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As its economy grows and lifestyles change, China is having to adapt its tightly controlled society to external influences. This week Can Nao, a Chinese charity worker revealed, he had been arrested over the Christmas period after meeting to worship in a public park. Shortly after, Shanghai’s former Communist chief stated that while the government would continue to respect religious freedom, it would also seek to adapt belief to the existing system.

GlobeScan’s polling reveals that attitudes towards faith and religious institutions are mixed in China. Our recent polling reveals that the nation’s population are among the most likely to say that science has a strong bearing on the way they live their lives (72%), with only the French and South Koreans more likely to hold this point of view.

However, many Chinese still acknowledge religious institutions’ role within society. Even in this secular country, one in three (31%) says religious groups are doing a good job in tackling social, economic, and environmental issues—some way below the numbers who say scientists are doing a good job (59%), but still a significant proportion.

India meanwhile has a near identical proportion (31%) who say religious groups are doing a good job of tackling challenges, though the proportion who rate scientists’ contribution is lower than in China (41%). Indians, however, are much more likely than Chinese to say that religion determines the way they look at life.

The country who people are most likely to say that religion, rather than science, influences how they live their lives is Pakistan—a country where the clash between fundamentalist and moderate interpretations of Islam continues to cause major political instability. Even here, though, the situation is more mixed when we look at how these groups are dealing with social issues, with scientists more likely to be seen as doing a good job (35%) than clerics (16%).

Contrast this with France, a country with a long anti-clerical tradition, where 76 percent identify science as being an important factor in the way they look at the world, and 80 percent see scientists doing a good job tackling social challenges, while the rating for religious groups stands at -26 percent.

These figures suggest that the influence of religion on populations will wane as countries develop. For now, however, China is the exception rather than the rule—faith and religious institutions will remain key factors in many of the world’s emerging economies. We can expect to see their influence both at the level of policy and in terms of consumer choice for a while yet.

Published in Global Public Opinion

For some commentators, two events this week have highlighted the ascendency of the political left in Latin America. The first was the return of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to his country after months spent battling illness in Cuba. The second was the re-election of Rafael Correa in Ecuador. These events have unnerved some investors, who are wary of further regulation, taxation, and even expropriation of assets.

Yet GlobeScan’s data suggest that, in the wider region, business is generally more popular than government. In Chile and Peru, though global companies are less well perceived, national companies are more trusted than government, and in both Brazil and Mexico the government suffers from a striking deficit in trust compared to business.

Also at odds with the view of the region as “anti-business” is Latin Americans’ strong trust in the free market: 46 percent of Mexicans, 59 percent of Brazilians and 62 percent of Peruvians express some degree of agreement with the statement “the free market is the best system on which to base the future of the world.”

Regional trust in business and the free market economy could be seen as consistent with strong support for capitalism, but South Americans are very concerned about economic inequality. No less than 81 percent of Brazilians see inequality as a major problem, along with 63 percent of Mexicans (a country with a right-wing government) and 52 percent of Peruvians. Similar proportions believe that the wealthy do not deserve their riches. It is likely from this concern over inequality that left-of-centre governments derive some of their support.

The fact that business remains trusted in many parts of Latin America suggests that companies should be wary of characterizing the region as “anti-business.” However, corporate engagement with local communities, and substantial programs to address inequality, are sensible strategies to ensure public support is retained in the long run. This is especially so for global companies, who need to work harder than their local peers to convince people they are working in society’s interests.

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Earlier this month, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) predicted that on current trends 39 percent of the world would be connected to the Internet by the end of the 2013. Penetration in developing countries is expected to reach 31 percent by the end of 2013. And, in a sign of the growing centrality of the Internet to modern life, our global tracking reveals that majorities in most countries consider Internet access to be a fundamental right.

When we polled the public in 28 countries in 2010, majorities in all nations except Pakistan (46%) considered Internet access to be a fundamental right. South Korea was the country most likely to view the Internet in this light (96%), with Mexico and Brazil (94%), and Turkey (91% each) close behind.

In 2012, we surveyed women in the developing world on this topic, together with Dalberg and Intel, for the Women on the Web study. We found again that even among this underserviced segment, large numbers were inclined to view the Internet as a fundamental right. 64 percent of Ugandan women, 62 percent of Egyptians, 63 percent of Mexicans, and 46 percent of Indians felt this way.

The countries most likely to see the Internet as a right have generally younger populations and relatively young democracies. It is therefore possible that the Internet is associated with freedom of speech and ideas among a large demographic that has grown up alongside the Internet but in cultures with memories of times when those freedoms were far from assured. While a massive investment in infrastructure will be needed to accommodate the rise in “netizens,” these findings clearly demonstrate that in the eyes of the public, web access has taken its place as a universal value.

