception of Germany as defender of human rights and democratic principles and ultimately lent Merkel her reputation as the “liberal West’s last defender”. Although Merkel’s CDU/CSU Faction booked an 8,6% loss, the fact that Merkel won the elections - and with a significant margin -, despite her controversial decision to invite thousands of refugees, should leave us optimistic.

4) The AfD stimulates the open society debate like no other

The open society and the values pertaining to it developed into a key topic of the election campaign(s) last September – and not least because of the AfD. For all parties, the upholding of the open society became a means to demarcate themselves from the AfD. As a result, the importance of the open society in Germany is - directly or indirectly - repeatedly mentioned in all electoral programmes[4], apart from that of the AfD. Similarly, the open society, what it means, and where it should be headed became topics widely discussed by the public and media. Thus, by railing against certain core principles of the open society, the AfD actually set in motion a public debate about its meaning and value.

5) Potential for politicisation and revived participation

This (unintended) positive effect of the AfD on the stimulation of public debate may likewise hold true for its entry into the Bundestag. A study on the impact of the AfD’s entry into three of Germany’s Landtage found that, while the creation of conflicts and provocation by the AfD can hamper parliamentary processes, their presence may also lead to a politicisation and revitalization of parliaments. Similarly, looking at the AfD’s electorate, the AfD may have a positive impact on voter turnout. Through targeted campaigning and intense use of social media platforms, the AfD was able to mobilise 1.2 million non-voters in their favour. Although this success is also indicative of the failings of mainstream parties to reach out to voters beyond their traditional electorate base, in terms of political participation - a core pillar of the open society - positive development is apparent.

6) Integrative potential of parliamentarism

Just as the AfD’s entry into the Bundestag is likely to affect the parliamentary process, so too is it likely to affect the AfD itself. Through bureaucratic processes and an increased understanding of the workings of politics, even radical parties typically slowly become part of the “establishment”. Here the evolution of the German Green party over the past 30 years is telling. Having emerged in the 1980s as left-wing, anti-capitalist and anti-bourgeois movement, strongly opposed to armaments and critical of the system, the Greens now call for strong police forces. This socialisation effect of parliamentarian experience may well, if only gradually, likewise have an impact on the AfD’s orientation and its outlook on the democratic process.

Safeguarding the open society requires engagement

It is difficult to predict, at this point, whether the AfD will be able to capitalise on the current coalition chaos. However, independent of the developments over the next weeks and months, the AfD looks like it is here to stay. In this blog we argued that while this new reality poses challenges to Germany’s democracy, the AfD’s threat to the open society in Germany should not be overstated. As long as there is an open public discussion and engagement with the AfD and its electorate, the open society need not be undermined. Since 13% of the German electorate voted for the AfD it is important that its grievances are publicly discussed rather than merely discarded. It will be up to the other parties, the media, and the public to safeguard the open society and ensure the AfD does not “poison the content of Germany’s political discourse” by consistently challenging the AfD’s discourse and that of those who replicate it.

This article is the first in a series of articles about the meaning(s) of the open society in Europe, published as part of d|part and OSEPI’s joint action-research project “The Situation Room”.

The authors, Magali Mohr and Dr. Luuk Molthof, are Research Fellows at d|part and conduct research for the joint project.


[1] See for instance Mark Beise and Hans-Jochen Vogel.

[2] See for instance the comments by Daniel Erk, Elmar Theveßen, and Matthias Matthijs & Erik Jones.

[3] For instance, the PVV received 13,1% in the last Dutch parliamentary elections, the DF 21,1% in the last Danish parliamentary elections, and the FPÖ 26% in the last Austrian parliamentary elections.

[4] See SPD - ‘Zeit für mehr Gerechtigkeit’; CDU - ‘Für ein Deutschland in dem wir gut und gerne leben’; FDP - ‘Denken wir neu’; Die Linke - ‘Sozial. Gerecht. Frieden. Für alle - Die Zukunft, für die wir kämpfen!’; Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen - ‘Zukunft wird aus Mut gemacht’.