Global Poll Finds Diverse Economic Perceptions

Mexicans, Germans, Russians Become More Upbeat—
Indonesians, Britons, French, Americans More Negative

World Bank Viewed Most Positively Among
Global Economic Actors Global Companies Least Positive

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As the World Economic Forum meets in Davos this week to talk about the international economy, a new BBC World Service poll of 32 nations finds highly divergent economic perceptions in countries around the world. In 15 countries majorities or pluralities see conditions in their country getting better, while in 17 they see conditions getting worse.

Perceptions of the world economy are also divided with 14 countries seeing it getting better and 15 seeing it getting worse (with 3 divided). Among the 19 countries that were polled a year ago as well as in the current poll, there are also divergent trends with some growing more optimistic and some less.

The poll also asked citizens to rate various global economic players. The World Bank was viewed most positively, being seen as a positive influence by a majority of 55 percent.

The poll of 37,572 people was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. The 32-nation fieldwork was coordinated by GlobeScan and completed between October 2005 and January 2006.

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes comments, ÒWhile it is true that we live in a more globalized economy, it is also true that people around the world have highly different perceptions of the state of their own economies and even of the world economy."


Germans' feelings about their economy appears to be turning a corner. While in late 2004 52 percent saw their economy worsening, this dropped to 37 percent in late 2005, while the perception that it is improving moved up to 50 percent from 41 percent. Perceptions of their personal situation followed a similar pattern.

The French seem to be going from bad to worse: perceptions that their economy is getting worse has gone from an already large 74 percent in 2004 to 83 percent. For themselves individually they do not seem to have such dire perceptions, but here too things have gotten worse. The percentage saying things are getting worse for them and their family increased from 45 percent to 52 percent.

In Great Britain the bloom is coming off the rose. While in 2004 57 percent were optimistic about their country’s economy, this has slipped to 52 percent, while pessimistic perceptions have drifted upward from 35 percent to 41 percent. Perceptions of personal conditions, while on a higher tier, have shifted similarly. Positive perceptions slipped from 64 percent to 60 percent, while negative perceptions rose from 22 percent to 28 percent.


Indonesians’ optimism about their economy has been all but washed away by the tsunami. While in 2004—just before the tsunami--52 percent saw their country’s economy as getting better (37% worse), this has plunged to 17 percent, with 81 percent saying that it is getting worse. But for Indonesians personally this drop has been much more modest.

Indians’ perception that their own lot is improving has come down from the heights of 2004—dropping from 77 percent to 59 percent. But Indians’ perceptions of their country’s economy has actually firmed up a bit, with the perception that it is getting worse dropping from 40 percent to 23 percent.

South Koreans’ pessimism about their economy has abated a bit, but is still quite extreme. While 88 percent saw their economy getting worse in 2004, now 76 percent see it that way. The percentage seeing their personal position slipping has also moderated a bit—going from 71 percent to 54 percent.

Latin America

Globally, the biggest positive movement was among the Mexicans. While in 2004, 66 percent saw their economy getting worse, this dropped 28 points to 38 percent. Mexican perceptions that their own economic conditions are worsening also dropped from 69 percent to 32 percent.

While Brazilians were divided about their perceptions of their economy in 2004, perceptions that it is getting worse has jumped 24 points to 67 percent. However, there has only been a 5-point increase in Brazilians’ perception that their individual conditions are getting worse, rising from 34 percent to 39 percent.


Russians' perceptions of the Russian economy have improved from a divided perception in 2004 to a plurality perceiving it getting better (39% better, 27% worse). Perceptions of their personal situations have improved even more, shifting from a plurality seeing their personal positions getting worse (42% worse, 29% better) a year ago to a plurality perceiving it as getting better (34% better, 28 worse).

United States

Americans' view of their economy has slipped, with the percentage saying that they see it getting worse increasing from 51 percent to 58 percent. Perceptions of their personal situation, though, continue to be majority positive, slipping only 2 points from 58 percent to 56 percent.

