July 13, 2011

China Seen Overtaking U.S. as Global Superpower

Chapter 5. Economic Issues

Despite signs that some countries are recovering from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, economic times remain tough for many around the world. In most of the nations surveyed, people are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country and downbeat about their national economy. The few exceptions to this pattern include publics in China, Brazil and India. Although opinion is divided as to whether economic conditions will improve over the coming year, most publics continue to blame their own government, rather than banks or the United States, for their country’s current economic problems.

In nearly all nations, people describe rising prices and a lack of job opportunities as very big problems. Only in China, Israel and Germany do publics characterize inflation and job shortages as less pressing issues. When asked who is to blame for people not having jobs, majorities in most countries fault outside forces rather than the unemployed themselves.

Yet, despite economic concerns, public support for economic globalization appears strong, with majorities worldwide describing the expansion of international trade and business ties as a good thing.

Most Unhappy With Country Direction

Majorities in 18 of 23 surveyed countries are unhappy with their country’s direction. Dissatisfaction is most intense in Pakistan, where roughly nine-in-ten (92%) say they are displeased with the way things are going. Large majorities elsewhere also express discontent, including in Lebanon (87%), Ukraine (87%), the Palestinian territories (85%), Spain (83%) and Kenya (81%).

In the past year, the most dramatic increase in dissatisfaction has occurred in Poland, where 66% are now unhappy with the country’s direction, compared with 47% a year ago. Dissatisfaction has also intensified in several other countries, including the U.S., where discontent has swelled from 62% in 2010 to 73% today. Pakistanis and Spaniards, too, are less happy than last year. In fact, in Spain, dissatisfaction with the country’s direction is at its highest level (83%) since 2002.

Only in China (85%), Egypt (65%), Brazil (52%) and India (51%) do more than half express satisfaction with the way things are going in their country. The Chinese public has been consistently upbeat since 2005; Egyptians have not.

A year ago, just 28% of Egyptians were happy with the direction their country was headed. The 37-point jump in satisfaction compared with last year is most likely linked to renewed optimism, following the popular uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak in February. (For a more detailed analysis of Egyptians’ views about their country’s direction, see “Egyptians Embrace Revolt Leaders, Religious Parties and Military, As Well,” released April 25, 2011.)

Economic Recovery Still Distant

In 18 of 23 nations, less than half describe the economic situation in their country as good. In the U.S., France, Britain, Lebanon and Pakistan fewer than one-in-five offer a positive assessment of the national economy. In Japan, Spain, Lithuania, and Ukraine, one-in-ten or fewer are upbeat about the economy.

Only in a handful of countries do majorities say the economic situation in their country is good. The Chinese public is the most positive, with nearly nine-in-ten (88%) describing the domestic economy as good. In Germany, two-thirds echo this view, while over half in India (56%), Israel (54%) and Brazil (54%) favorably assess the economic situation in their country. Turks, meanwhile, are evenly split on the issue: 49% say the national economy is good, compared with 48% who say it is bad.

Following the global downturn, public assessments of the economy have rebounded to a greater degree in Germany than in the U.S. or other Western European countries. The number of Germans who are upbeat about the economic situation in their country rose 16 percentage points between 2009 and 2010 and another 23 points in the past year. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Britain, France and Spain, confidence in the economy has yet to return to pre-2008 levels, and has even declined slightly in the U.S. and Britain compared with a year ago.

Besides Germany, economic assessments have also grown more positive in several other nations, including Israel (+22 percentage points from 2009), the Palestinian territories (+18 points from 2009) and Turkey (+15 points from 2010).

Egyptians, too, while still far more pessimistic than they were four years earlier, are more upbeat than they were in 2010, with 34% describing the economic situation in their country as good, compared with 20% the previous year. However, Egyptians’ improved opinion of the economy may reflect hopes for the future, more than actual changes on the ground.

Poland has witnessed the largest decline in economic confidence among the nations surveyed. A year ago, 53% of Poles described the economic situation in their country as good; today, just 26% hold this view. Double-digit declines have also taken place since last year in Kenya (-17 percentage points) and Indonesia (-12 points).

Uncertain Future

Across the globe, opinion varies as to whether economic conditions will improve in the near term. In 10 of 23 countries, majorities or pluralities believe the next 12 months will usher in better economic conditions. However, in the remaining nations, prevailing views are less optimistic, with most anticipating economic circumstances will either remain the same or worsen.

Publics in the emerging economies of China, Brazil and India are the most upbeat about economic change. In China, more than eight-in-ten (84%) believe the economic situation in their country will improve over the next 12 months. Since 2008, strong majorities of Chinese have consistently predicted better economic times ahead.

Almost as many Brazilians (79%) as Chinese anticipate economic improvements over the next 12 months. A substantial majority of Indians (60%) share this sense of optimism.

