Trusted and powerful: the Chinese remain faithful to their government

Even though many commentators have suggested that China’s slowing economy poses risks to its political and social stability, GlobeScan’s polling shows that the Chinese public retains a much higher level of trust in their national government than they do in other social institutions. The degree to which the public trusts different institutions in China may reflect the country’s insular, government-dominated past. China’s sustained economic success over the past two decades is probably a major factor in the public’s continuing faith … “Trusted and powerful: the Chinese remain faithful to their government”

Religious groups highly trusted, but greater public skepticism over their impact on society

In a week when business leaders in the UK met with the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster to discuss ways to resurrect the reputation of the corporate sector, GlobeScan’s most recent global polling shows that while religious groups generally enjoy higher levels of trust that they will operate in the best interests of society than other institutions, in many countries there is greater skepticism about the impact they can have through their actions. While only scientists and NGO score higher on … “Religious groups highly trusted, but greater public skepticism over their impact on society”

Public mood in the US presents a challenging context for Obama’s re-election

US President Barack Obama may be enjoying a bounce in the polls this week after last week’s Democratic convention, but GlobeScan’s contextual polling suggests that he faces a much more challenging environment in terms of public attitudes than his predecessor George Bush did when seeking re-election in 2004.

Going into the 2004 election, 72 percent of Americans trusted their federal government to act in the best interests of society, and 60 percent believed that their children and grandchildren would have a better quality of life than they did. Yet in 2012, only 47 percent have such faith in their national government, while the proportion of those who believe that their children and grandchildren will have a better quality of life has fallen to 32 per cent.

In 2004 the dominant issue was foreign policy, and the incumbent was in a secure position. Twice as many Americans cited terrorism as a serious concern as cited the economy, and 64% viewed military force as an effective way to combat it—effectively endorsing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 67% saw America’s role in the world as positive, legitimizing Bush’s unilateralism.

President Obama enjoys no such positive consensus on the current issue of the day—economics. Despite improvement over the past three years, nearly half of Americans (44%) still feel themselves to be worse off than a year ago, and a similar proportion (48%) are pessimistic about their leaders making economic progress over the next twenty years (48%). Indeed, while in 2002 79 percent of Americans felt that America was doing a good job of reducing international terror—indicative of a strong alignment between the government’s actions and society’s wishes—today Americans are more likely to blame the government for their economic problems than they are to blame private enterprise (19% say they government is most to blame, as opposed to just 2% who blame managers and companies).

Despite the favourable environment for President Bush in 2004, he won only narrowly, with 51% of the popular vote. With another closely fought election looming, the social optimism that was present in 2004 is missing. While positive economic and social data are not necessarily required for re-election, President Obama will have to hope the American public blame their woes on his predecessor if he hopes to clinch a victory in this very different backdrop.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact  Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

 

Large global majority favours further regulation to compel corporate good behaviour

There is a widespread global consensus that the decision whether to treat people and the environment responsibly should not be left to the corporate world, but that national governments should take steps to compel companies to do this.

According to GlobeScan’s most recent polling, nearly nine in ten citizens (88%) across 23 countries support governments taking active legislative and regulatory steps to ensure social and environmental responsibility by companies, rather than leaving it to business to take steps voluntarily.

Among the populations who feel most strongly that governments should apply further pressure to force corporate responsibility are many with large, often controversial commodities sectors, such as Russia (95%), Nigeria (93%), Peru (92%), and Indonesia (91%). Other countries where over 90 percent of those surveyed feel further governmental action is required are crisis-hit Spain (97%) and Greece (91%), as well as France (94%), which recently elected a socialist government committed to higher levels of taxation for both businesses and the rich.

There are some surprises—India, location of the Bhopal disaster, one of the most infamous incidents of corporate negligence in history, has the lowest proportion of respondents who support government-mandated corporate responsibility in the survey—but even in India three out of four citizens support a firm government hand in this area.

While these results cast further light on the anti-business narrative GlobeScan has previously highlighted in the West, the breadth of this consensus—particularly in the developing world—demonstrates that business as a whole urgently needs to improve its approach to social citizenship. Continued failure in this regard risks a general upswing of anti-corporate feeling around the world, as well as specific impacts, driven by reputational damage, to the share prices of unresponsive corporations.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Rising CSR expectations and falling performance ratings pose problems for Spanish banks and policymakers

Since the nadir of the global financial crisis in 2008–2009, there has been at least some degree of recovery across most of the global economy. Yet the financial situation in Spain remains precarious, and Spain’s problems, along with those of Greece, Italy, and Portugal, risk dragging Europe and the world back into recession. Meanwhile the Spanish public, left reeling by an economic crisis blamed in large part on corporate bad behaviour, expect ever higher standards of corporate responsibility from their banks.