Rating of Global Players

The poll also asked respondents to evaluate a number of economic global players and found surprisingly high levels of approval for the World Bank given the level of criticism it has received. On average 55 percent rated it as having a positive influence in the world, while just 18 percent rated it as having a negative influence. Among the 32 countries polled, in 30 a majority (17 countries) or a plurality (13) rated the World Bank as positive. In only one country—Argentina—did a plurality (47%) say it is having a negative influence.

Global companies received the lowest positive ratings (average of 41%) compared to all other global players, and the highest negative ratings (26%). In only 6 countries did a majority rate global companies as having a positive influence, though in another 16 a plurality did. Eight countries rated them negatively—7 by pluralities and one by a majority. Two countries were divided.

The International Monetary Fund is not as well regarded as the World Bank, but still, on average a plurality of 47 percent see it as having a positive influence and just 21 percent see it has having a negative influence. In 29 countries a majority (13 countries) or a plurality (16) views it positively. The only two countries in which a majority views it negatively are Argentina (60%) and Brazil (57%), which have recently paid off their loans from the Fund so as to free themselves from its influence. A plurality of 49 percent is negative in Turkey as well.

Of all the global players examined in the poll, NGOs (“Non-governmental organizations such as environmental and social advocacy groups”) got the highest grades with an average of 60 percent rating them as having a positive influence on the world, just 12 percent negative. NGOs were rated positively across all 32 countries polled, in 25 by a majority.

The United Nations was close behind with 59 percent rating it positively—however, this is down from last year’s BBC World Service Poll in which 66 percent rated it positively. Just 16 percent rated it negatively this year. In 30 countries a majority (23 countries) or a plurality (7) sees it as having a positive influence.

Commenting on these citizen assessments of various global actors, GlobeScan President Doug Miller says, “The very positive views of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, and the negative views of global companies are consistent with other research we have conducted. The surprises are the positive assessment of the World Bank’s role and the fact that more citizens are negative about the news media than of the much-maligned International Monetary Fund.”

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: “The widespread belief that the World Bank and even the IMF are having a positive influence in the world does not necessarily contradict the criticism they have received. The global public clearly sees it as positive that there are international institutions that seek to address the problems of poverty and economic instability, and on balance see them as doing more good than harm. At the same time, many see them as falling short of these goals and disproportionately serving the needs of the wealthy states—enough to drive many out on the street to demand that these institutions better fulfill their purpose and potential.”

A growing factor in world affairs is world public opinion. The influence of world public opinion was rated positively in every single country--a distinction only shared by NGOs--in 15 countries by a majority, and 17 by a plurality. On average, 51 percent saw public opinion as positive and only 17 percent as negative. An unusually large 32 percent did not provide an assessment.

The news media received muted approval, receiving positive ratings from a 48 percent plurality and negative ratings from 24 percent. Twenty-six rated it positively (16 a majority, 10 a plurality). Six countries rated it negatively (4 a plurality, 2 a majority).


Please see DETAILED FINDINGS section below for country-specific results. Polling was conducted from October 2005 to January 2006 with a total sample of 37,572 people. In one of the 32 countries, the sample was limited to major metropolitan areas, and in three of the countries, to urban areas. The margin of error per country ranged from +/-2.5 to 4%. For more details, please see the Methodology or visit


Media Contacts

For media interviews with participating pollsters (by language of interview):

English Steven Kull
office: +1-202-232-7500
home: +1-301-718-8393
cell: +1-301-254-7500
Doug Miller +44 20 7370 6472
mobile: +44 78 999 77 000
French Clay Ramsay +1-202-232-7500
Italian Paolo Anselmi +39 02 4380 9206
Spanish Dan Lund +5255 5584 3020

GlobeScan Incorporated is a global public opinion and stakeholder research firm with offices in Toronto, London, and Washington. GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 50+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organizations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) is a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. PIPA undertakes research on attitudes in publics around the world on a variety of international and foreign policy issues. It seeks to disseminate its findings to members of government, the press, and the public as well as academia.


