High Public Trust in NGOs, but is it Built on Shaky Foundations?

Over many years, GlobeScan’s regular tracking of global publics’ trust in different types of institutions has shown that NGOs are clearly the most trusted. Compared to global and national businesses, governments, and the media, trust in NGOs is significantly higher and continues to rise slowly.

To further investigate why this high level of trust exists, we asked people to say what NGOs had done recently to earn their trust. The word cloud derived from their responses starkly illustrates two key findings. The first is the prominence of “help” (and to a lesser extent “support”) along with two key recipients of that help, “people” and “environment.” This highlights how important tangible outcomes are to people’s willingness to see NGOs as trustworthy. It also adds weight to what GlobeScan found in its global public polling in 2008—that the consensus of public support for NGOs’ role in aid and assistance work is greater than for their political campaigning and advocacy.

Paradoxically, the other very frequent response is “nothing.” This raises an important question of whether the high level of trust in NGOs we witness is, at least in part, based on blind faith that NGOs can be trusted, simply because of what they represent. Indeed in recent research conducted in the US and UK, we found few people admit to knowing much about how non-profits and charities operate, despite most people believing they are the most effective change-makers.

NGOs should be wary of this potentially shaky foundation of public trust. Both historical and recent examples of scandals and controversies engulfing NGOs demonstrate how quickly trust can be wiped away, especially in the age of social media.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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

Most people still at least “somewhat” happy with their body condition despite changing social norms—particularly in developing world

Body image is generally more positive in the developing world than in the West, according to GlobeScan’s latest global public opinion polling. A week after a major health charity warned that more than half of British women’s waists are too large, GlobeScan’s opinion polling shows that while most of those polled across 23 countries (77%) are at least somewhat happy with their body condition, Indonesians are most content (92% say they are happy), followed by Kenyans (91%), Ghanaians (87%), and … “Most people still at least “somewhat” happy with their body condition despite changing social norms—particularly in developing world”

Building public trust in business—still a long way to go

GlobeScan regularly tracks the level of trust that people around the world have in different institutions—in global and national businesses, governments, NGOs, the media, and others. Our recent research show that trust in business to operate in the best interests of society remains low—and finds that, while trust has increased somewhat in recent years, business continues to suffer from a significant trust deficit compared to the non-profit sector.

To investigate further, we asked people around the world to say what business had done to earn their trust recently. The word cloud derived from their responses starkly illustrates the cynicism that many feel, with the most common response, by far, being that companies have done “nothing” to earn trust. Those who are able to name a trust-building accomplishment most commonly cite the benefits to society that come from employment and from higher-quality products and services. This lack of awareness highlights how difficult it is for corporate CSR initiatives to “cut through” to the wider public: words such as “social,” “charity,” or “environment” are much less prominent in the cloud.

However, the picture diverges sharply between the world’s major industrialized economies, where cynicism about the motives of business dominates, and emerging economies, where the increased corporate activity associated with rapid economic growth also raises the profile of companies’ social investment, infrastructure projects, and environmental initiatives, as well as job creation.

Next week’s Featured Finding will look at trust in NGOs.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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

Water insecurity dominates Indians’ concerns about the environment

The potency of water as a political issue in the world’s major emerging economies was underlined again this week when it was reported that water levels had plunged in the Siang river in India’s north-east. Allegations were levelled that China—where water stress is also a major concern—had diverted much of the water on the Chinese side of the border, preventing it reaching farmers and residents who depend upon on it in the Indian state of Assam.

This controversy is not surprising, given the central importance that Indian citizens attach to water as an issue, according to Globescan’s global attitudes tracking. Our most recent data reveal that Indians consider fresh water shortages to be the most serious of a range of environmental problems, with nearly seven in ten (68%) rating them as “very serious”—up nearly ten percentage points since 2008. Furthermore, water pollution was cited this year as the second most serious environmental problem, with 59% rating it “very serious,” well ahead of problems like climate change (47%).

With the Indian economy registering its seventh consecutive quarter of slow growth, water insecurity, already an important concern, is likely to become increasingly central to the politics of this huge emerging economy.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011 

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

US support for tariff barriers remains high

US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has caused controversy this week because of his aggressive stance on America’s economic relations with China. He recently promised, if elected, to declare China a “currency manipulator” and impose tariffs on Chinese goods, prompting fears of a trade war.

But while Romney’s comments have attracted criticism from some on his own side, who argue the US has more to lose than gain from a tariff war with China, GlobeScan’s most recent public attitudes tracking suggests that Romney’s stance on tariffs is consistent with a majority of US public opinion. Since it was initially measured in 2002, American public support for trade barriers as a way of protecting jobs has remained consistently high, rising from 60% in 2002 to 65% in 2011.

However, other findings suggest this is not part of a new mood of economic nationalism. GlobeScan’s data also show that the numbers who think that government should prevent foreign companies from buying national companies has fallen significantly since 2006. Taken together, these findings suggest that in hard economic times, the need to safeguard US jobs is winning out over both free-market doctrine and patriotic sentiment among the US public.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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

The global public worries about soaring price of food

Save the Children reported this week that the recent rise in global food prices was taking its toll on families across the developing world, and that half a billion children risk being born physically and mentally stunted over the next fifteen years if no concerted action is taken. GlobeScan’s recent polling for Save the Children, as well as its regular global attitudes tracking, confirm the scale of the problem.

