Doug Miller founded GlobeScan in 1987, and has led its expansive growth and its transition to an evidence-based consultancy and engagement firm. A pioneer of global polling, Doug is also a respected practitioner of stakeholder engagement and collaborative action. Recognized as a leading public affairs specialist, he briefs corporate boardrooms and government leaders around the world. Doug is President of the GlobeScan Foundation.
Dr. David Nabarro, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, recently wrote a letter of appreciation for public opinion metrics the GlobeScan Foundation provided in support of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and for our Survey of the Poor initiative.
You can read a copy of the letter here.
In a contributed article to The Economist's annual The World in 2016 special edition, GlobeScan Foundation President, Doug Miller has been recognised for his public opinion pointers to the future.
Upon the latest release of The World in 2017, Daniel Franklin, Editor of the Economist’s “Year in 2016”, took to a recent podcast to name Doug as the most noteworthy predictor of any of the contributors to their “World in 2016” magazine:
Published by The Financial Times on October 17th, 2012, this letter was written by GlobeScan Foundation President, Doug Miller, in response to an October 11th, 2012 article entitled "Companies are facing a new type of opponent”
Sir Michael Skapinker’s article “Companies are facing a new type of opponent” (October 11) builds very well on Simon Zadek’s keen observation that conflict today stems increasingly from the gulf between rich and poor within countries.
Mr. Skapinker goes on to argue quite effectively that this has created a new opposing force to free enterprise, as demonstrated by seemingly random and unexpected uprisings at mines in South Africa, at Foxconn in China and during last year’s riots in Britain (not to mention Occupy Wall Street).
This phenomenon is underscored by the poll we conducted for the BBC World Service earlier this year, which revealed that majorities in 18 of 24 countries see the economic system in their country as unfair in distributing economic benefits and costs. The fact that companies are increasingly being targeted by these “new opponents” is understandable given another finding from the same poll – that free enterprise as currently practised is progressively losing its appeal. While one in two citizens across the 24 countries believes flaws in the free market system can be fixed through reform and regulation, fully one in four now sees it as fatally flawed and that a new economic system is needed.
We would argue that the best defence to all this is a good offence. Big companies first need to manage their reputation proactively among their stakeholders to avoid being targeted; and second, they need to rediscover an authentic societal purpose at the heart of their enterprise from which to demonstrate the efficacy of free enterprise in meeting the real needs of the majority of people.
I used to joke in client presentations that those chief financial officers and other executives who continued to oppose corporate social responsibility initiatives by their companies would one day awake to discover that CSR had been replaced by something they would like even less. Well, this is it.
Read this letter on The Financial Times (Subscription Required)
Our recent polling for the BBC World Service showed a very mixed picture of the state of freedoms today, especially in established democracies following Edward Snowden’s allegations of widespread surveillance by the US Government.
In order to better understand how different nationalities and groups rate their freedom, GlobeScan’s Advanced Analytics Team applied some statistical techniques to reveal deeper insights into how perceptions differ across the 17 countries included in our latest poll of 17,000 people.
The first analysis we performed was to create a Perceived Freedom Index for each country by weighting each of 5 freedoms equally1. The final index ranges from 0 to 100: the higher the index, the higher the level of perceived freedom in a particular country (with 100 being the optimal score that is theoretically achievable).
As you can see from the chart below, with the 17 countries appearing in decreasing Index order, there are some interesting surprises. Countries with very different incomes, political regimes and democratic traditions share similar ratings. Countries with relatively difficult socio-economic conditions such as Peru and Indonesia sit atop the list along with “longtime democracies” like Australia, Canada and Spain. The United States comes 12th. France, another champion of individual freedoms, comes 15th. South Korea and Pakistan are judged least free by their citizens.
The results indicate that while being a universal concept, freedom is also a relative idea, lived subjectively and differently by people from diverse culture, and certainly independent from traditional socio-economic criteria or democratic classification.
This Freedom Index is a good “balanced score card” that helps differentiate between countries and socio-demographic groups of population. However, the index falls short of revealing specific patterns that reflect citizens’ feelings, attitudes and concerns. In order to identify, understand and describe these patterns our team segmented all respondents into groups. Respondents within a segment share the same pattern of freedom perceptions.