GlobeScan’s most recent opinion tracking suggests that while the Spanish—and global citizens in general—feel that companies have extensive responsibilities to society, they do not believe that banks, often seen as the sector with most to blame for the world’s continuing economic problems, are meeting those responsibilities. Ratings of the banks’ approach to corporate responsibility were falling from already low levels by 2003, and this fall has accelerated through the crisis, with attitudes in Spain worsening even more rapidly than those in many other countries, as the extent of the financial sector’s involvement in the crisis—and particularly the role of Spain’s poorly regulated cajas—has become apparent.

However, the proportion of people in Spain who expect companies to meet certain social and environmental standards has risen throughout the crisis. This creates a difficult situation for bankers and policymakers alike. Banks’ focus in current circumstances is likely to be on survival rather than meeting these broad social expectations. Governments, meanwhile, are already committed to the politically unpopular but economically necessary strategy of propping up the institutions blamed for the crisis in the first place, and may find themselves courting public resentment if they use taxpayers’ funds to guarantee an industry that is widely considered to flout social and corporate norms.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Global public less likely to point the finger of blame for the financial crisis at America

In the immediate aftermath of the US sub-prime mortgage scandal and subsequent banking collapse, many politicians around the world were keen to characterize the crisis as one that began in the USA. At the time, this often played into a widely accepted anti-American narrative in the years following the invasion of Iraq. Yet three years on, with the future looking ever more uncertain and America a relative economic bright spot, opinion has softened towards the USA and hardened towards the sector that has become synonymous with economic catastrophe: banking.

In all but one of the ten nations surveyed by GlobeScan both in 2009 and 2012, the proportion who blame the USA for the crisis has fallen, sometimes by large margins. Americans themselves are among those least likely to point the finger at the USA.

In contrast, with many feeling that the financial sector has failed to take the opportunity to embrace reform and cultural change, the opinion that banks and other financial institutions are to blame for the crisis has become more common in the last three years. This is particularly the case in the Western countries surveyed, with 32% of Britons, 41% of Germans, and 23% of Canadians now blaming the banks for the crisis. And with malpractice allegations, liquidity crises, stubbornly low levels of consumer lending, and the prospect of huge Eurozone losses continuing to dog the sector, it seems unlikely that banking’s reputation will improve any time soon, whether or not economic recovery is forthcoming.

While national governments are still the most-cited culprit in the crisis, the proportion mentioning them as being to blame has also fallen sharply in the past three years, from 29% to 22%. The global nature of the present malaise is increasingly apparent, and this may be causing citizens to re-evaluate the degree to which their own country’s economic policies are at fault. Equally telling, perhaps, is the rise in the proportion saying they do not know who is at fault for the crisis, from 10% to 15% over the past three years. The crisis continues, but for many its roots are less clear than they were. To avoid further waves of public censure, the institutions that many hold responsible for their economic woes must be the ones to work together and find a way forwards.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Germany: Cautious Optimism Amid the Growing Eurozone Storm

Three weeks ago, our featured finding looked at the despair and anger in Greece, the hardest-hit of Europe’s crisis stricken countries. This week, we look at the situation in Germany, the economic engine at the heart of Europe—a fellow Eurozone nation, but one facing very different challenges.

Germans’ faith in their institutions, for one thing, seems to be fairly resilient. In 2012, 38 percent of people say they trust their national government to operate in the best interest of society, less than for national and global companies (48% and 41% respectively) or the press (42%). German levels of trust in these institutions are thus higher than those of fellow Eurozone members Spain and France. If institutional trust has remained more robust in Germany since the crisis, it is hard not to conclude that a renewed sense of national self-confidence emerging from Germany’s seeming economic resilience, its government’s hardline position towards Europe’s debtor states, and its newly assertive European leadership position have all been factors.

Nonetheless, as in other developed economies, optimism about the long term is in short supply—when people were asked this year if they thought their children and grandchildren would have a better quality of life, fewer than three in ten Germans (28%) agreed, down eight points since 2007. Yet unlike Greece, just 25 percent feel things have become worse economically in the two decades since reunification, and only 27 percent feel society has become less equal and less healthy: 37 percent of Germans feel things have got better for both measures. Reflecting these levels of social and economic satisfaction, 35 percent of Germans—roughly the global average—believe that the rich deserve their wealth. This has risen six points since 2009.

