Nuclear, biological or chemical attack now seen as top threat facing the world

Ipsos survey for the Halifax International Security Forum finds concern about a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack nudges ahead of cyberattacks as No.1 perceived threat for global citizens.

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  • Darrell Bricker Global Head of Public Affairs - Ipsos
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The invasion of Ukraine in late February has reignited talk of a possible nuclear attack and global citizens are clearly concerned.

A new Ipsos poll of more than 32,000 people for the Halifax International Security Forum finds the percentage who feel a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack taking place somewhere in the world is a somewhat/very real threat rose nine points from last year to a global country average of 75% (+9 points from 2021). That’s even higher than in 2017 when North Korea tested a nuclear bomb and concern rose from 66% in 2016 to 71% in 2017.

While fear of a nuclear attack is in the top spot this year, the percentage of people globally that feel some person, organization, or country hacking into their public, private or personal information system for fraudulent or espionage purposes is a somewhat/very real comes in right behind at 74% (-1 pt since 2021).

Nuclear, biological, chemical attack concern surges in some countries

Concern about a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack happening is widespread and seen as a real threat by large majorities of adults in every country surveyed, but most of all in Thailand (84%, new this year), Turkey (82%, new), Japan (+17 points to 81%) and South Africa (+7 pts to 81%).

Countries showing the largest increases from last year in concern about a nuclear, biological or chemical attack are Germany (+19 pts to 73%), France (+19 pts to 63%) and Japan (+17 pts to 81%).

Threat of hacking still (near) top of mind

Though cyberhacking isn’t currently considered the No. 1 real threat, it has remained a leading concern for years and only fell one percentage point year over year to 74%.

And since 2015, hacking for fraudulent or espionage purposes has been seen as the threat most widely found to be real except for in 2020 (the year the COVID-19 pandemic started) and 2022 (the year Russia invaded Ukraine).

The proportion of citizens listing cyberattacks as a real threat declined five points or more in just six of the countries surveyed this year, including: India (-9 pts to 72%), Hungary (-9 pts to 50%), Sweden (-7 pts to 78%), Colombia (-6 pts to 76%), the Netherlands (-6 pts to 64%) and Canada (-5 pts to 75%).

Hacking is considered a real threat for 50% or more of respondents in all the countries surveyed, but there are significant rises in only three countries in 2022 — Japan (+7 pts to 67%), Australia (+5 pts to 84%) and France (+4 pts to 83%).

World feels more dangerous, getting worse

The vast majority (85%) of people polled across 33 countries on Ipsos’ Global Advisor online platform between September 23 and October 7, 2022, think the world became more dangerous over the past year — this is the highest percentage since Ipsos started asking the question in 2014 (83%) and is up significantly from 74% in 2018.

At the same time, the percentage of people who think more things are getting better these days than are getting worse dipped slightly to 47% (-2 pts) in 2022 and is four percentage points lower than 2017 when Ipsos first started asking this question.

Worry about natural disasters dips slightly

Some concerns are rising as others fall or stagnate. Despite headline-grabbing heatwaves and wildfires this year, the percentage of people on average globally feeling that a major natural disaster in their country is a somewhat/very real threat, dipped by 3 points from last year to 66%.

Concern about other threats barely budged year over year at a global level, including: a terrorist attack taking place in their country (-1 pt to an average of 61%); the personal safety and security for themselves and their family being violated (+1 pt to an average of 61%); and a violent conflict breaking out between ethnic or minority groups in their country (-1 pt to an average of 59%).

Concern about an epidemic drops, while fear about armed conflict rises

People seem ready to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror, as the percentage of people worried about a major health epidemic breaking out in their country dropped 10 percentage points year over year to a global average of 60% in 2022.

Meanwhile, amid the invasion of Ukraine the percentage of people who view armed conflict between their country and another nation as a somewhat/very real threat rose (+4 pts to 50%) in 2022 and is up dramatically by 10 percentage points or more in eight countries, including: South Africa (+10 pts to 56%), Canada (+12 pts to 45%), Great Britain (+15 pts to 63%), Italy (+15 pts to 48%), Belgium (+16 pts to 47%), Sweden (+18 pts to 34%), Germany (+22 pts to 55%) and Japan (+23 pts to 72%).

Lack of confidence in government and its agencies to deal with threats

Throughout the world, many citizens continue to be skeptical that “the appropriate levels of security and protection could be provided by [their] government or its agencies could respond effectively” to perceived real threats.

The majority (a global country average of 75%) feel a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack is a real threat, while under half (44%) remain somewhat/very confident their government could respond to the threat effectively — a gap of 31 percentage points. In comparison, 66% of people on average globally felt a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack was a real threat in 2021 while the percentage who were confident their government could respond to an attack effectively was 44% (a gap of 22 percentage points).

The gap between the threat of cyberhacking and confidence in the government response is also still wide but closed slightly. In 2022, 74% globally on average view being hacked as a real threat, while only 46% express confidence in their government’s ability to respond if some person, organization or country hacks into either their public, private or personal information system for fraudulent or espionage purposes — a difference of 28 percentage points. That’s in comparison to 2021 when 75% viewed hacking as a real threat and 45% were confident in their government’s response to cyberhacking — a difference of 30 percentage points.

About the study

These are the results of a 33-market survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 32,507 adults aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, 20-74 in Thailand, 21-74 in Indonesia, and 16-74 in 27 other markets between Friday, September 23 and Friday, October 7, 2022.


Table of content

  1. Nuclear, biological or chemical attack now seen as top threat facing the world
  2. Worry about possible worldwide conflict rises
  3. Canada, Germany remain top countries expected to have a positive influence on world affairs
  4. Most global citizens (85%) say world needs new international agreements and Institutions led by world’s democracies

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The author(s)
  • Darrell Bricker Global Head of Public Affairs - Ipsos

Society