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June 5, 2004

Global Pessimism About US Power

by Jim Lobe

With the notable exceptions of China and India, a majority of people in 19 key countries are pessimistic about the world's current direction, says a just-released survey, which found a high correlation between that feeling and the belief that U.S. influence is increasingly negative, particularly as compared to Europe.

The survey, conducted by the international polling firm Globescan (formerly Environics International), also found stronger support for economic globalization in developing countries than in industrialized nations, particularly in Europe, which also emerged as the world's most pessimistic region.

And it found that a clear majority of world opinion (56 percent) does not think rich countries are playing fair in trade negotiations with poor ones, although that perception is significantly more widespread in the rich nations themselves than in developing nations.

The Global Issues Monitor Survey, the latest in a series that began in 2000, was carried out between November 2003 and February 2004 in 19 countries, almost all of which overlap with the membership of the so-called Group of 20.

In North America, they included the United States and Canada; in Europe – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey; in Latin America – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay; in Asia – China, India and Indonesia; and in Africa – Nigeria and South Africa.

Virtually all of the respondents from developing nations were urban-dwellers. Nearly 19,000 people were surveyed.

The U.S. poll was carried out in mid-December, just after the capture of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein, which gave President George W. Bush a substantial boost in public opinion, which has since shown a sharp decline in his standing and in general confidence about where the country is going.

The results released Friday by Globescan and an analysis carried out by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) dealt with people's confidence, perceptions of the United States and Europe, globalization and trade and trust in international institutions. They were part of a much more comprehensive survey that is made available only to Globescan's paid clients, mainly large multinational corporations.

The survey found that only one-third of respondents either "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed with the statement that "the world is going in the right direction."

As a region, Europe was the most pessimistic, with only 14 percent of Italian and 15 percent of French respondents saying the global trajectory was positive. Only 19 percent of Turks and 20 percent of Germans agreed, as did 20 percent of Argentines and Uruguayans who, along with the Turks, were consistently the most negative about a range of global issues.

By contrast, 77 percent of Chinese respondents and 51 percent of Indians questioned said they believed the world was improving, while, in general, respondents living in lower-income countries (45 percent) tended to be more positive than their high-income counterparts (28 percent).

On perceptions of the United States, only 37 percent said it was having a positive influence in the world, while 55 percent disagreed. Twelve of the 19 countries had predominantly negative views of U.S. influence, most notably Germany (82 percent), France (74), Argentina and Russia (72) and Turkey (69).

In only four countries were positive views of the U.S. expressed: India (69 percent), Nigeria (56), Brazil (52) and South Africa (51). Two-thirds of U.S. respondents also expressed positive feelings, while in the 19 countries overall, those with the most education tended to be more negative than those with less.

Moreover, views of the United States were found to be the most powerful predictor of how respondents felt about the world's direction, according to PIPA Director Stephen Kull.

Among those who think Washington is having a negative influence, 70 percent say the world is going in the wrong direction, while those who think it has a positive influence were evenly divided between optimism and pessimism.

In a potentially worrisome sign for both U.S. corporations and foreign policy, Europe is now seen somewhat more favorably worldwide than the United States, the survey found. A plurality of just under one-half of all respondents, including U.S. participants, agreed with the assertion that Europe's influence was positive, versus 40 percent who disagreed.

Positive feelings about Europe were lowest in Turkey (26 percent) and Uruguay (34) and highest in France (62), India (61), and Canada (60). Aside from the United States itself, respondents in only two countries – India and Nigeria – rated the United States higher than Europe. The gaps in favour of Europe were particularly wide – 15 percentage points or more – in Italy, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Argentina and Russia, where respondents opted for Europe by a 44-15 percent margin.

On confidence in institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rated highest overall, with nearly two-thirds of respondents saying they had "a lot" or "some" trust in NGOs. The United Nations was next with 59 percent, followed by national governments (53 percent), large domestic companies (52), press (50), trade unions (48), and global corporations (42).

Those percentages represented something of a rebound for both the United Nations and executives of global companies, compared to August 2002 when confidence in the world body stood at just over 40 percent and executives of global companies at less than 30 percent.

Confidence in the United Nations rose particularly sharply in Spain, India and Russia, although it fell marginally in Germany, the United States, and Italy.

Positive views were strongest in Mexico (88 percent), Spain (78), and Canada (77), while 64 percent of U.S. respondents said they had "a lot" or "some" trust in the world body. Turkey and Argentina were the only countries where majorities expressed negative views, although in both cases those majorities were reduced from two years ago.

On economic and globalization issues, respondents in developed countries, particularly in Europe, tended to be more critical of the ways the global economic system was working in regards to poor countries than respondents from poor countries themselves.

Overall, 55 percent of respondents said economic globalization was positive for them and their families, while only 25 percent said it was negative. But, the fact that 20 percent said they were undecided and that only 12 percent felt "very positively" about globalization showed a "softness" in support, according to Chris Coulter, a Globescan analyst.

In 14 of 19 countries, majorities expressed positive views, with India (73 percent) the most positive, followed by Brazil (72), South Africa (71), and Nigeria (70). Respondents in Russia, Turkey, Uruguay and Argentina were divided on the question, while only France produced a negative plurality (45 percent).

The younger, the more educated and the higher income earned by the respondent, the more positive attitude she or he had toward globalization, according to the survey.

Large majorities, ranging from 62 percent (United States) to 77 percent (Italy), of higher-income countries, including Russia, disagreed with the notion that rich countries play fair in trade negotiations with poor countries, while, with the exception of Brazil, Uruguay and South Africa, respondents in poor countries were either split on the question or pluralities agreed.

Majorities in three developing countries – Mexico (61 percent), Indonesia (59) and India (55) also agreed with the statement.

With the exception of Germany, large pluralities or majorities in high-income and Latin American countries and Turkey also either "strongly" or "somewhat" disagreed with the statement that poor countries benefit as much as rich countries from free trade and globalization, while respondents were more split on the question in Russia, Nigeria, China, India and Indonesia.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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