In a week when the stability of the global economy was once again called into question, with European political leaders meeting to seek a solution to the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone, GlobeScan’s tracking data shows that the public in many countries remains deeply pessimistic about the future of the planet.
For over ten years, GlobeScan has been monitoring the degree to which people around the globe feel that "the world is going in the right direction." On average, less than one-third of those polled have endorsed this view in recent years. This year’s findings show that there has been no rebound in optimism—and indeed that confidence in the way the world is heading has taken a further knock in many of the world’s major economies.
Less than a fifth (19%) of Americans now feel that the world is going in the right direction, compared to more than half back in 2001. Only 14 per cent of Japanese feel the same way. Just one in ten in Spain, one of the countries at the eye of the Eurozone storm, and fewer than a quarter of UK respondents are optimistic about the world’s direction—a figure that has fallen continually since 2006.
Optimism is markedly higher in emerging economies such as China, where 65% think the world is headed in the right direction, and Indonesia (43%)—but in both of these countries the trend is also downwards. Only in a few developing and middle-income countries—Peru, Russia, Turkey, and Nigeria—is optimism on the increase. With concern on many global issues very high, and trust in institutions low, it may be that the public perceives a sense of drift and absence of leadership in dealing, not only with the economic crisis, but also with such problems as climate change, the spread of disease, and terrorism.
Even though many commentators have suggested that China’s slowing economy poses risks to its political and social stability, GlobeScan’s polling shows that the Chinese public retains a much higher level of trust in their national government than they do in other social institutions.
The degree to which the public trusts different institutions in China may reflect the country’s insular, government-dominated past. China’s sustained economic success over the past two decades is probably a major factor in the public’s continuing faith in the government. The scientists who drive China’s prestige projects, such as its space programme, are also highly trusted. Meanwhile, religious groups and foreign corporations are much less widely trusted.
The government is also the actor with the greatest perceived impact—unsurprising for a body that has driven China’s breakneck change and continues to manage society tightly. China’s state corporations are also considered to be highly impactful. The press is viewed as powerful, but fewer express trust in it to act in society’s best interests.
Large majorities of Chinese agree that there has been progress in the past twenty years socially, economically, and even environmentally, despite rising pollution and controversies over projects such as the Three Gorges Dam. Equally large majorities look forward to similar progress over the next twenty years.
And while in recent months China’s government has been accused of stoking nationalism to distract from its own failings, these figures demonstrate how much loyalty it still commands, and that it retains an unchallenged position at the centre of Chinese society. A limited political transition may be imminent, but those expecting more fundamental change in the world’s second-largest economy may have longer to wait. The government’s status as the primary stakeholder for anyone looking to do business in China seems secure.
Despite the recent strong signs that boom years may be coming to an end, the past two decades have seen unprecedented economic growth in many nations in the developing world. Previous GlobeScan polling has seen this reflected in generally higher levels of economic optimism among citizens, greater trust in institutions, and a much more upbeat assessment of the performance of the corporate world.
It is something of a surprise therefore that GlobeScan’s most recent global polling also shows that people in developing nations are at least as likely as their industrialized-world counterparts to consider that “the present social, environmental, and economic challenges facing the world present a greater challenge than humanity has ever faced.”
Indeed, the country most likely to agree with this assessment is China, which in most GlobeScan polls exhibits a high degree of optimism about the future. As the chart demonstrates, there are a variety of issues which nations deem “the most important problem facing the world.” But, despite its stellar economic performance, China is the nation most likely to cite the state of the global economy as the biggest global problem. With a state media eager to play up the advantages of Communist party rule, it is clear that the economic turmoil outside China’s borders has not passed unnoticed.
Even if global pessimism is widespread—70 percent globally regard the current challenge as unprecedented —preoccupations remain dominated by local concerns. Crime and insecurity remains the dominant concern among Brazilians, British and Americans cite the economy, Spanish unemployment, and Pakistanis and Russians terrorism.
The fact that citizens in crisis-hit European economies are less likely than those in vibrant developing ones to agree that the current crisis is unprecedented does not mean that economic problems in the West are not at the root of much of the current pessimism. But these findings suggest that longstanding warnings over the consequences of inaction on climate change have registered with the global public, even as governments pull back on their commitments to reducing carbon. Moreover, changing political realities such as the European project’s crisis, the West’s seeming stagnation, and the inexorable rise of China are likely to contribute to a sense of a world in crisis and in search of farsighted leadership.
A report by Oxford University last week predicted that poverty in many of the fastest-developing countries could be wiped out within the next two decades if current trends continue. This report followed a similar assessment from the UN, which concluded that poverty eradication programmes had had far greater impact than expected, and that hundreds of millions of people were in the process of being lifted into the global middle class.
Citizens of developing world nations broadly share this upbeat assessment, and believe that the coming years will bring significant social improvements. Large majorities in China (78%), Brazil (77%), Nigeria and Kenya (both 65%) agree that society will become healthier and more equitable over the next twenty years.