Detailed Findings

Variations in Ratings of Global Players

The World Bank

Countries that have been recipients of World Bank loans are particularly positive about its influence. Africans are especially enthusiastic—Kenya (81% rated it positively), Tanzania (79%), Congo (75%). Afghanistan was also quite positive (79%) as were Asians generally, especially Indonesia (80%). People in developed countries in Europe and North America are more lukewarm but still lean to the positive. The British are among the most tepid with 45 percent positive and 37 percent negative, as are the Americans—47 percent positive, 28 percent negative. Globally, younger people are considerably more enthusiastic than older people.


Europeans and North Americans are especially positive—Britain 70 percent, US 64 percent, France 80 percent. The only countries to be at all lukewarm were Mexico (39% positive, 23% negative), India, Sri Lanka, and Saudi Arabia, where majorities did not take a position. Positive views go up with education and income.

The United Nations

Europeans and Asians are especially positive. The only exceptions were Argentina, which was divided, and Iraq, which had a 40 percent plurality saying the UN has a negative influence while 34 percent thought it was a positive influence. Interestingly, 63 percent of Iranians view the UN as having a positive influence in the world, suggesting they might see the UN as an honest broker in Iran's current dispute with Germany, France, Britain, and the US over its nuclear program.

As mentioned there has been a distinct drop in ratings for the UN (on average 10 points). In some countries the drops have been sharp—France dropped from 73 percent viewing it positively to 52 percent now; South Africa from 73 percent to 48 percent; Great Britain from 76 percent to 66 percent; and the US from 59 percent to 52 percent. But no countries slipped into a predominantly negative view. The one country to go up substantially was Mexico—rising from 41 percent to 62 percent positive.

Positive views of the United Nations rise with education and income. Younger people are more enthusiastic than older people. Christians are more positive than Muslims but a majority of Muslims are still positive (Christians 62%, Muslims 56%).

The International Monetary Fund

Here too the Africans are the most enthusiastic—especially Kenya (73%), Nigeria (67%), and Senegal (67%). Asians are fairly positive, but the developed countries are quite muted in their support. The largest donor—the US—has just 37 percent expressing positive views, with 26 percent expressing negative views. The only two countries in which a majority views it negatively are Argentina (60%) and Brazil (57%), which have recently paid off their loans from the Fund so as to free themselves from its influence. A plurality of 49 percent is negative in Turkey as well. Positive views rise a bit with education (but not income) and decline with age.

Global Companies

The most negative ratings of global companies come from European countries. A slight majority in Italy (51%) and pluralities in Britain (47%) and France (44%) said global companies are having a negative influence. Australians also leaned negative (49%). Negative pluralities were found in Argentina (40%) and Mexico (33%), but interestingly Brazil had a majority (60%) expressing positive views.

Positive views are most often found in Asia (South Korea 61%, Philippines 60%, Indonesia 53%, India 41%) and in Africa (Nigeria 67%, Senegal 51%, Tanzania 50%).

Though the headquarters of many global companies are in the US, views among Americans are lukewarm. A plurality of 44 percent sees them positively—close to the global average of 41 percent. More interestingly, 38 percent see them as a negative influence—12 points above the global average.

Muslims worldwide were just as positive as Christians. Some predominantly Muslim countries were some of the most positive, especially Nigeria (67%) and Afghanistan (49%). In Iran, a plurality of 49 percent sees global companies as playing a positive role. The only Muslim country to lean negative was Turkey, with 27 percent negative and 21 percent positive (the rest not taking a position).

It is intriguing that negative views of global companies rise with more income as well as with more education; however, positive views remain a plurality in all categories. Young people are more positive than older people.

World Public Opinion

Interestingly of the five countries with the strongest majorities positive about world public opinion, none were countries with traditional, long-standing democratic governments. These five were Poland (68%), Iran (68%), Indonesia (66%), South Korea (64%), and Nigeria (64%). On the other hand, the countries with the slimmest pluralities positive about world public opinion were the US (46% ) and Australia (48%).

