Differences between east and west are narrowing

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German flag in front of the university main building. Image: Jens Meyer (Univers
German flag in front of the university main building. Image: Jens Meyer (University of Jena)

There is very little difference between people living in eastern and western Germany or those in rural and urban areas when they assess their quality of life.

This surprising result is one of the key findings of the Germany Monitor 2023 , a newly developed annual scientific study that provides a new perspective on the social and political attitudes and assessments of the German population. Researchers from Friedrich Schiller University Jena are involved in compiling the Germany Monitor.

The availability of affordable housing, the shortage of skilled labour and the growing disparity between rich and poor are seen as key local challenges in both urban and rural areas. In structurally weak rural regions - particularly in eastern Germany - the exodus of young people is seen as a particular challenge. On a positive note, strong local social cohesion is perceived throughout Germany: "Local social cohesion is a key resource for the functioning of democracy," says political scientist Everhard Holtmann of the Centre for Social Research, Halle.

Housing and living environment play a role in determining political attitudes

The focus of the new Germany Monitor shows that individual characteristics, as well as housing and the living environment, are decisive for the development of political attitudes. People in eastern Germany are twice as likely to feel left behind than people in western Germany (19% to 8%). As a result, more people in eastern Germany have the impression that politicians are not sufficiently interested in their region and are not committed enough to its economic development. However, the differences between eastern and western Germany can be partly attributed to objective factors. People in structurally weak regions in east and west feel more left behind than people in structurally strong regions. The "feeling of being left behind" is particularly widespread in those eastern German and structurally weak regions that are more affected by an ageing population and emigration (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The "feeling of being left behind" is particularly widespread in those eastern German and structurally weak regions that are more strongly affected by ageing and emigration.

"This feeling should be taken seriously, because those who see themselves or their region as ’left behind’ are more inclined to adopt populist attitudes and are less satisfied with the functioning of democracy," says Marion Reiser, a political scientist at Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

While the idea of democracy in Germany is supported by practically all of the approximately 4,000 respondents (97%), a large proportion of the population are sceptical about the current practice of democracy: four out of 10 respondents in western Germany (40%) and more than half in eastern Germany (56%) are dissatisfied with the way democracy is functioning (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Four out of ten respondents in West Germany (40%) and more than half in East Germany (56%) are dissatisfied with the functioning of democracy.

Western German attitudes are converging with those of eastern Germany

In contrast, the Germany Monitor finds that there is a stable consensus regarding the welfare state: a broad majority are of the opinion that the state should assume responsibility for the general risks of life. At the same time, there is a growing openness towards a state that is able to act in the face of economic challenges and societal risks. "The differences between east and west are narrowing because the corresponding attitudes of western Germans are converging with those of eastern Germans," says Reinhard Pollak, a sociologist at the GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Mannheim.

These and numerous other results of the Germany Monitor can be found in the detailed report of the study, which is available on the homepages of the participating research institutes and on the homepage of the Federal Government Commissioner for Eastern Germany. A compact summary of the key findings is also available there.

The Germany Monitor

The Germany Monitor is a newly developed academic study that will analyse the attitudes of people in Germany on an annual basis from now on. The core question of the study is how regional living environments ("contexts") influence the attitudes of the people living there in the short and long term. A unique study design enables both Germany-wide and regional developments to be analysed and contrasted with each other. The Germany Monitor uses two samples for this purpose. The first sample of around 4,000 people represents the population aged 16 and over in Germany. The second sample is a regional sample in selected structurally strong and structurally weak districts in eastern and western Germany, in which a further representative sample of 4,000 people are surveyed. In addition to the population surveys, in-depth focus group interviews are conducted in the selected districts to enable an in-depth analysis of people’s attitudes and perspectives.

A consortium of academics from the Centre for Social Research, Halle, the Institute of Political Science of the University of Jena and GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Mannheim produces the Germany Monitor. The Germany Monitor is financed by a grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Eastern Germany and it focuses on different topics each year. In 2023, the surveys took place in June, July and October. Initially, a three-year test phase is planned for the years 2023 to 2025.