Global Study Shows Potential For More Political Uncertainty Ahead

Many around the world believe their country is in decline and the system is rigged against them.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs, UK
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After a year of historic political events such as Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the Italian constitutional referendum, a major new Ipsos survey across 22 countries paints a picture of a global public feeling left behind by the traditional system of politics and government, which in several countries translates into high levels of support for a strong leader willing to break the rules. The survey, among online adults aged under 65 in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, South Africa, South Korea Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States also finds most think their country is in decline, that experts do not understand their lives, and ambivalence towards globalisation.

Country in decline?

On average, 57% across the 22 countries believe their country is in decline, and a majority in 14 of the 22. Perceptions of decline vary – highest in South Africa, South Korea, Italy and Brazil, and lowest in India and Canada. Having said that, people tend to feel that their country can recover – on average, just 15% of those who say their country is in decline think it is irreversible.

People are also on balance likely to feel that their generation has had a worse life than their parents (on average 32% better, 43% worse), but again this varies – with economies in Europe (Hungary, France, Italy, Spain and Belgium) and Asia (South Korea and Japan) being more unhappy with their lot than in Latin America and other emerging economies. 

People are even more pessimistic for the future prospects for today’s youth (27% think their lives will be better that their parents’, 48% worse) – again especially in European countries such as France, Spain and Belgium, and South Korea.

System is broken?

Two in three (64%) across the 22 countries say traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them. It rises to 75% or above in Mexico, Peru, France and Spain, although is under half in Sweden and Japan. Similarly, six in ten on average feel that experts don’t understand their lives, highest again in Spain, France, Mexico, Hungary and Peru.

Over six in ten also believe that their country’s economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful (69%) and that their country needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful (63%). Feelings run especially high in Mexico, Peru, Hungary, Spain and Israel – but again much less strongly in Sweden.

There are real splits in the desire for a strong leader who is willing to break the rules (overall, on average 49% agree and 25% disagree). Support for a strong leader who will break the rules is especially high in France (80%), but also in Israel, Italy, South Korea, Turkey and India.  Half of Germans and Swedes, though, oppose the idea, while many other countries are divided, with significant minorities on both sides of the argument – in Spain, South Africa, North America (US and Canada) and parts of Latin America (Argentina and Mexico).

On average, two in three (64%) say politicians should be able to say what’s on their minds, regardless of what anyone else thinks of their views. This rises to eight in ten in Argentina, Hungary and Israel.


On average 42% think opening up their country’s economy to foreign business and trade is an opportunity, 26% that it is a threat. Most positive about globalisation’s potential are Peru, South Africa and also Great Britain, but in Italy and France more think it is a threat than an opportunity.

More broadly, globally people are split on whether their country should protect itself from the world or open up more to the world (views split 31% to 36% on average). In particular, many Western countries are more likely to say they need to protect themselves from the world, such as the US, France, Italy, Canada, Australia,  and Germany (although again not Britain, nor Spain or Poland).

Commenting on the findings, Somebody from Somewhere said: The political shocks of the last year have reignited interest in what is driving public opinion, but in reality we have been monitoring high levels of discontent with the traditional way of doing things for some time now. This can take many forms – economic insecurity, feeling ignored by the elites, anti-immigration sentiment and a general perception of decline – but our study suggests that many countries around the world share the view that the system no longer serves them. Further, this feeling is no respecter of borders – from emerging economies to the developed world, from the Americas to Europe to Asia, there are frustrations and dissatisfaction. And with more elections coming up – notably in France, but also in other countries such as South Korea – this mood of discontent is likely to play a crucial role in 2017 too.

In total 16,096 interviews were conducted between October 21 – November 4 among adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and adults aged 16-64 in all other countries. The survey was conducted in 22 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. 

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs, UK