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FSD Bulletin is the electronic newsletter of the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. The Bulletin provides information and news related to the data archive and social science research.
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Eurobarometers under Review
Timo Toivonen, professor, Turku School of Economics
The cross-national Eurobarometer Survey Series (EB) is disseminated in Finland by the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. Data collection for Eurobarometers began in EU member states in 1974, and data have been collected with surveys or interviews on a variety of themes. A frequently recurring theme is attitudes towards the European Union. Other topics include state of the environment, health, equality, culture, travel, use of information technology etc. Data are collected by Central Statistical Offices and well-established opinion research institutes. Weight factors are carefully calculated for samples both on an international and a national level. The data are thus representative and of high quality. Questionnaires are extensive, and carrying out one survey costs hundreds of thousands euros. A lot of money is being spent.
So, formally there is nothing to complain about but the content of the survey series leaves a lot to be desired. One striking feature is the frequency with which the popularity of the EU has been studied. Some Eurobarometers have even focused on a particular summit or agreement, like the Maastrict Treaty or the Madrid Summit. One gets the feeling that European decision-makers believe charting the popularity of the Union somehow increases it.
Eurobarometers with other topics than attitudes towards the EU have been fragmentary. I myself recently analysed the Eurobarometer 56.0 data from the year 2001. The survey focused on information and communication technologies, financial services, and cultural activities. Even though behavioural changes are rapid in these matters, the questions have not been repeated. Neither are the EB questionnaires always rigorously checked but may contain oddities, sometimes perhaps due to mistranslation. As regards television viewing, simple Yes or No response options are presented, thus preventing researchers from studying, for example, how television viewing, use of the Internet and reading are connected. Television viewers both read and use the Internet more than those who do not watch television. Sure, people who do not watch television at all are bound to be excluded and marginalised!
Presumably EB questionnaire design is not very broad-based. Draft questionnaires are probably not sent to EU member countries for expert feedback. At least I have not heard of anyone who would have been asked to comment on them. It is even less likely that questions have been pre-tested in different countries. This should be changed. Producing relevant data on people's lives and living conditions would increase the Union's popularity in the eyes of the scientific community and the public. It would be interesting to know how many researchers have requested EB data on attitudes towards the EU from the data archive.