The segments we have discovered reflect how citizens feel when it comes to their relationship with their national government in the areas of human rights and personal freedoms2.
The Free - The first segment, which we label ‘Free’ are those who believe that they are living in a country where freedom of speech, conscience, religion, marriage, and freedom from government interference are embraced and protected.
The Chaperoned - The second segment includes citizens who feel generally happy with the level of freedom, though not as unconditionally as the ‘Free’ citizens. What most differentiates this segment from the ‘Free’ group is a personal feeling of not being completely free from government surveillance and monitoring. However, this is not perceived as a form of social sanction - but rather as a benign check on civic decency and propriety. Because this segment does not seem to perceive this type of surveillance negatively we have called it ‘Chaperoned’.
The Watched - While a majority of the third segment, which we have named ‘Watched,” are satisfied with the state of the freedoms of speech, religion, and marriage, they also feel somewhat annoyed by government surveillance of their personal and public life.
The Ruled - The last segment we call ‘Ruled’ because it is composed of people who most feel somewhat deprived and oppressed when it comes to all four basic democratic freedoms explored in the poll.
Based on the segments’ distribution, the surveyed nations don’t exhibit any clear patterns or clusters. Countries with the highest representation of the ‘Free’ segment include high-income countries, such as Australia, Canada, UK and Spain, as well as low-income Kenya and Peru. A lower representation of ‘Free’ people is found in South Korea, Nigeria, USA, Indonesia, Pakistan, Germany and France. As for the ‘Ruled’ segment, the largest percentages are found in India and Pakistan.
The segments’ distribution across surveyed countries can be seen by selecting a different country at the top of the following chart.
On the global level, it does appear that a stronger sense of freedom comes with social maturity, because the ‘Free’ citizens tend to be older than members of the other 3 segments. Younger people in many countries are more likely to feel deprived of one or more basic democratic freedoms.
Other than this age difference, there are very few socio-economic or demographic differences between the members of different segments, which suggests that it is not social class or economic status that shape the feelings and viewpoints but rather the political regime and discourse in a given country as well as the system of government that set views apart. In other words, cross-country differences were more prominent than socio-demographic differences.
Paraphrasing the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina we can say ‘all happy nations are alike; each unhappy nation is unhappy in its own way’.
It will be interesting to see how the Perceived Freedom Index and the Freedom Segments evolve over time. The perceived intrusiveness of government surveillance over the Internet is likely to be the major driver of change in these findings. Indeed, it can be argued that this perception will most shape the potential role of the Internet in developing or renewing our freedoms and democracies.
1 The five freedoms used to create the Index included discussing any issue publicly, practicing religion of choice, living with partner of choice, freedom from surveillance, and press freedom. All five questions were first recoded into the same 0 to 4-point scale and the mean scores were then converted into a rating score up to 20 for each question. Then the 5 scores were added together to produce an Index on a scale up to 100.
2 The segments were identified using a Latent Class Modeling algorithm.
Doug Miller's award-wining paper presented as part of WAPOR's 68th Annual Conference in Buenos Aires, June 2015.
International public opinion findings presented in this paper suggest that, 800 years on, key principles associated with the Magna Carta are very much alive but not well realized in many countries.
The paper draws on three international research programs with relevant findings: the World Values Survey (University of Michigan), GlobeScan’s syndicated Radar program, and the BBC World Service Poll. Given the longitudinal nature of these polling programs, the paper is able to analyze current findings (including GlobeScan’s latest 20-‐nation survey conducted during January and February 2015) within the context of over a decade of tracking these views.
The paper explores citizen perceptions on many of the principles that have been associated with the Magna Carta, including human rights and the rule of law, democracy, religious and other freedoms, and media and Internet freedom. Findings from specific research questions are used to assess:
The paper concludes with a call to action for the survey research profession to further extend its efforts in helping citizens hold their governments to account on the liberties and democratic principles associated with the Magna Carta. By tracking and publicly reporting citizen perceptions of their governments’ performance on these matters, the profession can play a unique and vital democratic role in the world.