For now, though, poverty remains a major concern. With the exception of Mexico, where concern has reached an all time low, and Turkey, where it has dropped sharply, poverty is still seen as a more serious issue in many countries than it was ten years ago. Concern about poverty has risen in China in recent years, while remaining at high levels in Brazil and Nigeria.
But this should not obscure the fact that growth and rising incomes are contributing to growing optimism across the developing world. This increasing self-confidence offers global companies an ideal context in which to partner with other organizations to help tackle poverty, while maybe winning some of the respect that often eludes them.
There was a string of good news on the US economy this week, with unemployment dropping to its lowest level in four years, a significant rise in consumer spending, and a new high for the S&P 500 stock-market index. But GlobeScan’s most recent public tracking data shows that a major turnaround will be needed if Americans are to rediscover their traditional optimism about their country’s future.
The proportion of Americans who feel that their country is headed in the right direction has been on a long-term decline for over a decade. Whereas in 2001 (before the September 11 attacks) more than half of Americans felt positive about the way things in the USA were going, this has fallen on each occasion we have tracked it, until by the end of 2012 this proportion stood at less than one-third. As this chart shows, optimism in the US is now at a lower level than in four other major developed economies—Canada, Australia, Germany, and the UK.
What is striking is that the major decline in American national optimism took place before the economic crisis of 2007/8. This suggests that a level of political polarization unprecedented in modern times, the ongoing perception of am increased terrorist threat, and a longer-term shift of economic power away from the USA may be as influential as the more recent acute economic malaise in shaping the way Americans feel about their country. It also suggests that Barack Obama should not count on the signs of economic recovery to usher in a new era of positive sentiment.
I was delighted to attend the Start Network’s annual conference Start for Change. During the event, we announced a new partnership between Start Network and GlobeScan, aiming to make progress toward the creation of a global humanitarian aid movement and to make strides toward enhanced engagement with stakeholders.
The Start Network focusses on collaboration within the humanitarian aid system across three areas:
It struck me during the day how crucial the key tenet of collaboration really is here, underpinning progress across all three areas. As Doug Miller, President of GlobeScan Foundation, summed up in his closing remarks, accountability, advocacy, cooperation, and redefining engagement are crucial aspects for the humanitarian sector to focus on, at a time when levels of trust and hope amongst the global public are precariously low. Start Network itself is a huge step in the right direction – collaboration among NGO actors with the same overarching goals and with the ultimate aim of improving access to aid for those who need it most. Few could scoff at that objective.
The first step is for humanitarian organisations themselves to work together where their goals align in order to move the sector forward. The second, even bolder step is to look beyond the traditional humanitarian system, toward a “whole of society approach,” a more decentralised and locally democratic approach which listens and empowers beneficiaries across the world. This was a recurring theme throughout the day.
For this to happen we will need to see significant shifts in terms of partnership models and engagement methods. One element to this is collaboration with non-traditional stakeholders such as the private sector, already operating on the ground worldwide. As Chair David Alexander humorously put it, perhaps it’s time for humanitarian NGOs to move away from seeing the corporate sector as “the devil incarnate” and to take learnings from the sector’s collaboration with governments, which is often perceived as a necessary step to effective action locally.
Indeed, in this year’s GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey on leadership, the ability to collaborate is identified as the most important attribute of leadership for NGOs. Verbatim responses to the survey reveal a strong sense amongst sustainable development experts that it is by working together that we will meet shared goals and make real progress.
A personal reflection on the private sector’s collaboration with the humanitarian system was given by Clare Bebbington, Group Head of External Affairs at Petrofac and one of the few corporate delegates in the room. Clare was right to advocate for improved mutual understanding, while cautioning about the risks of partnerships without this basis of appreciation and preparation. As Clare highlighted, while NGO-corporate partnerships for development are increasingly commonplace, there are remarkably few examples of successful humanitarian collaboration. A GlobeScan/SigWatch webinar last week also identified some of the challenges of NGO-company collaboration. Shared understanding of mutual objectives is crucial.
If we want to see more effective partnerships among actors, we need to start proactively asking each other what shared objectives we are trying to achieve, how we can support each other to meet these goals, and to learn from recent examples of collaboration, successful or otherwise. This would be one step on the journey toward a more holistic and locally devolved humanitarian system.
LONDON - A majority of citizens (59%) in a 12-country public opinion poll believe “the social, environmental and economic challenges the world faces today are more difficult than the ones we have faced in human history.” Only one in four (25%) believe our challenges are less difficult.
In spite of this, a similar majority (63%) believe that “humanity will find a way to overcome our current challenges.” However, almost a third of citizens (31%) think it is “very or somewhat unlikely” that we will be successful.
These are the key findings from the first Hope Index Poll of 12,000 citizens conducted by the GlobeScan Foundation and its national research partners in Kenya, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Poland, Russia, Turkey, the UK, and the US.
