Author: Struggle in the City Team
Statistics can tell us many things – how many homeless people there are in The Hague, the average price of housing in Laakkwartier, or even the proportion of a population at risk of addiction.
Can we also use statistics to move beyond numeral concepts however? Is it possible to measure inherently human notions such as personal values and attitudes towards others? In other words: How can we best capture public opinion towards vulnerable populations?
Option 1: Opinion Polls and Election Data
We can approach these questions from several different angles: The first option is to use so-called opinion polls. Opinion polls are used to estimate public perceptions on certain issues. They are taken by sampling a small, random – and thus statistically representative – section of the public in an effort to predict election results or gauge a population’s general attitude towards controversial topics (Gallup and Rae 1940).
If we want to gain a better understanding of Dutch attitudes towards the vulnerable, the easiest option is to take a closer look at the political leanings of the Dutch population. Election results can reveal a lot about the general mindset and primary concerns of a voting population. When examining attitudes towards vulnerable populations, issues and opinions surrounding the welfare state are particularly interesting.
The Kiesraad compiles all available Dutch election data since 1800 – national, as well as local. If you want to check the dominant political views in The Hague for example, simply search for “Gemeenteraad” – or municipal-level – election results in the province of Zuid-Holland and the municipality of s-Gravenhage. The website also provides an interactive map to match and compare the election results of different municipalities.
Option 2: The Manifesto Project
Now that you know the election results, it is probably good to know what exactly the Dutch political parties stand for. Here, the Manifesto Project Database is a great tool. This Project compiles over 100 political parties’ policy positions on a wide range of issues based on a content analysis of their electoral manifestos. Not only can you compare the parties’ stances on certain issues such as multiculturalism or immigration to one anothers’, you can also trace their stances on these same topics throughout the years. You can find out how to use the Manifesto Project Database here.
While election results can give you a broad impression of a population’s political preferences, they remain imperfect measures of public opinion. Most often, it is impossible to single out one or several reasons why one candidate has prevailed over another. Yes, they may have won because they are more in touch with their voters or understands their needs better than others. It is also possible they won simply because they are a better speaker than others for example. Furthermore, voters make their choices based on different reasons. Some vote based on economic issues, while others elect the candidate who best reflects their opinions on immigration for example (Brooker and Schaefer 2015). Thus, while election results are great for gaining an overview of the general political climate in a given area, they remain a blunt tool for evaluating a population’s values and attitudes.
Option 3: Population Surveys
Finally, one of the most accurate and systematic ways of determining public opinion is population surveys. Here, researchers ask a few hundred or thousand people for their opinions about relevant or even controversial issues. With careful random selection of the sample, the results of a survey can be projected onto an entire population. This method is therefore one of the most important tools for gauging public values and attitudes (Brooker and Schaefer 2015).
There are several surveys which give us more insight into Dutch attitudes towards the vulnerable. One of the best sources for insights into this population’s public perceptions is the SCP (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau). This governmental office aims to contribute to well-informed government policy and a better society with scientific knowledge about the lives of citizens in the Netherlands. You can find their evidence-based publications on a wide range of issues – including the effects of Corona on lifestyle and welfare state attitudes for example – here. This office furthermore makes use of a wide range of open data indicators and surveys aimed at examining Dutch cultural perceptions – you can find these here.
The CBS is another good source of information about Dutch values and attitudes, regularly conducting surveys and opinion polls (see CBS 2018 for example). Only recently it initiated a collaborative project with municipalities interested in data-driven policy on a local level. The Urban Data Center The Hague now regularly collects data on the living situation and wellbeing of the city’s residents. These publications too, can be used to garner a better understanding of public opinion on a more municipal level.
Finally, for a more international perspective, the Eurobarometer is the way to go. This is a population survey commissioned by the European Parliament and regularly conducted in all EU member states. The survey covers issues such as public perceptions of socio-demographic trends, views on EU action or even the development of European youth. Results are usually published both in the form of shorter factsheets and more extensive publications.
The Bottom Line
Returning to the original question: How can we best examine attitudes towards the vulnerable in The Hague? The answer here is somewhat complicated. While some data sources such as election data are available at a municipal level, they remain blunt tools for estimating the true values and opinions of the Dutch population. On the other hand, the more targeted population surveys are most often available only on a national level. New initiatives such as the CBS Urban Data Center collaborations are actively working to fill this gap however.
In the meantime, while not all sources named above are specifically aimed at measuring public perceptions of the vulnerable, they can nevertheless be used to fill in the gaps left by other surveys. Thus, the more data sources we combine, the clearer the picture of Dutch perceptions and attitudes towards the vulnerable will become.
Brooker, Russell G. and Todd Schaefer (2015). “Public Opinion in the 21st Century – Methods of Measuring Public Opinion.” Unpublished work. At https://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/Peffley/pdf/473Measuring%20Public%20Opinion.pdf.
CBS (2018). “Most Dutch people in favour of receiving refugees.” CBS. At https://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2018/13/most-dutch-people-in-favour-of-receiving-refugees.
Gallup, George and Saul Forbes Rae (1940). The Pulse of Democracy: The Public-Opinion Poll and How It Works. Simon & Schuster.