This paper draws from international public opinion research to assess the extent to which citizens believe that the principles associated with the Magna Carta are established in their country. It focuses on citizen views in 20 countries common to three international research programs with relevant findings: the World Values Survey (University of Michigan)1, GlobeScan’s syndicated Radar program2, and the BBC World Service Poll3. Given the longitudinal nature of these research programs, the paper is able to analyze current findings (including GlobeScan’s latest Radar study conducted January/February 2015) within the context of over a decade of tracking these views.
Many attributes of justice, democracy and human rights have been associated with the Magna Carta over the centuries, beyond its original focus on the rule of law. Because of this, the paper takes an inclusive look at related topics in order to provide a broad assessment of the “health” of the Magna Carta 800 years on. This includes relevant public perceptions of media and the Internet (the new “public squares”).
The following map shows the countries common to the three research programs, which form the field of view covered in this paper.
At its core, the Magna Carta proclaimed the right of citizens to a fair trial and non-arbitrary justice. One indicator of this is the extent to which the courts and justice system enjoy the confidence of a nation’s citizens. According to the World Values Survey, such confidence exists in a broad mix of countries across the world, but there is another set of countries where such confidence does not exist among most citizens.
Majorities of citizens in 13 of 22 countries have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the court system in their country, especially in Asia (Japan, China and South Korea). Citizens of Latin America express the lowest levels of confidence (Peru, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia).
The trend charts below show that in half (11) of the 22 countries, confidence in the courts is improving or keeping stable at a high level; and in another 11 countries confidence has declined over the last two decades. This and other findings suggest there are two worlds; one with growing Magna Carta rights, and the other with declining rights.
The World Values Survey has also tracked the extent that citizens believe there is respect for human rights generally in their country. This shows a somewhat more positive trend.
Overall, majorities of citizens in 19 of 25 countries say there is at least a fair amount of respect for individual human rights in their country. Again, citizens of Latin American countries are least likely to agree (Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico). It is interesting to see China in such strong standing both here and in confidence in the courts.
The following trend charts show that over the last decade-‐and-‐a-‐half, perceptions of respect for individual human rights have strengthened or held at a high level in 15 of 25 countries, while in another 10 countries such perceptions have declined.
This evidence suggests that core elements of the 800 year-‐old Magna Carta – the rule of law and respect for human rights – have since migrated well beyond countries that were once under British rule or influence. This is a significant accomplishment and historically important. It suggests that these make up part of what humans see as defining elements of justice and human dignity. At the same time, even after all these centuries, it is clear that significant numbers of the human family continue to live in countries that are not respecting these rights in sufficient measure to satisfy their populations.
The extent to which citizens can decide on their leaders and set their country’s overall direction is another set of rights that has been popularly bundled with the Magna Carta. While the structure of a country’s democratic institutions is a significant factor here, survey research can provide metrics on two other important aspects of democracy: the extent to which citizens believe their country is being governed by the will of the people, and the extent to which they believe their country’s elections are free and fair.
Over the last decade-‐and-‐a-‐half GlobeScan (including in partnership with Gallup International in 2002) has conducted surveys in 65 countries asking whether respondents agree or disagree with the statement, “Our country is governed by the will of the people.” In all this asking, majorities in only 7 countries have ever agreed with the statement – and not one has been an established Western democracy. The latest GlobeScan Radar survey4, conducted in January and February 2015, found majority agreement in only 2 of 18 countries – Indonesia and China. However, as the tracking chart below shows, the views in 7 countries are trending upwards.
Ironically, it is among Americans where we find one of the most dramatic downward trends, with only 23 percent today saying that the US is governed by the will of the people, down from 44 percent in 2002. The UK is at the same low level (25%), as are France and South Korea.
Another dimension of democracy informed by survey research is the extent to which citizens believe their country’s elections are conducted in a free and fair manner. Here, we see another bifurcation or two-‐world pattern, with a majority of citizens in half the 16 countries rating their elections as “free and fair,” with the other 8 countries having majorities or pluralities of citizens disagreeing.
The following tracking chart shows that 4 of the 16 countries have moved upwards over the last 13 years (especially Argentina and Indonesia). Another 4 countries have trended downwards, including the UK and US. Today, only 45 percent of Americans believe their elections are free and fair, down from 58 percent in 2002.
