World

Happy new year? The world's getting slowly more cheerful

  • 30 December 2013
  • From the section World
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As 2013 draws to a close, pollsters have been finding out how people across the world feel about the state of their lives and the coming 12 months. Here, the BBC's world affairs correspondent, Paul Adams, analyses the findings.

Is the world getting better? Since 1977, opinion pollster Win/Gallup International has been asking this question of people around the world. Do responses for 2013 paint an optimistic picture?

There has been no big change this year, and the global figure is down from highs in 2004-5, but the upward trend since polling began in 1977 is pretty clear. Almost 50% say 2014 will be better than 2013. You have to go back to 1990 for the last time more people predicted a worse year than a better one.

Dr Ijaz Gilani, vice-president of Win/Gallup International, says a global decline in the role of the state has gradually empowered the ordinary citizen.

What about that dip after 2005? Rising commodity prices in the middle of the last decade put a huge dent in global optimism before the effects of the financial collapse of 2008 began to ripple out across the world. Remember, 85% of the world's population lives outside North America and Europe.

One other thing: feeling good about 2014 isn't necessarily the same as thinking it will bring economic prosperity: across the world, 32% think it will. And 30% think it won't, according to Win/Gallup.

This year, first the first time, Win/Gallup agreed to include three questions submitted by listeners to Radio 4's Today programme. They offer some interesting headlines.

Home is where the heart is? A healthy plurality of people would prefer to stay put, but for those seeking sanctuary or opportunity abroad, Australia and Canada are now almost as desirable as the United States.

The American Dream is alive but less compelling. Washington's heated immigration debate has perhaps begun to convey an impression that the world's "huddled masses" are not as welcome as they once were. In the Middle East and North Africa, where post-Arab Spring turbulence creates high levels of political uncertainty, a surprisingly high number of people don't want to move. Among those who do, Saudi Arabia is more appealing than America.

More bad, but not entirely surprising, news for the US. The world's sometimes eager, sometimes reluctant policeman is the subject of widespread animosity. Predictable in some areas (the Middle East and North Africa) but less so in others. Eastern Europe's 32% figure may be heavily influenced by Russia and Ukraine, but across most of Western Europe there are also lots of figures in the high teens.

In the Americas themselves, decades of US meddling have left an awkward legacy. Its neighbours, Mexico (37%) and Canada (17%), clearly have issues. Even 13% of Americans see their own country as a danger. Pakistan's unenviable position as a (distant) second in the global threat stakes probably has a regional explanation - 15% of the world's population lives in its neighbour and arch-rival, India.

Almost 50% of those polled said it would make no difference or preferred not to answer. It's a question that makes people hesitate. In most Muslim-majority countries, scepticism that women would do a better job is high.

Thailand, which currently has a woman as prime minister, Japan and Kenya are also bastions of doubt. But Colombia leads a number of South American countries in thinking women might make the world a better place.

In war-torn, conservative Afghanistan, those in favour have a slender, surprising edge over those against. And in male-dominated China, there's a clear desire for change.

Win/Gallup interviewed 67,806 people in total, in 65 countries either face-to-face, by telephone on online, between September and December 2013. The margin or error is +/- 3.5%. The global average was calculated according to the share of the covered adult population of the surveyed countries.

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