What The World Thinks In 2002
How Global Publics View: Their Lives, Their Countries, The World, America
What the world thinks in 2002 is a report released by the Pew Research
Center For The People And The Press on December 4, 2002,
as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. It may be considered
biased since it is an American institute, but any report on human attitudes will be
biased unless it has been written by mice or Martians. This one is
probably one of the most rigourous attempts ever made to catch the
state of the people's opinions around the world on a wide variety of
issues. It is based on 44 national surveys that involved interviews
with more than 38,000 people.
You can read it at http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=165.
Here are a few interesting results.
1. What the world thinks about the United States
"In general, antipathy toward the U.S. is shaped more by what it
does in the international arena than by what it stands for
politically and economically."
whenever I say "The American" below, I mean "the majority of the
real U.S. citizens", not "the U.S. citizens who read
Everything2," because the latter often seem to think in a more
"international" way than the former.
The survey shows that, while the American think that their foreign policy brings or tries to bring harmony
and democracy to other nations, the rest of the world has a
more cynical point of view. For example, why does the U.S. government
want to use force against Iraq? Most of the American people think
that the governement's main motivation is that Saddam is a threat, a view shared by very few
Russians (a little more in France, and even more in Britain). Control of Iraqi oil by the
U.S. is considered as the real motivation by a minority of the
American, but the vast majority of the Russians (same number in France, less than 50% in Britain).
Apparently, the American tend to believe what their leaders say, while
the foreigners tend to believe what their newspapers say. It doesn't
mean that the American are more stupid than other people. 45 years
ago, a similar poll about the French colonial policy in the 1950s
would probably have brought the same divide between French and
international public opinions.
Which may bring us to a general theory:
- on internal issues, on the contrary, there is usually a divide
between the people and the government, but also, in a less expected
way, between the people and the newspapers.
For example, in many Muslim countries, an important minority of
people, and sometimes a majority, think that suicide bombings are
justified (73% in Lebanon, 33% in Pakistan, 27% in
Indonesia...). However, few mainstream newspapers actually consider
suicide bombings as a legimitate way of action. While they often share
the opposition of the people to Israel, they don't approve
terrorism explicitly, and neither do their governements.
However, the *public opinion on the United States as a whole* is rather
positive in Europe. It has slightly decreased in the past years,
except in Russia and France. Today 63% of the French, 61% of the
German and 75% of the British have a favorable opinion of the United
States. In the Middle East, the majority is usually against the
U.S. In Egypt, only 6% of the people say they are favorable to the
U.S., but the right of speech is quite limited in that country (some
questions were not allowed), so its results should be considered with
Surprisingly, in all European countries, more than two-thirds of the
people support Bush's war on terrorism. At the same time, a large
majority of people say that the US do not consider the interests of
other countries in their foreign policy. As a matter of fact, the
more the people think that the US is unilateralist
(76% in France), the more they support the "war on terrorism" (75% in
the same country)! That's not what I feel when I speak with people
around me in Paris, but, after all, a survey wouldn't interest me
if I didn't learn something from it...
Some questions are probably ill-understood by the surveyed people. For
example, when asked about the "American ideas about democracy",
less than 50% of the people say they like them. But the US democracy
is, in my opinion, one of the best things the US has ever made. The
balance of power, the stability of the system, the protection of
rights exist in the US
to a degree rarely achieved in any other country, especially over such a
long period of time. The people who don't like the American idea of
democracy probably don't know it, or, on the contrary, they are American citizens who know nothing but it. Maybe the
interviewees thought the question was about the US foreign policy or
As expected, US technology and popular culture are widely adopted
all around the world. However, many people fear the spread of
american ideas and customs. It may seem contradictory or
hypocritical. I think we can understand it in the following way:
- the people buy American products and love them -> their culture is
- but they still feel they belong to their own nation -> their
culture is (half-)non-American.
2. What the world thinks on everything else
The report is not limited to how the world considers the United
States, although it's obviously the most well-publicised part. I will
only consider a few issues.
Opinions on what is important in the world today differ vastly from
one continent to another. For example, the European consider that the
greatest danger in the world today is religious and ethnic
hatred. The United States and Japan mention nuclear weapons
instead. But African countries consider AIDS as the greatest danger
today. Of course, these trends reflect the national context: recent
immigration is important in Europe, and the fear of
"weapons of mass destruction" in the US can be measured by the
fact that they received an abbreviation (WMD]). The poll shows, by
the way, that African people are more well-informed about AIDS than
what Western newspapers usually say. It also shows that, while the
newspapers tell us about all these problems, it's not enough to give
us a right sense of proportion: everybody should consider AIDS as the
greatest danger in the world, for Africa today and for Asia tomorrow.
Is Saddam a danger? Of course, an overwhelming majority thinks so in
the U.S. and in Britain: 84% and 85%. But, the more you get close to
Iraq, the less the people are afraid of it. In France, a country
that has been the target of islamist terrorism on a much smaller, but
more often repeated scale than the U.S., only 67% of the people
consider Saddam as a danger. In Russia, the number is 55%, and less
than 50% in Turkey.
The report also considers many other issues, such as global
satisfaction, well-being, national problems, optimism, difficulty to
afford food, opinion about the military and government, etc.
I'll finish with short facts:
- Most people, in every country, love the Army!
- 78% of the people in Ivory Coast love their government! It raises
some doubts about the polls. If the people are so satisfied, why does the
September 19, 2002 uprising still last several months
- The majority of the American, and the majority of the (assumingly anti-clerical)
French love their religious leaders, but only 47% of the people in
Jordan love them and 51% in Lebanon, not to speak about the 32% in
Turkey. A frightening fact is that the two countries who have the
greatest respect for their priests are Kenya (92%) and Indonesia
(89%), which have been the target of important islamist or
anti-israeli terrorist attacks recently. Will the next attack take place
in Senegal or Uganda (also 89%)? The number for Nigeria, where many
people have been killed because in the name of God recently, is 84%...
- Read the sections about Africa: Western countries tend to treat
Africa as a block, but there is often more difference between the
opinions of two African countries than between the opinions of the
U.S. and other Western countries.