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Global Survey Finds Ordinary People Feel “Unsafe, Powerless And Gloomy” About The Future Security And Prosperity Of The World

Published 01-08-04

Submitted by World Economic Forum

Geneva, Switzerland - The survey carried out exclusively for the World Economic Forum, by Gallup International in advance of the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, reveals an uncertain world. The results of the Voice of the People survey, based on almost 43,000 interviews from 51 countries, represent the views of more than 1.1 billion global citizens. The questions concern different aspects of prosperity and security.

Among the findings: half of those interviewed (48%) across the world think the next generation will live in a less safe world. In Western Europe this figure rises to almost two-thirds (64%). But in West Asia (Afghanistan, India and Pakistan) – three countries with turbulent backgrounds, people are more optimistic about the next generation and here, half those questioned feel the world will be a safer place for them. The survey also found that people feel their country’s economic position is worse now than it was ten years ago.

The theme of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2004 (21-25 January) is “Partnering for Security and Prosperity” and leaders from all sectors of society, business, politics, religion, NGOs and civil society will discuss ways of improving the uncertain global climate.

Speaking for the World Economic Forum, Co-Chief Executive Officer José María Figueres said:

‘‘These findings paint a bleak picture indeed of how ordinary people see the future and their ability to affect events. Although there are signs of a changing environment both economically and in terms of security, it seems this is still extremely fragile and the people at large have yet to be persuaded that things are changing. It is clear that both security and prosperity are core concerns for people across the world. What is also interesting is that without security those questioned feel that prosperity is impossible to attain and that the two – prosperity and security – must go hand in hand to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.”

Interviewing was conducted in late November and December 2003 – mostly prior to the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Summary of Main Findings

  • Results from surveys consistently show that individuals feel they have little or no personal impact on the economic, political and social factors that affect daily life, expecting national and international actors to deliver the background stability required to look after and provide for their families.
  • Uncertainty, lack of confidence and instability in one of these areas has an effect on all the other factors. For example, if people feel international and national security are poor, they will probably also feel gloomy about their economic circumstances, even if these are not objectively or directly linked.
  • People feel that their country’s economic situation is worse now than ten years ago, although some think they personally have fared slightly better. Many countries, particularly those in the industrialized world, have ageing populations and there are genuine anxieties on all continents about people’s security in old age and retirement, particularly in South America, Japan and South Korea.
  • In questions about the key factors of prosperity and security in the United States, people there are more upbeat in their ratings for both the current situation and the future than is the “average” global citizen. Almost half of those interviewed in the US (45%) say they and their family are more prosperous now than they were ten years ago. Turning to security issues, four out of ten Americans (40%) rated their national security as “good”, although the same assessment was only given to international security by one in four (24%).
  • Recent poor economic performance in some regions, such as in South America or the emergent economies of Eastern and Central Europe and more specifically in certain countries such as Japan, has a disproportionately negative effect on most ratings whether they are allied to economic factors or not.
  • The converse is also true, so countries where positive changes are perceived to have taken place recently on one front may assess other variables more positively. Consequently, Afghanistan is optimistic about most of the survey topics – those concerning both aspects of security and also economic assessments – a finding also borne out in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Similarly, both Kenya, which last year changed both its president and government after 24 years, and Georgia, where Shevardnadze was recently replaced after a disappointing presidency, have a generally positive outlook concerning most elements of economic performance and security.
  • Elsewhere, gloom shrouds many countries on all continents. Twice as many people globally rate international security as “poor” (41%) than the proportion who consider it “good” (20%).
  • National security is also rated “poor” on all continents and few countries expect this situation to improve in the foreseeable future.
  • In Germany, reunification seems to have led to a lack of confidence in the economy with gloomy ratings of the current economic status, considered less prosperous than ten years ago by three-quarters of respondents (77%), and a lack of confidence about any positive improvement in the future – almost seven out of ten (69%) think the next generation will be less prosperous. In Switzerland, once seen as an economic haven, two-thirds (65%) think they are less prosperous now than they were ten years ago and only slightly fewer (61%) think it will be even worse for the next generation.
  • Elsewhere in Europe, many countries are also pessimistic about the economic conditions, but generally those in non-euro countries such as Denmark, Norway, England and Iceland are more positive in their assessments of the current situation and in their predictions for the future.
  • Other regions have more positive moods – Africa is generally more upbeat than average, although security in old age and retirement in a continent ravaged by AIDS is a difficult concept for many.
  • People in Japan are depressed about both economic and security factors, but respondents in other countries in the region are less so – Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam all give higher than average ratings to some of the factors examined in the survey.
  • Many in all countries rate environmental security as poor and this is particularly true in Ukraine, the site of the Chernobyl accident, where seven out of ten (72%) rate environmental security as poor. This finding is echoed by more than six out of ten of their Russian neighbours (61%). In both countries more than half also expect the situation will be worse in ten years’ time.
  • Speaking for Gallup International, Secretary-General Meril James said:
    “This survey is unique, and one that we are particularly proud of. Capturing the views of more than 43,000 people worldwide – which represents the views of more than one billion people – is quite an achievement. True, it paints a gloomy picture, but it also shows the way forward; what issues the world population thinks need attention and what they expect of their leaders.”

    For the full report and an executive survey, please visit the World Economic Forum’s website at

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