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.

Freedom Segments

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.

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In light of the recent global debate on the morality of mass surveillance programmes, GlobeScan has teamed up with the BBC World Service to ask over 17,000 people what their perspectives are on freedom and the right to privacy. In previous blog posts, we have used this data to show that Peru, Australia and Canada represent the freest democratic states (as indicated by our Perceived Freedom Index), and that an individual’s sense of freedom is not determined by socioeconomic or demographic variables such as social class or gender, but rather by national political structure.  We have also shown that perceived freedom of the media has dramatically declined since 2007 (59% to 40%). In this post, we explore another dimension that is related to the right to freedom of speech.

The right to free speech originally appeared in the first amendment of the United States Constitution in 1791. This sentiment, which has become a key dimension on which the efficacy of democratic governance is measured, has been echoed in the drafting of constitutional law for centuries since. In the fallout of the Second World War, member states of the United Nations included free speech as a central component of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian equivalent, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.

Data from the BBC World Service poll suggests that across the 17 surveyed countries, 75% of respondents report feeling free to discuss any issue in public. This finding suggests that the governance structures of these countries are generally ensuring that their citizens are able to speak freely. Further analyses reveal however, that this sense of freedom seems to be intimately tied to the degree to which an individual trusts their national government. Citizens that trust their government tend to feel liberated to speak their mind. Those who do not trust their government on the other hand, tend not to feel as liberated.

Social science literature suggests that institutional trust reflects the expectation of the institution to perform in a way that benefits society. Trust in national government is therefore the consequence (rather than the cause) of the government’s performance in the eyes of its citizens. Data from our 2014 GlobeScan Radar, a global research programme that tracks business and societal issues, shows a decline in citizen’s trust in national government since 2013 (see chart below).

But fret not for those who do not trust their government, as our analyses also show that the internet provides this group with the opportunity to engage in free speech. Differences between those with low levels of trust in their national government and those with high levels of trust disappear when self-expression is considered within the context of the internet. This data can be seen in the interactive chart below. 


The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) legislation and the recent Edward Snowden revelations of mass surveillance have sparked a public debate over net neutrality and freedom of speech. With perceptions of free speech linked to governmental trust, and with this trust tenuous, it seems even more imperative that we work to secure the Internet as a space where citizens feel they can speak freely.

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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.

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LONDON - Just over one in two citizens (52%) across 17 countries polled for the BBC World Service disagree that “the Internet is a safe place to express my opinions,” outnumbering the 40 per cent who agree it is safe.

The poll, conducted by GlobeScan among over 17,000 people worldwide between December 2013 and February 2014 is being released as part of Freedom Live—a day of broadcasts on the World Service’s 27 language services exploring stories about freedom from around the world.

While one-in-two judge the Internet an unsafe place for expressing opinions, two-thirds (67%) say the Internet brings them greater freedom, with only 25 per cent disagreeing.

One in three citizens (36%) across the 17 countries say they do 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%) do not feel free from government surveillance, while in contrast, strong majorities feel free of surveillance in countries such as China (where 76% say they feel free of surveillance), Indonesia (69%) and Russia (61%).

Media freedom was also given low ratings. Across eight countries surveyed in 2007 and 2014, the percentage of people who feel that the media in their country is “free to report the news accurately, truthfully and without undue bias” has 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 now feel that the media in their countries is free, compared to majorities in 2007.

As for other freedoms, strong majorities across the full 17 countries surveyed consider they have a high level of freedom when it comes to “practicing 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%).

The results are drawn from a telephone and in-person survey of 17,589 adult citizens across 17 countries. It was conducted for the BBC World Service between December 2013 and February 2014 by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its national partners. Within-country results are considered accurate within +/- 2.9 to 4.9 per cent 19 times out of 20.

GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller commented: “The poll suggests that two of the underpinnings of modern democracies are at risk—a media seen as free and fair; and an Internet safe for the free expression of views.

The results also 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 these particular 17 countries. Ironically, it is in some of these very democracies where citizens give relatively poor ratings of some freedoms.”

Detailed Findings

On average across the 17 countries, the poll finds that those who feel “the Internet is a safe place to express my opinions” (40%) are outnumbered by those who disagree it is safe (52%). France is among the countries where respondents do not feel they can express their opinions safely online (76%), alongside South Korea (72%), Spain (66%), Canada, the USA, and Germany (65% each). Only six surveyed countries have majorities that feel they can express their opinions online safely: Nigeria (71%), India (67%), Indonesia (57%), Kenya (52%), Pakistan and Peru (both 51%).

At the same time, two-thirds of respondents (67%) say the Internet brings them greater freedom, with the most enthused respondents being in Africa (81% in Nigeria and 78% in Kenya), followed by Australians (77%), Britons (76%), Indonesians (73%), Canadians and Americans (both 72%). In contrast, people in China do not report a strong sense of increased freedom from using the Internet, with a narrow majority agreeing with the statement and 45 per cent disagreeing with it.

Across the 17 countries surveyed, an average of 60 per cent say they feel free from government surveillance in their country as opposed to the 36 per cent who report not being free. Unlike the USA and Germany, all other surveyed countries have majorities who consider themselves free from government monitoring programmes. In China, 76 per cent say they feel free from government monitoring—the highest proportion in the survey. Other countries with strong majorities feeling their privacy is respected include Australia (72%), Indonesia (69%), Canada (64%), Nigeria (63%), Peru (62%), Russia, Pakistan, and the UK (61% each).

On average, only 40 per cent believe that the press and media in their country are free to report the news accurately, truthfully and without undue bias. Just above a quarter (27%) have the opposite opinion, and the views of 28 per cent are mixed (neither free nor not free).Respondents from emerging economies tend to believe in the freedom of their national media, with Indonesians by far the most likely (73%), followed by Peruvians (51%) and strong pluralities of opinions in Africa (Nigeria, 49%; Kenya, 44%), India (49%) and China (47%)—although in China this perception is counter-balanced by an almost equal proportion of neutral opinions (44%). Conversely, South Korea stands 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%).

Among eight tracking countries surveyed on media freedom in both 2007 and 2014, perceived freedom of the media has plummeted, dropping from 59 per cent in 2007 to 40 per cent in 2014. The biggest drops occurred in Kenya (down 37 points), India (down 23 points), and Russia (down 20 points). In the UK and USA, the percentage thinking their media is free has dropped over the seven years from majorities to minorities (56% to 45%, and 53% to 42%, respectively).


A total of 17,589 citizens across 17 countries were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 2013 and end of 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. Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. In three of the countries (China, Indonesia, Kenya), the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 2.9 to 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

For full methodology, question wording, and detailed results, including region-by-region data for all key questions, please see the drop-down links at the bottom of this article.

About BBC World Service

BBC World Service is an international multimedia broadcaster, delivering a wide range of language and regional services on radio, TV, online and via wireless handheld devices. It uses multiple platforms to reach its weekly audience of 166 million globally, including shortwave, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. Its news sites include audio and video content and offer opportunities to join the global debate. BBC World Service offers its multilingual radio content to partner FM stations around the world and has numerous partnerships supplying content to news websites, mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices as well as TV channels. For more information, visit:

Published in Global Public Opinion