Majority worldwide say their society is broken - an increasing feeling among Britons

New Ipsos global study shows a majority of adults worldwide say their country’s society is broken, a feeling which is increasing in Britain.

The author(s)
  • Kelly Beaver MBE Chief Executive, UK and Ireland
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs, Ipsos North
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A new global study by Ipsos shows that people across the world believe that the system is broken in their country, a feeling that remains as prevalent as it did three years ago. Despite this however there are no signs that populist sentiment (such as support for a strong leader willing to break the rules) has increased around the world overall since 2016. A new online survey by Ipsos of more than 18,000 adults from 27 countries finds that the overall incidence of populist sentiment across the world has remained nearly unchanged while nativist attitudes have gained some ground since then, although with differences by country. When compared globally, British attitudes are middle of the road on most populist attitudes while nativist feelings remain low.  However, concern about the state of Britain’s social and political system has got worse.

A broken system

The study finds that dissatisfaction with the system and traditional politics is high almost everywhere. Globally, seven in ten (70%) agree that their economy is rigged in favour of the rich and powerful (little change at up 1 point from 2016) with a majority saying this in every single country except for Sweden (50%).

Mexico (79%), Hungary (78%) and Peru (78%) are the countries that most feel their economy is rigged while Israel (65%), Malaysia (57%) and Sweden are the countries where the fewest think this. The number of Britons saying this however is increasing with seven out in ten (70%) saying their economy is rigged, up from 67% in 2016 and 63% in 2018. 

Two-thirds (66%) globally agree that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them (11% disagree). This feeling is highest in South

Africa (78%), Mexico (76%), France, Peru and Spain (each 75%). Sweden (50%), Israel (49%) and Japan (48%) are the countries with the lowest proportion of people who believe this. In Britain, the number of those who say traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them stands at seven in ten (69%), up from 58% in 2016 and 57% in 2018. 

When it comes to society, around a majority (54%) globally agree that their country’s society is broken. Poland (84%) is the country where most feel this way followed by Brazil and South Africa (both 78%) while just one in four think this in Israel (25%), Belgium (25%) and Saudi Arabia (24%). Nearly two-thirds (63%) in Britain believe their society is broken – up from 56% in 2016. 


Globally, the share of adults who agree their country needs a strong leader to take it back from the rich and powerful has remained nearly unchanged between 2016 and 2019 (up 1 point to 64%). France (77%), India (72%) and Belgium (65%) are the countries in which most agree for the need of a strong leader willing to break the rules while Serbia (31%), Spain (31%) and Germany (22%) are lowest. Britain is near average at 52%. 

Nearly two-thirds (64%) however think their country needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful with India (80%), Mexico (79%) and Peru (74%) most likely to agree. Britain stands at 5th on the list with 70% while Japan (46%), Sweden (41%) and Germany (38%) are lowest. 

The opinion that “experts don’t understand the lives of people like me” is shared by majority of people in nearly every country, at 62% on average globally.

The perception that intellectual elites are estranged from people’s reality is most prevalent in Spanish-speaking countries and in France.  Since 2016, it has grown by 2 points globally, reflecting greater increases in Germany (up 11), Japan (up 10), Sweden (up 9), Great Britain (up 8), Argentina (up 8) and South Africa (up 7). Israel (down 13) is the only country showing a drop of more than 5 points.  


Across the 27 countries surveyed, the proportion of adults who agree that employers should prioritise natives over immigrants when jobs are scarce has increased by 4 points since 2016, now 60%.  With few exceptions, the level of agreement is above the global average across Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia and below average in Western Europe and North America. Serbia (82%), Malaysia (81%) and Russia (81%) are the countries where this sentiment is highest while in Germany (49%), Britain (48%) and Sweden (34%) it is lowest.

The view that immigrants take important social services from real nationals is held by 43% of all adults surveyed globally which has increased by 4 points since 2016. Turkey (67%), Malaysia (60%) and Serbia (54%) are the three countries where this feeling is highest while in South Korea (32%), Poland (26%) and Japan (25%) it is lowest. Four in ten (39%) of Britons agree with this (down 1 point from 2016).

Lastly, there is little sign globally nor in Britain that people would prefer an open-door immigration policy. Only 15% of adults globally agree that their country “would be better off if we let in all immigrants who wanted to come here”. This proportion has barely changed between 2016 and 2019 (up just 1 point) and no country records an increase or a drop of more than 5 points. In Britain just 13% agree, which is unchanged from 2016.

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director of Public Affairs at Ipsos, said:

There is much debate about the roots of Brexit and the impact its handling has had on British public opinion, and this latest study shows that perceptions that British society is broken, that the economy is rigged, and that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about ordinary people are all high and rising.  While fieldwork was carried out before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, support for a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful was also high, but on nativist measures such as giving preferential treatment to native Britons in jobs, Britons are somewhat less anti-immigration than the global average, as previous Ipsos research has shown.  Britain is one of many countries around the world with high and rising levels of dissatisfaction with the political system and there are few signs that this is getting better since Brexit.

Technical note

  • These are the findings of a survey conducted in 27 countries via Global Advisor, the online survey platform of Ipsos, between March 22 and April 5, 2019. 
  • For this survey, Ipsos interviewed a total of 18,528 adults aged:
    • 16-74 in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden;
    • 18-74 in Canada, Israel, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States of America; 
    • 19-74 in South Korea
  • The sample consists of 1,000+ individuals in each of Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the U.S., and of 500+ individuals in each of the other countries surveyed. 
  • The data is weighted so each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of its adult population according to the most recent census data, and to give each country an equal weight in the total “global” sample.  
  • Online surveys can be taken as representative of the general working-age population in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. Online samples in other countries surveyed are more urban, more educated and/or more affluent than the general population and the results should be viewed as reflecting the views of a more “connected” population.
The author(s)
  • Kelly Beaver MBE Chief Executive, UK and Ireland
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs, Ipsos North

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