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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.

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Across the world both human and animal rights movements remain popular, with millions around the world joining advocacy and campaigning groups. Activists may sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion, such as when animal rights activists target the life sciences industry, or when the legal battles of criminals and terrorists are protracted, alienating the general population.

But public support for the rights agenda nonetheless remains high. In our most recent global polling, 76% of those polled across 18 countries described human rights as a serious challenge, while 65% agreed that animal welfare is serious. Countries with recent histories of authoritarianism were most likely to view human rights as a serious challenge, with 90% of Indonesians and Poles saying as much Numbers in Spain (89%), Turkey (88%), Brazil, Peru, and Nigeria (85% each) are barely lower

Brazilians are the most concerned about animal welfare, with 87% describing it as a very serious issue. Poland (84%) and Spain (81%) are not far behind. Indeed in Brazil, Mexico and the UK, fewer people describe human rights as serious than say the same about animal rights. This view is especially pronounced in the UK, where rows over prisoners’ voting rights and the government’s attempts to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada have led to vocal media and political criticism of the country’s Human Rights Act and membership of the European Court of Human Rights.

Though the strongest levels of concern emanate from countries with recent histories of human rights violation, persistently high numbers of people in the West rate rights abuses as serious social challenges. This suggests that over half a century after the founding of Amnesty International and 33 years after the establishment of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), human rights and animal welfare remain, for the global public, as pressing as they were decades ago.

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With the airwaves often dominated by discussion of economic indicators and GDP, a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that this was the only valid measure of a country’s development. However, nearly seven in ten citizens across eleven countries think that a broader measure—one incorporating health, environmental, and social statistics—should be used instead of GDP to measure national progress.

Drawn from our most recent work with Ethical Markets, the ICAEW, and business think-tank Tomorrow’s Company, these figures from 11 developed and developing nations suggest that the overall consensus favouring alternative measures of gauging development has not changed since 2010. However, at a national level, we can see significant trends. In Australia, China, and the UK, the public is now much more convinced of the need for a broader way of measuring national progress. In contrast, the two countries most in favour of going “beyond GDP” in 2010 are now among those where opposition is strongest— Germany, where the Eurozone crisis may be causing people to value economic success over other considerations, and Brazil, where the boom of recent years has slowed significantly.

It is not clear that this marks a generational shift in public attitudes—when we break the data down by demographics, we also learn that younger respondents are more likely to favour continued reliance on GDP. Nonetheless, as a return to the boom years proves elusive and environmental and social problems persist, it seems clear that a more holistic and comprehensive way of measuring development would enjoy significant world support.

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Against the backdrop of one the world’s most severe typhoons and landmark levels of atmospheric CO2, the 19th Conference of the Parties has kicked off this week in Warsaw, Poland. COP19, intended to lay down the groundwork ahead of a new global climate change agreement in Paris in 2015, needs significant progress by politicians, business leaders, opinion formers and scientists if they are to reach consensus.

The general population is unlikely to hear much about the conference via mainstream media and the perspectives of the public can seem lost in the midst of these political, scientific and economic discussions. So let’s bring them back into the debate – what do the global public think about climate change in 2013?

GlobeScan’s Radar 2013, conducted amongst 27,000 individuals across 27 countries, asks the global public its opinion on the issues facing our world today. These are not climate change experts but citizens, voters, consumers, employees and, indeed, polluters.

Our evidence shows that the global public is very much in favor of action on climate change. A solid majority of 55% of the public across 24 countries consider it necessary to take major steps to address climate change. A further 31% told us that they believe it is necessary to take some steps. A minority of 8% believe that it is not necessary to take any steps to address climate change. The sample includes individuals from Poland, the coal-powered host of this year’s conference, and China and the US, whose conflicting perspectives are notorious for putting the brakes on global climate agreements.

High profile weather emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy last year and the ongoing tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan continue to keep the changing climate in the media spotlight. Such attention makes the topic of climate change more tangible in the hearts and minds of the global public. As the latest BSR/GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Survey shows, businesses the world over have understood the demand for action and are busy integrating more sustainable business practices. We now need our global leaders to translate this proven appetite into political action.

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Two themes formed the backdrop to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gathering in Davos, Switzerland that ended this week: the return of the global economy to a semblance of stability and the continuing shift of power from West to East. This mixture of economic flux and stability feeds through into our research, with peoples’ views in the institutions that affect their lives, the environment and how they think of certain countries all affected.

