If you feel that Austrians are taciturn and slow to warm to outsiders, you’re right: A recent online survey conducted on behalf of the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard shows that 53% of the 803 participants claimed they “prefer to keep what [they] really think to [themselves].” And while city-dwellers express their opinion 50% of the time, 60% in the countryside prefer to hold back their opinions.
In particular, supporters of the far-right are more likely to keep their own council: Two-thirds of FPÖ voters believe that “taboo topics” – unwritten laws that dictate what can and cannot be said – exist within Austrian society, giving a strong incentive to remain silent or face ostracization. 53% of the general population agrees.
David Pfarrhofer, the head of the Market Institute which conducted the survey, argues that suppressed FPÖ supporters are susceptible to conspiracy theories and could easily be inducted into QAnon or similar movements: The far-right tends to encourage a sense of disenfranchisement, which leads to cult-like bubbles, as “the FPÖ keeps touching upon certain taboos, because some voters may notice that they are not alone with their otherwise little accepted opinions.” Indeed, at least four out of ten respondents agreed with the common conspiracy theory that a small local elite decides “which opinions can be expressed in Austria without great risk.”
However, this assumption seems to be limited to the fringes of society. 78% of respondents believed those around them largely respect their opinions, with ÖVP and Green Party supporters in particular feeling that their beliefs are accepted. However, this could correlate to the fact that many individuals stick to their circles of trust – the same respondents also indicated that their family and friends “think like me on most issues.”
Some Austrians believe that it’s best to avoid politics altogether – 12% of those surveyed stated that “colleagues and acquaintances have distanced themselves from me after they heard my true opinion on political issues.” It would seem the old adage that politics and religion should be avoided in polite conversation still holds true in Austria: Every second respondent overall thought that it was easy to be labelled as right-wing; of those, 80% of FPÖ and one-third of SPÖ voters agreed with that statement. Conversely, only one in three eligible voters believed that being dismissed as a leftist was a common problem.
Furthermore, a whopping 49% of respondents felt that “political correctness” is exaggerated in Austria, with only Green Party supporters believing that this is not the case. Two-thirds of the latter insisted “that people around me have rather extreme political views;” however, most Green voters agreed that they “can tolerate the fact that others have a completely different opinion than [them].”
Attitudes may also vary according to topic. The majority of respondents – 55% – refuse to use gender-specific language, and only every fourth person surveyed agreed that outdated language in children’s books should be “corrected.” However, 55% claimed that they avoid racist terms “because others could feel hurt by it.”
This should be taken with a grain of salt, however: The anti-racism initiative ZARA documented a record 3,039 incidents of racism in 2020 – the highest in 22 years – the majority of which occurred online. So it seems that Austrians, especially those on the right, are not all too afraid to speak their minds – as long as they believe they’re safe from reprisals.