These findings suggest that some of the most acute “democratic deficits” are felt by citizens of the two countries most associated with the Magna Carta, the UK and US. While this is not the best advertisement on the occasion of The Great Charter‘s 800th anniversary, it can be argued that there are no better countries in which this pent-‐up citizen frustration can result in real democratic reform and renewal.
There is evidence from a 2014 BBC World Service Poll5 to suggest that many of the personal freedoms that Western democracies have championed in the world are actually fairly well established in the minds of citizens across 17 countries polled, particularly religious freedom. Ironically, it is in some of the Western democracies where citizens give relatively poor ratings of some freedoms.
In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations over invasive US Government surveillance practices, over one in three citizens (36%) across the 17 countries said they did not feel free from government surveillance and monitoring, making this the worst-‐ rated of five freedoms examined in the poll. Majorities of Americans (54%) and Germans (51%) did not feel free from government surveillance, while in contrast, strong majorities felt free of surveillance in countries such as China (76%), Indonesia (69%) and Russia (61%).
As for the other freedoms examined by the BBC, strong majorities across all 17 countries felt they had a high level of freedom to “practice the religion of their choice” (87%), to “marry or live with the person of their choosing” (86%), and to “speak about any issue publicly” (75%).
It is in the newer public spaces of the media and the Internet where polling evidence suggests the spirit of the Magna Carta is least established. Findings from the same 2014
BBC World Service Poll suggest that these two underpinnings of modern democracies are in fact at risk—a media seen as free and fair; and an Internet safe for the free expression of views.
On average, only 40 per cent of citizens across the 17 countries believed that the press and media in their country were “free to report the news accurately, truthfully and without undue bias.” Just above a quarter (27%) had the opposite opinion, and the views of 28 per cent were mixed (neither free nor not free).
Respondents from emerging economies tended to most believe in the freedom of their national media, with Indonesians by far the most likely (73%), followed by Peruvians (51%) and strong pluralities in Africa (Nigeria, 49%; Kenya, 44%), India (49%) and China (47%)—although in China this perception was moderated by an almost equal proportion of neutral opinions (44%). Conversely, South Korea stood out with seven in ten (69%) saying the media in South Korea is not free, followed by strong pluralities in Spain (46%) and France (40%).
Across eight countries surveyed for the BBC in both 2007 and 2014, the percentage of people who rated their media as free dropped by nearly one third over the last seven years, from 59 per cent to 40 per cent. The biggest falls occurred in Kenya (down 37 points), India (down 23 points) and Russia (down 20 points). In the UK and the USA, only a minority of respondents felt they had a free and fair media in 2014 (45% and 42% respectively), compared to majorities in both countries in 2007 (56% and 53%).
As for the newest “public square,” perceptions of the Internet’s freedom were no doubt significantly affected by widespread media coverage of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing over extensive on-‐line surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Following this, when the 2014 BBC World Service Poll explored views of whether “the Internet is a safe place to express my opinions,” fully one in two citizens (52%) across 17 countries disagreed – outnumbering the 40 per cent who agreed it was safe.
While one-‐in-‐two judged the Internet an unsafe place for expressing opinions, two-‐ thirds (67%) did say the Internet brings them greater freedom, with only 25 per cent disagreeing.
There were very large differences in perceptions of Internet freedom from country to country. The following chart shows the very negative views of citizens of Western democracies, with milder negative perceptions in Russia and China. Conversely, a majority of citizens of Nigeria and India (and less so Indonesia, Kenya, Peru and Pakistan), believe they can safely express their views over the Internet.
It is no doubt disheartening for democrats everywhere that so-‐called established democracies, including what could be called the “Magna Carta countries” of the UK and US, have some of the lowest perceptions of both media freedom and the safe expression of views on the Internet. Any renewal of democratic principles is most likely to be accomplished through these virtual “public squares.” While long democratic traditions no doubt make citizens of Western democracies “harder markers” on these matters, such negative evaluations by citizens can undermine the collective will that is required for reform and renewal.
