What Worries the World - January 2020

Poverty & social inequality continues to be the greatest concern worldwide. We start the year with 61% globally saying that things in their country are heading in the wrong direction, up four points on 12 months ago.

The author(s)

  • Teodros Gebrekal Public Affairs
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Globally, 6 in 10 around the world say that their country is on the wrong track, although there are great variations by country.

Poverty & social inequality is the top global concern (34%), with Unemployment next (31%), ahead of Crime & violence and Financial/political corruption (both 30%).

Ipsos’ What Worries the World survey presents a global view of what the public consider to be the top social and political issues facing their country today, posing this question each month to 19,000 citizens in 28 countries.

We have now been tracking this data for a decade. As 2020 gets started, we have reviewed the findings to see what has changed over the 10-year period.

How optimistic is the world at the start of 2020?

This latest What Worries the World survey results find that, in January 2020, the majority of people across the participating nations (61% on average), feel their country is on the wrong track, with Italy (83%), South Africa (79%), France (79%) and Spain (78%) expressing the highest levels of anxiety.

With 39% of people globally saying their country is on the right track, this marks a gloomier start to the year than 2019; in January last year, the split was 43% right track vs. 57% wrong track.

There are great variations in scores by country:

In line with recent months, Chinese citizens are most assured about their nation’s direction, with 90% believing their country is heading in the right direction. Saudi Arabia (78%) remains in second place with India (58%) in third place, ahead of Brazil (46%).

Two countries show a marked improvement in national optimism this month:

  • In Argentina, the proportion saying the country is on the right track is up 16 points on last month), and now stands at 39%.
  • Great Britain, which saw Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party win a large majority at the 12th December general election, shows a 15-point increase, with 40% now positive about the country’s direction of travel.

Although the mood remains positive, India’s 58% positive score marks an 11-point fall on the previous month. Meanwhile, the survey also records a 9-point fall in optimism in Malaysia (40%).

At the other end of the spectrum, we find a distinct lack of optimism in some countries:

  • Just 17% of Italian citizens think their country is going in the right direction.
  • Scores are also low in South Africa and France (both 21%) and Spain (22%).

The last 12 months

Since January 2019, we have seen Brazil and the US enter the top 5 most optimistic countries along with China, Saudi Arabia and India who rank 1-3 respectively in today’s results as well as last year.

Meanwhile Italy has jumped several places to become the most pessimistic in terms of the country’s direction of travel, and Chile has also joined the ranks of the 5 most pessimistic countries. Great Britain belonged to the group of most pessimistic countries for much of 2019, but this month’s improved score means it now occupies a mid-table position.

The five most optimistic and pessimistic countries, ranked by our “right track/wrong track” indicator are:


What Worries the World?

Today, people around the world focus most on the following five issues when they are asked about the biggest concerns facing their country:

Here is a brief breakdown of the results by country:

  1. Poverty/Social Inequality (34%). Russia (with 60%) is the nation which is most worried about this issue, followed by Chile (55%) and Hungary on 52%. Once more, the US (where it is only mentioned by 22%) is the single least concerned nation on this issue.
  2. Unemployment (31%). The highest levels of concern are seen in South Africa (62%) and Italy (58%) closely followed by South Korea (57%). Concerns around unemployment least evident in the Netherlands (7%), Germany (9%) and Poland (11%).
  3. Crime and Violence (30%). The greatest levels of worry are once again reported in Mexico (66%) with Peru and South Africa (63%) following closely behind/
  4. Financial/Political Corruption (30%). South Africa (scoring 58%) has the highest number of respondents concerned about this issue, followed by Russia (57%) and Malaysia (53%).

How have the rankings changed over a decade?

Looking back over the last decade, we can note a number of things, both:

  • Stability: the top five issues at the start of 2020 are the same five that headed the table in January 2011; and
  • Change: Unemployment is no longer the dominant global issue it once was. The biggest change here is in the United States. The percentage mentioning unemployment peaked at 71% in February 2011. By mid-2015 it had fallen to 31% and has further diminished to 13% in this latest wave.

Historically a firm 2nd place in the rankings, Poverty & Social Inequality emerged as the top issue for the first time in July 2018, when there was a period of a fairly even split between the top 3 issues.

Today, it remains the top global issue for two consecutive months (at 34%), compared to 30% for both Crime and Violence and Financial/Political Corruption).

Which countries are most worried about poverty/social inequality?

Over the decade, the countries most worried about Poverty/social inequality have consistently included Russia, Hungary and Germany.

Chile (now 2nd, with 55%) and Argentina (8th, with 39%) have shown greater concern recently and now appear higher in the rankings, potentially reflecting social unrest and the refugee crisis.

Belgium is the 5th most concerned country about Poverty and Social Inequality in January 2020 with 42%. In 2015 is was ranked 16th on this measure. The level of concern in France is 40% today, 11 points higher than the 29% recorded in January 2015.

We will be exploring some of these longer-term What Worries the World trends for other categories during 2020. In the meantime, please see our white paper The Illusion of Stability for an overview how people’s concerns have been changing over time.

Right track/wrong track by country over the decade

The author(s)

  • Teodros Gebrekal Public Affairs

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