A sense of vindication of Germany’s economic and social model is likely to be a key factor behind these figures, even if its current mini-boom is less spectacular than Greece’s bust. The challenge for German policy makers will be to maintain the level of social and economic cohesion in the face of the growing storm outside the country’s borders; for investors, the challenge will be to hold their nerve.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Most corporate employees perceive gap between their company’s CSR commitments and behavior

Previous Featured Findings have looked at the gap between the public’s enthusiasm to find out more about what companies are doing to be responsible, and their strong skepticism about the claims that companies make about their own attempts to be more responsible and sustainable.

What may be of even greater concern to companies is that their own employees often perceive a credibility gap around CSR. In a survey of more than 1,500 employees of large companies across 12 countries earlier this year, we found that a majority (58%) feel there is a gap between what their employer says about CSR and how the company actually behaves. Just one-third (35%) disagree that such a gap exists.

Revealingly, employees in developing economies were more likely to perceive this gap than those in Western economies such as the UK, US, France, and Canada, where opinion was more evenly split.

These findings suggest that better employee engagement should be a priority for companies looking to win hearts and minds with CSR. With company employees frequently cited by the public as a trusted source of information about corporate behavior, corporations need to pay greater attention to demonstrating to their own staff that their commitment to social and environmental responsibility is serious and has the support of senior management.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Positive ratings of BP as environmentally responsible suggest its rehabilitation is underway

When BP posted a $1.4bn loss this week (once oil price fluctuations are taken into account), many analysts pointed to the role played by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The company announced this week that a further $847 million has been set aside to pay the costs incurred by that disaster.

Yet GlobeScan’s Radar 2012 global public opinion data indicates that BP’s response to the spill may be allowing it to recover lost ground in public esteem faster than many had predicted. The British firm emerges at or near the top of the list of firms considered to be environmentally responsible. Globally, BP is one of the top twenty most-mentioned corporations when people are asked to name a large company that is a leader in environmental issues.

In the UK, moreover, BP is the firm most frequently mentioned as being environmentally responsible (6%), and in the US it is the second most frequently mentioned (5%), behind only General Electric. Note that no company is cited by more than 4% of global respondents (due to the wide diversity of national firms mentioned) and 44% of people globally, and that higher proportions still in the UK and USA could not name, or chose not to name, an environmentally responsible company.

This uptick in public perception is welcome news for the embattled company, trading as it does in a market driven by more than tangible assets. The reasons given by respondents for naming BP as a responsible company indicate that it has benefitted from low expectations for corporate responsibility in general, and oil company behavior in particular. The unstated assumption is that companies will not clean up their mess, but will “cut and run” once profits are threatened.

While many undoubtedly still see the company as an environmental villain, these figures suggest that paying substantial compensation to those affected by the spill, and pouring resources into the clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico—and being seen to do these things—has enabled BP to cut through public cynicism and start to rebuild its reputation.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

The state of Greek public opinion: contempt towards elites and pessimism for the future

In the week that Greece presented its latest austerity budget to international creditors, GlobeScan’s latest analysis of Greek public opinion bears out the assessment of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who recently compared Greece’s situation to that of Depression-era America.

Just 20 percent of Greeks in our latest survey express any faith that the lives of their children and grandchildren will be better than their own. Furthermore, 77 percent feel that economic well-being has worsened over the last 20 years, while 71 percent feel the move to healthier and more equitable societies over the same period had gone backwards. Looking ahead, just 23 percent believe that economic well-being will improve over the next 20 years.

The despair that Greeks feel about the future is matched by their contempt for elites. Just 9 percent of Greeks believe that the rich deserve their wealth, and only 27 percent trust Greekcompanies to act in the best interests of society. Trust in multinational companies is lower still, at 21 percent, while fewer than one in five (18%) has any trust in the Greek government to act in the best interests of society.

These levels of social pessimism, resentment towards wealth and business, and anger toward the political class raise questions about how long the status quo and political centre in Greece can be maintained, especially in light of the rise of the Golden Dawn and SYRIZA groupings. With many of the options seen as most likely to contain the Eurozone crisis off the political table for now, New Democracy and Antonis Samaras will be lucky to avoid the fate of PASOK, whose share of the vote collapsed after they pushed this year’s bailout.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2012 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)