Other findings of the GlobeScan Foundation poll include:
The first-annual GlobeScan Foundation Poll of over 12,000 people worldwide was conducted between December 2013 and March 2014 by GlobeScan and its research partners to random samples of citizens in each country. Country results are based on mainly face-to-face interviewing and are considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5%, 19 times out of 20.(Please see page 7 for detailed methodology by country.)
GlobeScan Foundation president Doug Miller commented, “The good news is that only three in ten citizens across the 12 countries polled are pessimistic about Humanity’s future even given the perceived magnitude of our challenges. But majorities do not like the direction the world is headed in.”
He added, “As a pollster, I’m concerned that hopelessness, if it increases further, might hold society back and become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The GlobeScan Foundation intends to further develop and track the Hope Index across more countries in order to keep monitoring this important social indicator.”
Using the answers to 12 key questions posed in the survey, GlobeScan’s experts developed a Hope Index to rate countries and groups of individuals as to their degree of hope or hopelessness.
The following chart, aggregating the weight of opinion across the 12 questions in the survey, shows that Indonesia and Kenya score highest on the Hope Index and the US and UK score lowest among surveyed countries.
The GlobeScan Foundation’s full 30-page Hope Index report, including full methodology and detailed country findings, can be downloaded here.
Just as the Consumer Confidence Index is a reliable predictor of our economic future, the GlobeScan Foundation believes that hope can predict our potential as a global society to overcome the social, economic and environmental challenges we face. We are pleased to release the first Hope Index, reflecting the degree to which 12,000 citizens across 12 countries express optimism on current trends and hope for Humanity's future.
Whether it is the triumph of an underdog, the toppling of an oppressive force or the achievement of the seemingly impossible, stories of hope tug at our sentimental heartstrings and engender a sense of empowerment within our own lives. This feeling of empowerment is not purely superficial. Hope fundamentally alters our cognitive architecture to breed productivity and progress.
Just as the Consumer Confidence Index operates as a predictor of our economic future, the GlobeScan Foundation believes that hope can act as a predictor of progress and creative potential to overcome global society’s pressing challenges. It is with this belief that we are pleased to release the first Hope Index. The Index, which is based on perspectives from 12,000 citizens across the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Poland, Panama, India, Turkey, Kenya and Indonesia, reflects the degree of hope that respondents have for our future. Our analyses reveal that Indonesia and Kenya are the most hopeful countries while the UK and the US are the least hopeful of the countries included this year (See the Press Release for topline findings, individual country index scores, and full methodology).
Individuals with a hopeful mindset are especially effective in reaching their desired goals in the face of adversity1. This success, which can permeate all facets of life, is attained by a willingness to learn2 and a proactive approach to conflict or problem resolution1. Within the psychological literature, hope is conceived to be composed of three primary components: the expectation for a bright future, the perceived self-efficacy to achieve that expected future, and the motivation to achieve the expected future1. Hope provides the pathway to an elevated self-esteem and ultimately, an elevated sense of well-being and confidence3.
Our index aligns with each of these factors. Indeed, respondents with high hope were more likely to report that our children and grandchildren will have a higher quality of life than we do today (“Expectation of a Bright Future” chart, 1st below), believe that humanity will find a way to overcome the challenges we face today (“Perceived Efficacy to Achieve a Bright Future” chart, 2nd below), and are doing their part to help solve humanity’s challenges (“Motivation to Achieve a Bright Future” chart, 3rd below).
Social science research has shown that in addition to creating a sense of well-being and confidence, hopeful thinking can buffer against the stress of future obstacles in life4. Hopeful thinking therefore not only decreases the chance of future negative outcomes by facilitating positive behaviour, but can also provide the psychological armour that is required to achieve progress in the face of adversity1. Environments that encourage the establishment and achievement of goals can therefore establish small pockets of hope. And the more pockets of hope, the more mentally prepared we are as a global society to overcome the environmental, economic and social challenges that we face.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that “[a]ll that is done in the world is done by Hope.” It is with this belief that we plan to continue measuring citizens’ hope around the world. We would like to hear how you react to our work and what things you would change about our current Hope Index. Please engage with us by leaving your commentary below.
1 Synder, C. R., Feldman, D. B., Taylor, J. D., Schroeder, L. L. & Adams III, V. H. (2000). The roles of hopeful thinking in preventing problems and enhancing strengths. Applied & Preventative Psychology, 9, 249-270.
2 French, T.M. (1952). The Integration of behavior; Vol. 1. Basic postulates. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3 Curry, L. A., & Snyder, C. R (2000). Hope takes the field: Mind matters in athletic performances. In C. R. Snyder (Ed.), Handbook of Hope: Theory, measures and applications (pp. 243-260). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
4 Snyder, C. R. & Pulvars, K. (2001). Dr. Seuss, the coping machine, and “Oh, the places you’ll go.” In Snyder, C. R (Eds.) Coping with stress: Effective people and processes. New York: Oxford University Press.