8 most important things I learned from Pew Research Center in 2017

Yes, slowly, slowly we approach the time of annual summaries. I would like to dedicate this summary to the best fact tank I know – The Pew Research Center. I follow their publications regularly and simply use them to understand the world better. They base their publications on facts and statistics. They conduct surveys across the world and tell us what the world thinks on, i.e., international relations.

This year PEW has also run plenty of surveys around the world and here are findings that from my perspective where the most interesting and sometimes surprising, especially (but not limited to) from the soft power and global trends angles. If you do not know PEW yet, I hope this reference material will make you curious about their surveys and the way they conduct them.

  1. Public opinion in 38 polled countries generally finds climate change the second biggest national security threat. Not cyberattacks, not the state of the global economy. Only ISIS is higher on the list. Canada, almost all surveyed countries in Southern America (except for Venezuela where, not surprisingly, the condition of the global economy was on the top of the list), Sweden, Spain and the majority of countries polled in Africa – 13 countries in total place climate change on the first place on the list of national security threats. Almost everywhere we can observe a left-right divide in this field. For example, in the US 86% of polled liberals think of climate change as of a major security concern, but only 31% of conservatives think alike. In Australia the divide is also deep – 88% and 36% respectively. More details on the survey can be found here: http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/08/01/globally-people-point-to-isis-and-climate-change-as-leading-security-threats/
  2. President Trump gets higher ratings than President Obama only in Russia and Israel and the US favourability has grown only in Russia and Vietnam (survey published in June). Overall the confidence in the US President and the image of America suffered in majority of the polled countries, especially among long-standing friends. One could notice that also in the Soft Power 30 report conducted by Portland Communications and published in July. Still, the majority of respondents say that they do not expect a big change in their country’s relations with the US. As it is noted in the article: „America’s overall image benefits from a substantial reservoir of goodwill”. What is important from the soft power perspective, Americans are perceived more positively than the US as a state. It refers especially to Asia and Europe, but in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon the majority of respondents had negative opinions of Americans. Much more on American soft power is covered under this link: http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/
  3. President Putin is continuously perceived as a strong, successful leader by his compatriots, but his ratings in dealing with major issues have dropped since 2015. When it comes to relations with Ukraine there is a decline from 83% favourability to 63%; with the EU: from 82% to 67%; about the economy from 70% to 55% and corruption from 62% to 49%. However, Russians remain satisfied with the direction of the development of their country continuously since 2002 when PEW started conducting this survey – no matter the financial crisis and recession 10 years ago. What is more, today’s mood is similar to the one from April 2014 when Crimea happened. More on the issue can be found here: http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/20/russians-remain-confident-in-putins-global-leadership/
  4. The EU ratings improved after Brexit referendum (also in the UK; in Poland the EU has a top 74% public approval). At the same time, the EU citizens want to have more say on the issues that are decided in Brussels. A median of 53% of respondents (excluding the UK ones) want their own national referendums on the EU membership. In Greece and Italy 1/3 of polled people want to leave the EU. The majority of continental respondents want their countries, not Brussels, to control migration from outside the EU and within it, as well as they want their countries to negotiate future trade agreements. More on this survey can be found here: http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/15/post-brexit-europeans-more-favorable-toward-eu/
  5. The image of NATO improves on both sides of the Atlantic. The survey was conducted in Poland (only 7% of whom have a negative view on the Alliance), the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, US, UK, France and Spain – only in the latter country the favourability of NATO is on a minority level (45%). Europeans are convinced that the UE is committed to the mutual defence principle. The statistics support this thesis – 62% of American respondents say that NATO should militarily defend a NATO ally in need. There are worse data in this field when it comes to the public opinion in European countries, except for the Netherlands (72%) and data for Poland equals to American ones. More on this survey can be read here: http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/05/23/natos-image-improves-on-both-sides-of-atlantic/
  6. The meaning of religion as part of individual and national identities in many Central and Eastern European countries has been significantly growing. As it is stated in the article summing up the survey, “[i]n many [CEE] countries, religion and national identity are closely entwined”. Especially the number of Orthodox Christians is growing and members of this religious community the most often (in 70%) say that religion and national identity match to a large extent. People of former Soviet republics see their countries as much more religious today than 30-40 years ago. It does not mean, however, that the majority of respondents regularly and often participate in worship services and other dimensions of religious life. Statistics in this field are lower than in other polled regions, from the US to Latin America to Africa. The trend of secularisation is observed, to, especially in the Czech Republic. More on the survey can be found in this article: http://www.pewforum.org/2017/05/10/religious-belief-and-national-belonging-in-central-and-eastern-europe/
  7. Christian-born children are most common but this will change in less than 20 years. The Christian religion is still the biggest on Earth, but it is Muslim religion that grows at the fastest pace. As for religiously unaffiliated people, they currently make up 16% of the global population – but only 10% of new-borns between 2010 and 2015. The number is projected to continuously decline. For example: “[b]y 2055 to 2066, just 9% of all babies will be born to religiously unaffiliated women, while more than seven-in-ten will be born to either Muslims (36%) or Christians (35%). What is important here, the survey does not assume that children will remain in the religions of their mothers. This seems to be a whole different story. More on the “religious babies” can be found under this link: http://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/
  8. The public needs more education and training on cybersecurity. It may sound like an “obvious observation” and – as devoted to American respondents only – may be limitedly accurate for this article. The issue is so up to date and so important, however, that I could not omit it here. The respondents were asked 13 questions from various fields of cybersecurity and the median answered correctly only 5 of them. Only two questions were answered correctly in more than 70% of cases. In many cases respondents were first and foremost not sure how to answer. Those better educated know much more about cybersecurity, but the divide is not that big between the older and the younger respondents: “[o]verall, 18-to 29-year-olds correctly answered a mean of 6.0 out of 13 questions, compared with a mean of 5.0 among those 65 and older”. This means that all the generations have much to learn and train when it comes to their cybersecurity awareness. More on the issue can be found here: http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/22/what-the-public-knows-about-cybersecurity/

The Pew Research Center’s webpage is a kind of a goldmine for anyone willing to get to know more about the international relations – and to get to know numbers, data, statistics that support some unpopular theses or debunk some popular myths. The numbers are merciless. I truly recommend Pew as a fact tank – an institution that strikes back at those who manipulate information, that conducts surveys with rigorous methodology, that asks timely questions and patiently searches for answers.

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