While social researchers can always wish for a broader array of country data and more longitudinal data points on which to base their conclusions, the survey research evidence presented in this paper do suggest the following conclusions:
All of this presents an historic challenge for the public opinion research profession to closely monitor and publicly report research findings on all aspects related to the rule of law, personal freedoms, human rights and democracy. Our profession, more than others, is predicated on the essential equality of all people and their right to express their views on important matters of state.
Therefore, this paper concludes with a call-‐to-‐action for all WAPOR members and survey research organization around the world to live up to this challenge by giving regular voice to citizens on a full range of topics related to the Magna Carta. In this way, we will take our modest share of the leadership mantle to ensure continuing democratic progress across the world.
1 The World Values Survey research program, under the leadership of the University of Michigan, has been conducted using telephone or in-‐person surveys in a total of 100 countries over six waves of research since 1981.
2 GlobeScan’s Radar is a syndicated research program that has been conducted annually across 20+ countries since 1997, each involving 1,000 telephone or in-‐person interviews with representative samples in each country.
3 The BBC World Service Poll has been conducted once or twice annually since 2005 by GlobeScan and its national research partners in collaboration with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. It has covered a wide range of newsworthy topics and typically involves findings from 20 countries.
4 Involving 22,500 telephone and in-‐person interviews of adult citizens across 24 countries, conducted mostly between January and February 2015 by GlobeScan and its national partners. Within-‐country results are considered accurate within +/-‐ 2.9 to 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
5 Involving 17,500 telephone and in-‐person interviews of adult citizens across 17 countries, conducted between December 2013 and February 2014 by GlobeScan and its national partners. Within-‐country results are considered accurate within +/-‐ 2.9 to 4.9 per cent 19 times out of 20.
In a contributed article to The Economist's annual The World in 2016 special edition, Doug Miller provides some public opinion pointers to the future - pointers Daniel Franklin, Editor of the “Year in 2016”, named the most noteworthy predictions by any of the contributors.
We can do far worse in predicting the near future than to draw from recent trends in public opinion. The “surprise” legalisation of gay marriage in America by the Supreme Court in 2015 followed two decades of polling that showed increasing acceptance of same-sex couples. A close study of public-opinion trends across some 20 countries points to three developments that are likely to occur in 2016.
First, a big political development in America will speed democratic renewal, much as Occupy Wall Street catalysed the conversation about inequality. The below charts show public perceptions of two of the main building blocks of democracy: being governed by the will of the people and having free and fair elections. Both measures have dropped a lot in America over the past decade, and are now below 50% for the first time.
A jolt is to be expected during the 2016 election. A low-trust political context is similar to a stressed physical environment where invasive species thrive—expressed through political volatility, fringe candidates and populism. Will Donald Trump’s presidential bid tear apart the Republican Party? Will outrage among African-Americans over police shootings of unarmed black teenagers escalate into a sustained rebellion in the last weeks of America’s first black president? Given the outrage over the status quo, something of this magnitude will occur.
A second development will see ethical consumerism reach breakout proportions not only in advanced economies but also in some emerging markets, such as China. As the chart below shows, self-reported ethical consumerism is at its highest level in this century, having increased sharply over the past two years. For this to be occurring in a lacklustre economy is remarkable. In 2016 ethical consumption (including shared consumption) will leave the margins and become recognised as a driver of economic recovery and also of global culture. Millennials (roughly, those born after 1980) especially are helping make this a defining element of a new modernity.
Finally, 2016 will be another tough year for concluding global trade agreements. The chart below shows continuing high support for trade barriers, especially in non-OECD countries like China and Brazil. With 63% of Americans supporting trade barriers, Barack Obama’s administration had to resort to herculean efforts in June 2015 to get congressional approval for “fast-track” authority to help advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (tpp) trade agreement. Imagine the domestic political challenges for other TPP-signatory governments like South Korea, Chile and Mexico, with protectionist sentiment around 20 percentage points higher. Given these numbers, it is hard to imagine the tpp or any other international trade agreement being successfully ratified by many national legislatures in 2016.
The wisdom of crowds, as approximated by trends in global public opinion, does not always prevail in the short term. But strong shifts in sentiment like those related to democracy, consumer behaviour and trade provide a pretty good basis for predicting the direction of events.
In a contributed chapter to the Gallup International book, “Voice of the People 2015”, Doug Miller lays out the evidence to suggest that global public opinion is a valid proxy for the global ‘body politic’.
For the first time in history, it can be successfully argued that global public opinion exists in sufficient measure to be called a singular entity, mainly due to the high penetration of global news coverage and the Internet creating a common agenda. However, the research industry needs to continue working to fill out its representation of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants.
Global public opinion is being measured scientifically and regularly by a number of research agencies and networks using acceptable research standards in countries around the world. And the results are being increasingly reported and used as “global opinion” by large media outlets and international institutions.
Reliably measuring the views of what could be called the ‘global body politic’ is a significant feat for the survey research profession. At the same time, it must be admitted even by those of us conducting this international research that global surveys systematically exclude significant numbers of countries as well as the poor and ultra-poor within participating countries.
So-called global polls are often only conducted in 20 to 30 countries, not nearly enough in a world with over 200 countries. Gallup International’s annual 60-country poll is an improvement, but still falls short. A relatively new entrant, Gallup Organization’s ‘World Poll,’ is now being conducted yearly in 160 countries, but it is far from certain that its business model is sustainable. A central problem here is the lack of financial resources that are dedicated to support transnational research, whether academic or commercial.
The second problem of representation relates to the under-representation of marginal groups within countries surveyed, especially the very poor. This is due to a number of factors including methodologies (for example, those that rely on mobile telephone ownership or especially Internet connectivity), endemically high refusal rates among those with no formal education, and the infrequent use of plain-language questionnaires where the level of comprehension is appropriate for ultra-poor respondents.
For example, the literacy rate in India stands at 74 percent (according to the UN; only 65% for women). This suggests that as many as 300 million Indians may be regularly under-represented in typical public opinion surveys due to level-of-language or other barriers, out of a total ultra-poor population in India of 400 million1.
Clearly, the poor and ultra-poor have views that matter as well, especially in countries with universal sufferage like India. While the poor are predominately focused on their own village/community and on meeting daily needs, they have a wealth of life experience and perspective that deserve to be heard and understood.
Initiatives like the UN Development Programme’s “Million Voices: The World We Want” (2013), the World Bank’s “Consultations With The Poor” (1999), and the GlobeScan Foundation’s “Survey of the Poor” (2015/16), are all attempts to bring the voices of the 1.2 billion people2 living on less than $1.25 per day into global public opinion.
While we in the research industry need to continue closing these two important gaps in our global representation – including more countries in global polls and being more inclusive of the poor and ultra-poor – there is persuasive evidence that the global public opinion that we currently measure is a valid proxy for the engaged ‘global body politic’ that most influences global governance and policies today.
To demonstrate that global public opinion not only exists but that it behaves in a manner consistent with a singular entity, we will draw from a large body of tracking research GlobeScan and its research partners have conducted across mainly Group of 20 (G20) countries over the last 15 years.
First, we explore what we consider to be a key underpinning of global public opinion – a common agenda created through the pervasiveness of news coverage and the penetration of the Internet – based on survey research GlobeScan has conducted for the BBC.
The 2006 BBC/Reuters Trust in Media Poll revealed strong demand across all 10 countries surveyed and all ages for news: seven in ten respondents (72%) reported following news closely every day - including two in three (67%) in the 18-24 age range.
More recently, GlobeScan’s 26-country BBC World Service Poll released in March 2010 revealed that 63% of home Internet users reported spending more than 3 hours a week on-line for non-work purposes. This figure would be significantly higher if measured today because of very large increases in Internet penetration in countries around the world during the last 5 years. In fact, an elaboration of data from the International Telecommunications Union and other sources suggests fully 100 countries will have greater than 50% Internet penetration in households by the end of 2015.3
This close attention to news coverage, both on and off line, together with the explosive growth in Internet penetration in recent years, has helped form an international ‘body politic’ with shared information and a common trans-national agenda.
As a result, global opinion has become more unified compared to when GlobeScan started global polling in 1999. Public opinion across the world was far from singular as recently as the turn of the century. In fact it was quite fragmented, with citizen views in developing countries at odds with those in the industrial world.
