Can North Macedonia Reverse Public Discontent and Stem Emigration?

North Macedonia – a nation on the move. But what are the thoughts and concerns occupying the minds of its citizens? To shed light on this, we are turning to the data gathered through the latest Q1 Quarterly Tracker on Lifepanel.

Lifepanel is a probability-based panel, that ensures a representative sample of the North Macedonian population. This allows us to explore the public opinion on critical issues shaping the country’s future.

In this blog post, we’ll be exploring a range of topics like, coruption, EU aspirations, the most pressing challenges currently facing the country and more.

By exploring into these areas, we aim to provide a clear picture of the current state of mind among Macedonians. This data can be a valuable asset for policymakers, organisations, and anyone with a stake in understanding the social and political landscape of North Macedonia.

Lifepanel survey opens with a fundamental question: to what extent do Macedonians believe their country is progressing in the right direction?

To what extent do you agree that things are moving in the right direction in your country?

The initial findings reveal a cause for potential concern. A significant portion of the population, 60% of respondents, strongly disagree with the statement “North Macedonia is moving in the right direction.” This data suggests a need to explore the underlying anxieties shaping these negative perceptions. By examining more closely the survey results, we can shed light on the specific issues impacting public confidence in the country’s current trajectory.

Moving beyond the general sentiment, Lifepanel went beyond the initial question to understand the specific challenges burdening Macedonians. When asked “what is the biggest problem your country is facing at the moment?”, the answer was clear: the rising cost of living. A significant portion of respondents (24.6%) identified this as the most pressing issue. This mirrors concerns felt around the world, highlighting the impact of global economic pressures.

In your opinion, what is the most important problem that your country is currently facing?

However, economic anxieties aren’t the only concern. Corruption remains a significant problem, with 17.7% of respondents pointing it as the biggest obstacle facing the country. This reflects a long-standing issue that continues to undermine public trust. Additionally, the healthcare system also emerged as a top concern (14.5%), suggesting a need to address potential shortcomings in access to quality health care.

Building upon the concerning trend of public dissatisfaction identified in the previous question, the Lifepanel survey investigated further to explore the specific areas most affected by corruption within North Macedonia. The follow-up question posed to respondents was: “Which public service is most affected by corruption in your country?” The results are deeply unsettling.

In your opinion, which public service is most affected by corruption?

A staggering 24.7% of respondents identified the government itself as the sector most compromised by corruption. This pervasive lack of trust extends beyond the executive branch, with a significant number of respondents (17.3%) also citing the political system as susceptible to corrupt practices. Furthermore, the judiciary, another cornerstone of a healthy democracy, is not spared from public suspicion, as 15.2% of the respondents said that this public service is the most affected by corruption. These findings are particularly alarming because these three institutions – the government, the political system, and the judiciary – are the very bedrock upon which a nation functions. With such a profound erosion of public trust, effectively tackling corruption becomes an even more pressing imperative. Only by restoring faith in these critical institutions can North Macedonia move towards a more stable and prosperous future.

Highlighting the public’s discontent discovered in the previous questions regarding corruption, the Lifepanel survey then posed a particularly concerning inquiry: “Have you considered moving or leaving North Macedonia in the last 12 months?”

In the last 12 months, have you considered moving from your country, temporarily or permanently?

The results paint a stark picture, with a staggering 70.4% of respondents across all age groups revealing that they have considered emigrating. This figure goes beyond simple dissatisfaction, it reflects a deep-seated disappointment with the way things are currently going. It serves as a stark indicator that a significant portion of the population feels the government is failing to meet their needs and aspirations. This widespread sentiment underscores the urgent need for policymakers to take decisive action. Regaining public trust requires more than mere pronouncements, concrete steps must be taken to address the concerns driving this growing interest in leaving the country.

All things considered, do you think your country would benefit from beeing a member of the EU?

The next question Lifepanel asked it’s North Macedonian respondents is: Would their country benefit from European Union membership? The results reveal a hopeful perspective, with a significant majority (60.5%) expressing belief that EU membership would bring positive change. However, a sizeable portion (25.7%) remains unconvinced, either fearing minimal impact or even negative consequences. These findings highlight the range of opinions surrounding EU membership in North Macedonia. While a clear majority anticipates potential benefits, some residents remain skeptical about the path forward.

The final question asked respondents to identify the country or organization they believe their nation should have the closest relationship with. The results reveal a clear correlation between a respondent’s stance on EU membership and their preferred international ally.

Which country or organization should your country have the closest relationship with?

Those advocating for EU membership (60.5% of all respondents) overwhelmingly favored the European Union itself as their closest partner (61.6%). This suggests a strong alignment between their desire for EU integration and a preference for closer ties with European partners. In contrast, those who believe EU membership wouldn’t benefit North Macedonia (25.7% of all respondents) displayed a marked divergence in their preferred alliances. A significant portion (42.1%) favored Russia, potentially reflecting a desire for partnerships outside of the Western sphere of influence. Interestingly, a smaller but notable segment (12.9%) identified China as their preferred partner. This highlights a potential openness to forging relationships with emerging economic powers. Notably, only 2.6% of those who expressed skepticism about EU membership viewed the EU itself as the ideal closest partner. Additionally, not a single respondent in this group identified NATO as their preferred ally.

The Lifepanel survey paints a picture of North Macedonia at a crossroads. Public dissatisfaction is high, with a majority (60%) feeling the country isn’t moving in the right direction. Rising living costs, entrenched corruption, and concerns about the healthcare system all contribute to this sentiment. This frustration manifests in a startling statistic: 70.4% of respondents have considered emigrating in the last year.

However, there’s also a glimmer of hope. A significant majority (60.5%) believe EU membership would benefit North Macedonia, highlighting a desire for closer ties with Europe. This aligns with the preference for the EU as the closest partner among those advocating for membership (61.6%).

The survey also reveals a potential shift in international alliances. Those skeptical of EU benefits look towards Russia (42.1%) and China (12.9%) as alternative partners. Understanding these nuances is crucial for navigating the complexities of foreign relations.

The path forward for North Macedonia is clear: policymakers must address the concerns of their people. Combating corruption, ensuring a strong healthcare system, and mitigating the rising cost of living are essential steps towards rebuilding public trust. Only then can North Macedonia move forward with renewed confidence, whether within the EU or forging its own path. The Lifepanel survey serves as a powerful call to action for both policymakers and citizens alike. By working together to address these challenges, North Macedonia can build a more prosperous and secure future.

The survey was conducted from January to March on 1429 respondents over 16 years old and was based on a nationally representative sample of North Macedonian adults, with 95% confidence a given range contains the true result at a population level and an error margin of 2.5%. The results are weighted, base weights are calibrated for age, gender, educational attainment level and place of residence and adjusted for non-response.

Stole Smilkov
Stole Smilkov
Stole Smilkov is the Business Development Manager of Sample Solutions BV, and leading the further growth of Lifepanel from a research but also commercial perspective.