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.