For example, in GlobeScan’s Millennium Poll conducted in 1999 across 23 countries, we found significant differences between citizens of G7 countries (namely: Canada, France, Germany Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA) and those in emerging economies in their levels of consumer empowerment and activism (G7 high, the rest low) and in their views of the relative roles of government, companies and NGOs (with NGOs seen as an important source of leadership in G7 countries while government leadership predominated elsewhere).
The same was true in GlobeScan’s first few international surveys on the environment in 1997 and 1998, which revealed G7 citizens more concerned about global impacts of pollution and about chemical risks compared to citizens in emerging economies. For their part, citizens of emerging economies, including the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), were more concerned about the local impacts of pollution on their health, and more inclined to see the benefits of chemical fertilizers outweighing their risks.
This systemic difference between citizens in industrialized countries and those in emerging economies has largely disappeared over the last 15 years of GlobeScan’s global tracking, reinforcing our view that global public opinion is a valid entity to study and discuss.
Minor differences continue to exist between developed and developing countries, but the views often trend in the same direction over time, suggesting a measure of congruence. Where significant differences still exist, it is sometimes surprisingly because views in G7 countries and the BRICs have actually reversed polarity.
Let’s examine three examples of how global views have evolved over the last decade and a half, to illustrate why we have reached these conclusions: first on climate change, then on globalization, and finally on hope for the future.
First, a few words about the way we have chosen to portray the data in the following charts. Given the constraints of black-and-white publishing, including line charts of each country’s results to each question was not seen as feasible. So we have charted average results for G7 countries and for BRIC countries, weighting each country’s results equally. Like many data series, there are holes in GlobeScan’s tracking with not all G7 and BRIC countries included in all years of the line charts. These exceptions are noted under each chart. The worst case is on the first chart where no Japanese or Italian data is included at all in the G7 average even though GlobeScan has data from these countries for some of the years. In the interest of transparency, GlobeScan is providing all related data in tabular form in an Appendix so the reader can study and portray the data in the manner they prefer.
The earliest international survey exploring views on climate change or global warming was conducted in 1992 by the Gallup International Institute (about the same time as a similar University of Chicago study). The Gallup study revealed a ten percentage point difference in the proportion of citizens of G7 countries (sans Japan and Italy) seeing the issue as “very serious” compared to citizens of BRIC countries (see chart). A similar ten percent higher rating by citizens of G7 countries compared to those in BRIC countries was revealed when GlobeScan asked the identical question (with permission) in 1998.
This statistically significant division in global opinion was consistent with what was observed on a number of global topics prior to the turn of the Century, reflecting generally a more local focus and concern among citizens of BRIC countries compared to their peers in G7 countries.
As this tracking chart indicates, from the year 2000 onwards this division of opinion has sometimes disappeared but also has reversed as the level of concern in G7 countries (sans Japan and Italy) peaked around the time of the 2009 UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen and has since declined to end 2014 fully 20 percentage points below the level 22 years earlier in 1992. Citizens of BRIC countries today are ten percentage points more likely to say the issue is “very serious” than their peers in G7 countries.
(Further research by GlobeScan suggests this reversal has been driven on the one hand by extreme weather events in BRIC countries attributed to climate change in the local media, and on the other hand, by a preoccupation with economic issues among G7 citizens that has pushed down their environmental concerns.)
Views on globalization have evolved over the last 15 years as well, demonstrating a relative homogeneity of opinion between those citizens in G7 countries (all 7) and the BRICs. Both sets of publics viewed economic globalization most positively immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. Since then, positive views have slowly declined across G7 countries. A larger decline in positive views has occurred among BRIC publics, ironically, the very ones who supposedly had the most to gain from the outsourcing of jobs that occurred from G7 countries over this period.
But the main point here is that the views of citizens across G7 and BRIC countries on globalization over the last decade have acted as if they are part of the same body of opinion. For example, it is easy to imagine a chart tracking the different views of men and women looking very similar to this.
One of the very few topics where we have found significant differences still existing between the views of G7 and BRIC citizens is related to hope for the future.
