Justification of political violence found among higher educated people in the EU

Justification of political violence found among higher educated people in the EU

The cliché that political extremism mainly finds a breeding ground among people who are socio-economically disadvantaged is nuanced by research at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Doctoral student Gabriel Zohar from the Department of Education Sciences studied a European dataset and concluded that the cliché does not seem to hold true in wealthier European countries: the richer a country and the higher the average family income, the less political violence is rejected, especially among the higher educated.

Zohar used data from the 2017 European Values Survey (updated in 2018) and from Eurostat (2018). This data relates to 15,347 residents from 12 European countries and can be considered representative of the European population. They were asked questions including to what extent they considered political violence could be justified, as well as about their age, gender and marital status. Finally, they could indicate on a scale of 0 to 10 whether they felt more at home on the right or the left of the political spectrum.

The data was then cross-referenced with European data on the socio-economic context in the countries from which the respondents came, such as the level of education and family income.

“The conclusions were surprising,” says Zohar. “In poorer countries, the use of political violence is mainly defended in the context of redistributing opportunities for greater prosperity. There you see that taxi drivers sometimes have a master’s degree, but they cannot use it to find a better job. In richer countries, on the other hand, the emphasis is on threats to private life and is therefore more strongly linked to income. It is also true that in poorer countries there is a link between low educational profiles and the understanding of the use of political violence. In richer countries, we see much less of a correlation; on the contrary, there we see that people with higher education do show more understanding for ideas about political violence, and that this tolerance even increases with the level of education.”
Both economic and educational inequality are strong predictors of the justification of political violence, Zohar concludes. “A one-sided focus on only economic growth to eliminate this inequality is just as inefficient as simply ensuring better access to education, especially if this is not accompanied by better opportunities on the labour market. You have to pay attention to both aspects. Attention to everyone’s talents is at least as important as economic prosperity or a good diploma.”

Zohar did not study people’s willingness to actually use political violence, only the degree to which it is justified by some layers of a population.

His study appeared in the academic journal Political Research Exchange under the title “The relationship between level of education and household income in the justification of political violence in the EU. The moderating effect of poverty at the country level.”



Gabriel Zohar

[email protected]

+32 471 19 71 75




About Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.



Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussel