A number of recent media reports, including in The Economist and Financial Times, have raised the subject of the declining state of our democracy. Some have likened recent actions by so-called “established democracies” as resembling those of autocratic states – such as the recent banning of social media in Turkeyand the US government’s blanket on-line surveillance of citizens worldwide.
How have all these news reports affected people’s sense of freedom and democracy in this post-Snowden age? Is there a democracy deficit developing in the body politic?
The just-released BBC World Service Poll conducted by GlobeScan across 17 countries suggests that trends are going in two directions at once.
On the one hand, the results reveal that many of the personal freedoms that Western democracies have championed in the world are actually fairly well established in the minds of citizens across the particular 17 countries polled1, including freedom of religion, freedom of public discussion, and freedom to marry the person of your choice. It is also clear that most people see the Internet as a tool for increasing their freedom.
However, other results suggest that two important underpinnings of modern democracy are at a low ebb – a media seen as free and fair; and an Internet safe for the free expression of views. Also, freedom from government surveillance is the worst-rated of the five freedoms examined in the poll. Ironically, it is in established democracies where citizens give some of the lowest ratings of some freedoms. For example, the US and Germany are the only two countries in the poll where majorities say they do not feel free from government surveillance and monitoring.
Across eight of the countries surveyed in both 2007 and 2014, the percentage of citizens today believing that their country’s media is “free to report the news accurately, truthfully and without undue bias” has dropped by nearly a third over the last seven years, from an average of 59 percent to only 40% today (see chart below). The biggest drops occurred in Kenya, India and Russia. But worryingly, in the US and UK, only minorities now believe their media is free, down from majorities saying this in 2007.
In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations about on-line surveillance by the US government, fully one-in-two citizens across the 17 countries polled (52%) disagree that “the Internet is a safe place to express my opinions.”
While there are many roles the Internet plays in people’s lives, it is its role in renewing our democracies that get many in Silicon Valley out of bed and into work in the morning. The NSA may literally be killing chances for Internet-fueled democratic renewal if people are afraid to give their honest opinions on-line.
Many of the recent news reports have rightly called on governments and politicians to make changes that will help reverse these negative views of the Internet (reflected in more on-line anonymity) AND our democracies (reflected in alarming declines in voter turn-out).
But politicians are not the only ones with roles to play in strengthening our democracy. With numbers like these, chief executives of media and Internet organizations also need to step into the breach, if only out of self-interest. And the rest of us can speak up as well.
1 A total of 17,589 citizens were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 2013 and February 2014. Countries polled included: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the USA.
Just as the Consumer Confidence Index is a reliable predictor of our economic future, the GlobeScan Foundation believes that hope can predict our potential as a global society to overcome the social, economic and environmental challenges we face. We are pleased to release the first Hope Index, reflecting the degree to which 12,000 citizens across 12 countries express optimism on current trends and hope for Humanity's future.
Whether it is the triumph of an underdog, the toppling of an oppressive force or the achievement of the seemingly impossible, stories of hope tug at our sentimental heartstrings and engender a sense of empowerment within our own lives. This feeling of empowerment is not purely superficial. Hope fundamentally alters our cognitive architecture to breed productivity and progress.
Just as the Consumer Confidence Index operates as a predictor of our economic future, the GlobeScan Foundation believes that hope can act as a predictor of progress and creative potential to overcome global society’s pressing challenges. It is with this belief that we are pleased to release the first Hope Index. The Index, which is based on perspectives from 12,000 citizens across the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Poland, Panama, India, Turkey, Kenya and Indonesia, reflects the degree of hope that respondents have for our future. Our analyses reveal that Indonesia and Kenya are the most hopeful countries while the UK and the US are the least hopeful of the countries included this year (See the Press Release for topline findings, individual country index scores, and full methodology).
Individuals with a hopeful mindset are especially effective in reaching their desired goals in the face of adversity1. This success, which can permeate all facets of life, is attained by a willingness to learn2 and a proactive approach to conflict or problem resolution1. Within the psychological literature, hope is conceived to be composed of three primary components: the expectation for a bright future, the perceived self-efficacy to achieve that expected future, and the motivation to achieve the expected future1. Hope provides the pathway to an elevated self-esteem and ultimately, an elevated sense of well-being and confidence3.
Our index aligns with each of these factors. Indeed, respondents with high hope were more likely to report that our children and grandchildren will have a higher quality of life than we do today (“Expectation of a Bright Future” chart, 1st below), believe that humanity will find a way to overcome the challenges we face today (“Perceived Efficacy to Achieve a Bright Future” chart, 2nd below), and are doing their part to help solve humanity’s challenges (“Motivation to Achieve a Bright Future” chart, 3rd below).
Social science research has shown that in addition to creating a sense of well-being and confidence, hopeful thinking can buffer against the stress of future obstacles in life4. Hopeful thinking therefore not only decreases the chance of future negative outcomes by facilitating positive behaviour, but can also provide the psychological armour that is required to achieve progress in the face of adversity1. Environments that encourage the establishment and achievement of goals can therefore establish small pockets of hope. And the more pockets of hope, the more mentally prepared we are as a global society to overcome the environmental, economic and social challenges that we face.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that “[a]ll that is done in the world is done by Hope.” It is with this belief that we plan to continue measuring citizens’ hope around the world. We would like to hear how you react to our work and what things you would change about our current Hope Index. Please engage with us by leaving your commentary below.
1 Synder, C. R., Feldman, D. B., Taylor, J. D., Schroeder, L. L. & Adams III, V. H. (2000). The roles of hopeful thinking in preventing problems and enhancing strengths. Applied & Preventative Psychology, 9, 249-270.
2 French, T.M. (1952). The Integration of behavior; Vol. 1. Basic postulates. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3 Curry, L. A., & Snyder, C. R (2000). Hope takes the field: Mind matters in athletic performances. In C. R. Snyder (Ed.), Handbook of Hope: Theory, measures and applications (pp. 243-260). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
4 Snyder, C. R. & Pulvars, K. (2001). Dr. Seuss, the coping machine, and “Oh, the places you’ll go.” In Snyder, C. R (Eds.) Coping with stress: Effective people and processes. New York: Oxford University Press.