GlobeScan has asked a question across G20 countries for over a decade on whether respondents think their children and grandchildren will have a higher quality of life than they themselves have today. As the trend chart on the right shows, there has been a growing divergence in views on this over the last decade between citizens of G7 and BRIC countries.
The GlobeScan Foundation’s Hope Index4 pilot survey in 2013 confirmed this pattern, with the UK and US expressing the least amount of hope of any of the 12 countries surveyed on this very question.
In conclusion, with some exceptions (like hope for the future), GlobeScan’s evidence from 15 years of tracking opinion across the G20 countries reveals increasing convergence, or congruency, of opinion between citizens of G7 and BRIC countries, suggesting that global public opinion can be considered a singular entity, and hence a worthy subject for study and use in global affairs.
It is both surprising and comforting at the same time that people around the world share similar concerns and aspirations, as well as a similar agenda of global issues – all with rich cultural complexity and differences in perspective that we humans can deliver in even small groups let alone across tens of thousands of interviews worldwide.
This suggests that international comparative research is a field with much potential opportunity and influence, especially if we in the research industry continue to close the two important gaps in our global representation – including more countries in global polls and being more inclusive of poor and ultra-poor citizens.
At very least, we believe we have presented persuasive evidence to claim that ‘global public opinion’ as measured by the research industry’s current best practices is a valid proxy for the engaged ‘global body politic’ that most influences global culture, governance and policies today.
1 The World Bank Group estimate, April 2014
3 Source: Internet Live Stats - An elaboration of data from International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Population Division, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), and World Bank
4 The full report of the Hope Index pilot study can be downloaded here.
A number of recent media reports, including in The Economist and Financial Times, have raised the subject of the declining state of our democracy. Some have likened recent actions by so-called “established democracies” as resembling those of autocratic states – such as the recent banning of social media in Turkeyand the US government’s blanket on-line surveillance of citizens worldwide.
How have all these news reports affected people’s sense of freedom and democracy in this post-Snowden age? Is there a democracy deficit developing in the body politic?
The just-released BBC World Service Poll conducted by GlobeScan across 17 countries suggests that trends are going in two directions at once.
On the one hand, the results reveal that many of the personal freedoms that Western democracies have championed in the world are actually fairly well established in the minds of citizens across the particular 17 countries polled1, including freedom of religion, freedom of public discussion, and freedom to marry the person of your choice. It is also clear that most people see the Internet as a tool for increasing their freedom.
However, other results suggest that two important underpinnings of modern democracy are at a low ebb – a media seen as free and fair; and an Internet safe for the free expression of views. Also, freedom from government surveillance is the worst-rated of the five freedoms examined in the poll. Ironically, it is in established democracies where citizens give some of the lowest ratings of some freedoms. For example, the US and Germany are the only two countries in the poll where majorities say they do not feel free from government surveillance and monitoring.
Across eight of the countries surveyed in both 2007 and 2014, the percentage of citizens today believing that their country’s media is “free to report the news accurately, truthfully and without undue bias” has dropped by nearly a third over the last seven years, from an average of 59 percent to only 40% today (see chart below). The biggest drops occurred in Kenya, India and Russia. But worryingly, in the US and UK, only minorities now believe their media is free, down from majorities saying this in 2007.
In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations about on-line surveillance by the US government, fully one-in-two citizens across the 17 countries polled (52%) disagree that “the Internet is a safe place to express my opinions.”
While there are many roles the Internet plays in people’s lives, it is its role in renewing our democracies that get many in Silicon Valley out of bed and into work in the morning. The NSA may literally be killing chances for Internet-fueled democratic renewal if people are afraid to give their honest opinions on-line.
Many of the recent news reports have rightly called on governments and politicians to make changes that will help reverse these negative views of the Internet (reflected in more on-line anonymity) AND our democracies (reflected in alarming declines in voter turn-out).
But politicians are not the only ones with roles to play in strengthening our democracy. With numbers like these, chief executives of media and Internet organizations also need to step into the breach, if only out of self-interest. And the rest of us can speak up as well.
1 A total of 17,589 citizens were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 2013 and February 2014. Countries polled included: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the USA.