The European Commission's Eurobarometer survey monitors public opinion on a variety of political and economic issues across European Union member states. One question on the Eurobarometer survey asks:
Personally, what are the two most important issues you are facing at the moment?
This question was only asked in May 2012. For the EU as a whole, by far the most common response was rising prices/inflation. In fact, 45% of people in 2012 said that inflation was one of the top two most important issues they were facing. The pie graph below shows, for the EU as a whole, the responses people chose. Only 15% of people chose the financial situation of their household as a top issue. Health and social security also had a mere 15%. I was stunned that three times as many people consider inflation a top issue as consider health and social security a top issue.
In the graphs below, the results are broken down by country. First I show the percent of respondents in each country who choose inflation as a top-two issue. Then for a few countries, I show the percent who choose inflation and the percent who choose unemployment. In twelve countries (including Austria, France, and Germany), at least half of respondents say that inflation is a top-two issue. Sweden is a major outlier-- only 5% think that inflation is a top-two issue. The next lowest is Greece, at 26%. Sweden and Greece did have the lowest inflation in the EU in May 2012, but really just about ALL countries in the EU had (and still have) low or reasonable inflation.
Half of Germans and French thought that rising prices were a top issue, even when inflation was just 2.5%. The EC Consumer Survey, asks people how much they think prices have risen in the past 12 months. In May 2012, 28% of German, 36% of French, and 40% of Austrians thought that prices had risen "a lot."
Neil Irwin recently wrote that "The leading economies of the industrialized nations may not have a lot in common, but they are all afflicted by this: Inflation is too low." Even though inflation is too low, a lot of people think it is high-- and think that rising prices personally affect them more than unemployment. Public opinion is a powerful force, so we see policymakers being more reluctant to raise inflation when it it too low, than to lower it when it is too high.