By a substantial margin Americans have the largest percentage giving a negative rating of world public opinion—39 percent. This may be a reaction to polls revealing negative attitudes toward the US over the last few years.

There was no difference between Muslims and Christians in their positive majority views of world public opinion. Positive views rise a bit with more education and income, but negative views rise slightly as well.

The News Media

The media was most appreciated in mid-level developing countries—some with, and some without, long free-press traditions. In Indonesia an overwhelming 78 percent saw the media as positive, as did 75 percent in Nigeria, 67 percent in the Philippines, 65 percent in Brazil, and 63 percent in Kenya.

No country was more negative about the news media than the United States. Sixty-four percent of Americans felt the media was a negative influence; only 28 percent saw it as positive. English-speaking countries were generally negative, with Australia having a majority (59%), and Britain a plurality (48%) who saw the news media this way. Canada was divided, 44 percent negative and 41 percent positive. France leaned slightly negative (43% to 39%).

Overall, the major industrial countries of the G7 were almost 24 points more negative than was the 32-country average—43 percent to 24 percent. Those with higher education or income were slightly inclined to be more negative about the media than the poorer and less educated.

Variations in Perceptions of Economy

The Bears and the Bulls

Throughout the world there are major differences between countries in how people view their country’s economy and their own economic fate.

In ten countries, majorities were bullish about economic trends for their country and themselves. Topping the list were the Canadians, with 63 percent upbeat about their country and 64 percent about their own finances.

Interestingly, two countries in the top tier are the two countries that have recently suffered wars and are hosting foreign forces: Afghanistan, with 57 percent saying their country’s economy is improving and 70 percent saying their own circumstances are improving, and Iraq, where 56 percent say their country’s economy is improving and 65 percent saying their own conditions are getting better. It may be that war creates a “year zero” experience of collectively starting over, that has a positive core.

Also in the top tier are Indians (57% country getting better, 59% self getting better), Finland (57% country, 56% self), South Africa (57% country, 54% self), Australia (56% country, 61% self), Senegal (52% country, 69% self) and Great Britain (52% country, 60% self).

Six countries also had majorities that were bearish about their country and themselves: Zimbabwe (90% country’s economy getting worse, 84% own situation getting worse), France (83% country, 52% self), Italy (78% country, 54% self), Congo (79% country, 63% self), South Korea (76% country, 54% self), Kenya (57% country, 53% self).

While it would make sense that the majority’s view of their own situation should correspond to their view of the country, this is not always the case. In some countries majorities were positive about their own economic conditions, but were also quite negative about their country. For example, in the Philippines 62 percent were positive about themselves, while an extraordinary 83 percent were negative about the country. This pattern was found in Nigeria (64% positive about self, 70% negative about country), Indonesia (53% positive about self, 81% negative about country), and the United States (56% positive about self, 58% negative about country).

World Economy

Seven countries were bullish on the world economy. Four of these were hardcore optimists--positive about their country and themselves as well. Curiously, two of them were war-torn countries—Iraq (71%) and Afghanistan (63%)—as well as India (66%) and South Africa (53%). But while 64 percent of Tanzanians were positive about the world and 56 percent were positive about their country, they were divided about themselves. Nigerians, on the other hand, were positive about themselves (64%) as well as the world (55%), but were overwhelmingly negative (70%) about their country’s economy.

There were also seven bears on the world economy. Three were across-the-board pessimists, negative on their country’s economy and their own situation as well, including France (70% negative on the world), Italy (69%), and South Korea (63%). Three were positive about themselves but negative about their country’s economy as well as the world economy—the United States (56%), the Philippines (71%), and Brazil (62%). Canada, curiously, while the most optimistic country polled in regard to themselves and their country, nonetheless had a majority (54%) with a pessimistic view of the world.