One of the messages to emerge from GlobeScan’s 2013 Radar survey was the rise of trust in institutions (see chart below). Though trust in institutions has continued to rise strongly in developing countries as economies and living standards have risen, the developed world’s public perception of institutions plunged during the economic crisis. There was, however, some recovery in 2013, as the developed world’s trust in the private sector rose, albeit from record lows and remaining within negative territory in the case of global business, as GDP, jobs and disposable income began to exhibit signs of a return to health. Trust in government also rose, though at a slower pace amid concerns over public debt.

In addition to rising trust, our research tells us that global concern over the economy has begun to recede and we are once again witnessing rising concern over the environment. Former US Vice-President Al Gore put global warming on the agenda, warning attendees that climate change was now even more of a threat than before the economic crisis that forced it off policymakers’ radar. The chart below suggests that the global public are inclined to agree: concern about various environment-related issues has started to climb back to levels seen historically, before the financial crisis.

However, despite evidence that the improving economic outlook is buoying trust in institutions and concern over the environment, the economic system remains unbalanced, leading to a shift in global power structures. During the Davos summit Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe characterized relations between China and Japan as akin to those between Britain and Germany in the lead up to the First World War.  However, when GlobeScan asked respondents from across Asia what they felt of their neighbours in 2013 it was apparent that Japan enjoys little international sympathy in its territorial disputes with its neighbours. As early as 2012 a significant proportion of South Koreans told us that tensions with Japan over the Liancourt rocks were the biggest issue facing their nation. Public perceptions of Japan have fallen sharply in Australia, South Korea, India, Russia, and South Korea. Chinese views could barely fall further. American views on Japan have hardened too, despite the proportion of Japanese who say their superpower ally has a ‘positive influence’ leaping ten points (to 42%) between 2012 and 2013.

Though Davos was billed as a look forward to a changing world, the changes facing us are in many ways not new. For the first time since 2009 global interest in environmental issues is on the rise, this may force global leaders to heed Vice-President Gore’s call and put green issues firmly back on the agenda, even if this will only return the situation to the same place as in 2009. Meanwhile, comparisons to Europe in 1914 are probably overblown, but there is no doubt that regional antipathy toward Japan will make it harder to ‘de-escalate’ the situation to mutual satisfaction. What may well offer the greatest opportunity  for financial and government institutions to put in place long term solutions to systemic economic problems and tackle that other Davos buzzword  ‘inequality’, is the global public’s increasing willingness to trust those who take decisions on their behalf.

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Image courtesy of Flickr/Wonderlane


As a Californian GlobeScanner, I have first-hand experience of our state’s concern about access to fresh water. My water district in Marin County is likely just days away from implementing mandatory water rationing, as it and other water districts throughout the state struggle to deal with a protracted and severe drought. California just experienced not only the driest year on record, but also the warmest winter on record, which has seriously affected the extent of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of our main supplies of water.

It is not surprising, then, to find that when asked about fresh water in GlobeScan’s most recent Radar research, a majority of respondents from the Western US view shortages as a “very serious” issue (54%).

But what about the rest of the country? Are people east of us paying attention to California’s severe drought and also viewing the issue as very serious? The answer is... not really. When we remove the respondents from the Western US from the equation, only 30% of respondents view shortages of fresh water as a “very serious” issue, leading to the lowest level of concern (just 35% view it as “very serious” nationally) we have seen for the US since GlobeScan started measuring this issue in 2003 (see chart below).

Why the historically low figure? Especially when the US drought monitor still shows large areas of the US – beyond California – under abnormally dry conditions or experiencing drought.

Well, one answer might just stem from when we asked respondents the question. For the 2014 research, the fieldwork was conducted between January 10 and February 17. This was a time when the US (and my Canadian colleagues!) was suffering under the polar vortex - an event that was preceded in many areas by heavy rain, and left large swathes of the US under deep snow. Asked under these conditions about how serious the shortage of fresh water is, it perhaps is not surprising that people viewed the issue as less serious.

However, if we flash back 12 months, when people were still experiencing significant or severe drought conditions that had blighted much of the US  throughout 2012, we saw high levels of concern about shortages of fresh water in all regions (54% nationally). Is the old saying literally true, do we only ever miss the water when the well runs dry?

This volatility in concern is important for all organizations for whom the use of fresh water is a material issue. For government and policy-makers, it presents a challenge in encouraging residents to voluntarily conserve water when drought conditions are not apparent. And for businesses, who are often substantial individual users of fresh water, it signifies a renewed need for the responsible use of water. As public concern about the shortages of fresh water ebb and flow, businesses must remain vigilant, lest they risk ire of a parched public.

Reservoir image courtesy of Flickr/Wonderlane
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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.


References:

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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