Most people in most countries think their country is going wrong.
The outlook is extraordinarily bleak in places: in Mexico and France nearly everyone (89%) thinks their country is on the wrong track. Europeans are particularly gloomy – even in countries that are typically viewed as successful, like Germany and Sweden. Britain has a very average level of miserableness. Typical, we don’t even excel on our home turf of moaning.
It’s tempting to lay the blame for this dark outlook on an extraordinarily bad year (particularly if you were a ‘Remain’ or Clinton voter). Type ’2016’ into Google and you’ll get dozens of articles asking whether 2016 is the worst year ever. But pretty much every piece concludes with some variation of “No. Get a grip. 1347 sucked a bit harder, when the Black Death wiped out a third of Europe”.
So what’s our problem? Well, for starters, the Medievals didn’t have Twitter, to share and amplify their grief and fears.
More to the point, there are two very important caveats from Ipsos’ monthly What Worries the World survey.
First of all, we’re not actually any more worried now than in the other seven years we’ve been running the study. In every single month of every year, around 60% say things are getting worse. Individual countries go up and down, but there is a pretty settled level of global ‘misery’.
But, second, this is not actually a story of global misery. Far from it, when you look more carefully. As you can see from the chart above, seven countries are more positive than negative – but these include some of most populous nations in the world. The survey covers countries with 4.3bn citizens, and nearly 3bn of these live in nations where the majority in the study are positive – mainly because of the very upbeat view in China and India.
Of course this is an online survey, so this isn’t representing poor, rural populations in developing countries who may have a different view. But it’s certainly a tale of two worlds, at least among the middle classes: fast-growth emerging markets versus the stagnant West and stalled countries in LatAm.
It isn’t all about economics. If we compare the view from our survey with objective measures of the economic direction countries are going in, there are many outliers. The ‘Misery Index’ was developed by a US economist in the 1960s to summarise who’s going through the toughest economic times, looking at inflation and unemployment. It’s a pretty poor fit with our data – with countries like Mexico and France more miserable than they should be, and Argentina far happier than expected (maybe as the result of anticipated improvements from their bold, business-friendly President, Mauricio Macri).
So to get a better idea of exactly why people are concerned for their country, we ask a further question on what their main worries are. The breadth, variety and scale of concerns is so extraordinary.
Across all 25 countries, unemployment comes out as the most worrying topic (mentioned by 39% on average), followed by corruption, poverty and inequality (both 32%), and crime (30%). Of the 25 countries:
- Eight put unemployment top
- Four choose terrorism
- Four say crime
- Three choose corruption
- Two each pick healthcare and poverty/inequality
- And one each put moral decline (China) and immigration (Britain) as of concern to most.
But there are also some clear themes within this variation. For example, in LatAm countries, concern about crime and violence is extremely high (with 70% in Mexico picking this out – which may go some way to explaining why they’re so unhappy). In much of Europe, it’s unemployment that dominates. Concern about terrorism is driven by events, but it’s a top fear every month in Turkey and Israel. Britain is consistently the only country to put immigration at the top of the list, even if other countries see similar proportions mentioning it (with a steep rise in Germany over the last year).
Just as notable is which issues aren’t breaking through into the public consciousness. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said “climate change is the defining challenge of our time”. In our survey, however, the average number saying threats to the environment is a top concern doesn’t break double figures. The exception is China, where it’s second in the list.
So it’s really not a picture of global gloom – or global anything. Studies like this are a vital reminder of the sheer variety of contexts and subtlety in concerns across the globe. It may not be a wonderful world, but it’s definitely not dull.