A rejection of populism

Global public opinion comes out strongly in favour of openness and collaboration.
A global opinion poll published recently by the World Economic Forum finds that a clear majority of people in all regions of the world say they believe cooperation between nations is either extremely or very important.
It also finds that a large majority rejects the notion that national improvement is a zero-sum game, and that most people feel that immigrants are mostly good for their adopted country.
The research, covering a sample size of over 10,000 people from every region of the world, was commissioned in conjunction with the 2019 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.
The findings can be viewed as an endorsement by the public of the key principles of the multilateral system.
It also roundly debunks the negative notion of immigrants that has raced to the top of the news agenda across Europe, North America and elsewhere.
However, regional viewpoints differ. Asked how important it is that countries work together towards a common goal, a global average of 76% said they believe it is either extremely important or very important.
These sentiments are felt most strongly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where 88% share the same view.
At the other end of the scale, only 61% of Western Europeans and 70% of North Americans say they consider cooperation to be extremely or very important.
Asked whether their country has a responsibility to help other countries in the world, South Asians again registered the highest levels of concurrence, with 94% answering positively compared to a global average of 72%.
Again, North Americans and Western Europeans were the least effusive, with only 61% and 63% respectively answering in the affirmative.
While a global majority of respondents – 57% – say they believe that immigrants are “mostly good” for their new country, only 40% of those living in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and 46% of respondents in Western Europe subscribe to the same opinion.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given its history, North Americans trailed only South Asians in their approval of immigrants, with 66% saying they believe immigrants are mostly good.
The data, which came about as a result of a collaboration with Qualtrics, were used in panel discussions and workshops at the Annual Meeting as a guide for participants as they explore how to build an architecture for global governance that is capable of fostering the international collaboration necessary to solve the world’s most critical challenges.
One finding that proved valuable to the discussions is the fact that, while most people still believe in the power of international cooperation, they share a much less positive view of their own country when it comes to social progress.
This despondency at the lack of upward mobility is felt most acutely in Western Europe, where only 20% of respondents said they feel it is either extremely common or somewhat common for someone to be born poor and become rich through hard work.
Respondents in the United States, where the ideal of the American Dream is deeply rooted in the national consciousness, were only a little more positive with 34% saying they believe the statement to be either extremely or very common.

Existential threat to humanity

“The combination of climate change, income inequality, technology and geopolitics pose an existential threat to humanity. What we see with this research is that, while the international community’s capacity for concerted action appears constrained, the overwhelming desire of the global public is for leaders to find new ways to work together that will allow them to cooperate on these critical shared challenges we all face,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
“This is a bold reminder that listening is critical to leadership,” said Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP.
“If we just have the courage to ask, the people always know what problems need solving. I’m proud we will enter this annual meeting with such a compelling view of the human experience, unfiltered, from the people who are actually living it.”
As well as providing insight into the global public’s attitudes on opportunity and international relations, the survey also shines a light on other important matters of global importance in 2019.
For example, on the subject of sustainability, 54% of respondents said they have either a “great deal” or “a lot” of trust in what climate scientists say.
At the other end of the spectrum, the region in the world where most respondents have little or no trust in climate scientists is North America, with only 17% responding positively.
When it comes to the role of technology in society, the number of people that say they believe technology does more good than harm outnumber those who say they think it does more harm than good by a factor of nearly four to one.
However, when asked whether they agree with the statement that technology companies are more interested in making the world a better place rather than simply making money, responses differed markedly between regions.
The region of the world where respondents take the most positive view of technology is sub-Saharan Africa, where 66% of those surveyed agree that technology companies want to make the world a better place, followed by South Asia (64%) and East Asia and the Pacific (63%). This compares to only 39% of Western Europeans and 40% of North Americans and respondents from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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