GlobeScan’s own annual tracking research reveals high levels of concerns about the rising cost of food and energy among citizens across the world, with proportions saying this issue is “very serious” particularly high in the Philippines and the Latin American countries surveyed. The rising cost of food and energy is also of relatively high concern in China and Russia; concern has grown significantly in China over the past two years as food prices have continued to rise rapidly in that market.

In many developing countries, the effects of rising food and energy prices are particularly felt among those who have not benefitted from economic growth that has frequently been concentrated to specific sections of society, often leaving behind low-income and low-educated groups. In a recent survey fielded by GlobeScan on behalf of Save the Children in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, and Bangladesh—countries where half the world’s malnourished children live—large majorities in all countries polled say that the rising price of food has become their most pressing concern this year. Concern is most acute in Nigeria and Bangladesh, where people overwhelmingly feel that food price rises are the most pressing issue they face.

A third of parents surveyed revealed that their children complained they didn’t have enough to eat. Around one in six parents (16%) – and nearly one in three in Nigeria (30%) – say they have allowed their children to skip school to help pay for their family’s food. The charity warns that if no concerted action is taken, half a billion children will be physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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

Renewed concerns over nuclear risks among the public

The consequences of high oil prices–still around $100 a barrel–are making themselves felt again. Exxon has announced increased profits, and prices at the fuel pump are at near-record levels.

So the fact that fears of further price increases are at the top of consumers’ concerns about energy, according to GlobeScan’s world public attitudes tracking, should not come as a surprise. Nearly one in four citizens (23%) across nine countries polled since 1998 now cites rising prices as their primary energy-related concern.

The latest data also reveals the impact of last year’s incident at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. Concern about the risks posed by nuclear power had fallen away significantly the last time this question was fielded in 2008, as many governments contemplated ramping up their nuclear programs in response to increasing concerns over energy security and supply. But the Fukushima accident has clearly made many think again, and worries about the risks of nuclear power are now mentioned as the primary energy-related concern by nearly as many (21%) as possible price increases.

However, other recent GlobeScan findings suggest that some countries are bucking the trend. While support for building new nuclear power stations has fallen in many countries, it has remained stable in the USA, and has risen in the UK. With support for nuclear expansion also high in China and Pakistan, it is too soon to say that public opinion has swung decisively against nuclear power.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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

Doubts about democracy growing in world’s richest nations

Citizens of some of the world’s richest, most democratic nations are questioning whether their countries are really governed in accordance with the public will, according to the latest GlobeScan tracking.

In 2011, GlobeScan asked citizens to say whether they considered that their country was “governed by the will of the people.” With many of the countries also surveyed back in 2002, the findings show how perceptions have shifted over nearly a decade.

They reveal that there have been significant decreases in four of the world’s biggest economies—Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA—in the proportions who believe that the will of the people governs their country. Proportions who believe this have fallen from 32% to 21% in Germany, 44% to 29% in the USA, 27% to 21% in the UK, and 15% to 4% in Japan—the lowest proportion in the survey.

Despite unrest about alleged vote-rigging in recent parliamentary elections, Russia is one of the few countries where the number of citizens satisfied with the government’s responsiveness to public opinion has increased over the decade—still, fewer than one in five Russians (19%, up from 12%) believes that the country is governed by the will of the people.

With negative perceptions of public power more common in the world’s major democracies than in China (where 47% believe the country is governed by the will of the people), it seems that elections in themselves may no longer be sufficient to create a strong sense of popular sovereignty.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011 

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

Natural resource depletion emerges as dominant environmental concern in global North

The depletion of natural resources has emerged as the dominant environmental concern among citizens of the global North, according to the latest wave of GlobeScan’s tracking survey of world environmental concerns, rating ahead of issues such as climate change and water shortages.

Environmental concern has been on a long-term upward trajectory, with majorities of the global public in countries tracked by GlobeScan rating a range of environmental challenges as “very serious,” despite a falling back of concern, particularly about the climate, in 2009.

The map above illustrates the degree to which regional dynamics and economic circumstances influence the perceived severity of environmental issues around the world. Water shortages are the dominant public concern in sub-Saharan Africa, air pollution and species loss in Latin America, and automobile emissions in rapidly urbanizing China. Climate change remains a second-tier environmental concern in most nations.

The continued pre-eminence of natural resource depletion, relative to other environmental challenges, as a concern in three key economies of the global North —the UK, the USA, and Germany—may reflect a convergence of environmental concern with economic worries, particularly about the possible impact of energy shortages in the future.

It also highlights the need for those seeking to raise public awareness of environmental issues to demonstrate the link between environmental degradation and people’s own quality of life.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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

Waning support for free market economic system in the UK

Support for the free market as the best available economic system has slipped markedly in the UK over the past two years. This mirrors the sharp decline in support for free market economics recorded in the US last year—although it has since recovered a little there—and comes at a time when Occupy protestors have been camped in the City challenging the practices of the financial sector.

Nonetheless, it is still striking that this fall in support is happening when the UK has its first right-of-center government since 1997, which has vigorously defended the role of the City in British economic life and is pressing ahead with an ambitious programme of free-market reforms and cuts to public services.

In contrast, support for the free market economic system has strengthened over the past two years in India, where the economy has rebounded robustly following the global financial crisis.


Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

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