In Egypt, a majority (56%) is confident that the national economy will improve in the coming year. This is a huge shift in the Egyptian public’s outlook – in 2010, just 25% expressed confidence that better economic conditions would emerge in the near term.

Pluralities in Mexico (48%), Kenya (45%), Turkey (44%), the U.S. (42%), the Palestinian territories (39%) and Jordan (34%) also predict improved economic circumstances in the coming year. Turkish attitudes have brightened considerably – a year ago, just a quarter foresaw better economic times. By contrast, confidence in the economy’s future has fallen 14 points among Americans, dropping from 56% in spring 2010.

The prevailing view among Indonesians (47%), Russians (46%), Poles (45%), Israelis (44%), Lithuanians (43%) and Germans (42%) is that economic conditions will remain the same over the next 12 months. Elsewhere, pluralities anticipate that the economic situation in their country will actually worsen in the coming year. Some of the most pessimistic publics are found in Pakistan (60% worsen), France (52%) and Japan (52%).

Blame for Economic Troubles

Among those who describe economic conditions in their country as bad, most believe their own government is at fault – continuing a pattern seen in 2010. Finger-pointing at banks and other financial institutions is most prevalent in Western Europe, as it was last year. In general, more people continue to find fault with themselves, rather than the U.S., when it comes to bad economic times at home.

In countries where majorities say the economic situation is poor, the predominant view is that the national government is to blame. In places as far-ranging as Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia, three-quarters or more who think economic conditions are bad point to government as either the primary or secondary reason. Roughly two-thirds or more in Britain, Jordan, France and Spain also fault their government.

The idea that banks and other financial institutions are to blame for struggling economies is especially popular among Europeans who report bad economic times at home. Majorities in Britain (75%), Spain (75%), Germany (68%), France (65%) and Lithuania (60%) fault banks and related institutions for economic problems. In Spain, the percentage holding banks responsible has increased 9 percentage points from 2010, while it has held steady in Britain and slipped in France and Germany (down 5 and 9 points, respectively).

In general, relatively few people hold the U.S. responsible for the economic misfortunes of their country. Only in the Palestinian territories do as many as half of those describing their economy as poor point the finger at the U.S. (51%). Smaller numbers blame the U.S. in Jordan (39%), Turkey (32%) and Pakistan (29%), while just one-in-five or fewer in the other surveyed nations say the U.S. is culpable for their country’s economic troubles. The percentage blaming the U.S. is actually down in 6 of 15 nations, for which there are comparable data from 2010. In only one country, Turkey, do substantially more people point to the U.S. as the cause of their country’s economic problems (32% today vs. 24% in 2010).

Roughly half or more in Brazil (58%), Indonesia (49%), Kenya (49%), India (48%), and Lebanon (45%) blame themselves for the bad economic situation in their country. Fewer elsewhere share this view, but overall, more tend to fault themselves rather than the U.S. In Kenya, compared with last year, there has been a 10-point increase in the number of people holding themselves responsible for their country’s economic troubles. In Germany the percentage has risen 8 percentage points and in Russia 7 points.

Many Worried About Prices and Jobs

Rising prices and a lack of job opportunities are significant concerns in nearly all the countries surveyed. In most cases, worries about inflation and jobs track relatively closely.

In 19 0f 22 nations, most people say rising prices are a very big problem, including overwhelming majorities in Pakistan (97%), Kenya (93%), Lebanon (89%), Lithuania (86%), the Palestinian territories (83%) and Indonesia (81%). Even in some countries where publics are generally content, large numbers worry about inflation. In India and Brazil, for example, roughly eight-in-ten (83% and 79%, respectively) describe rising prices as a very big problem.

Inflation worries are closely coupled with concerns about unemployment. In the same countries where majorities see rising prices as a pressing issue, half or more also say a lack of job opportunities is a very big problem. In several Western nations, however, worries about job shortages significantly trump apprehensions about price increases.

By wide margins, more in Spain, the U.S. and Britain say a lack of jobs is a very big problem, than say the same about rising prices. More among the French also think jobs, rather than prices, are a very big concern, although by a smaller margin (10 points).

Only a few publics appear relatively unworried about inflation and unemployment. In Germany about a third describe rising prices (32%) and a lack of jobs (33%) as very big problems.

In China, somewhat more than a third (37%) say unemployment is a major concern, compared with nearly half (49%) who are anxious about price increases, while in Israel slightly less than half see prices (47%) or a shortage of jobs (43%) as huge problems.

When asked separately why unemployed people in their country are without jobs, publics in the surveyed nations hesitate to place the blame on the jobless themselves. Across regions, less than half say it is the fault of unemployed people that they are without work. People in Israel (47%), Indonesia (46%) and India (45%) place the greatest responsibility on individuals for being unemployed. In about half of the surveyed countries, a quarter or less place the blame on the jobless themselves, including in Western countries such as Germany (25%), Britain, (22%) and the U.S. (18%).

Across the globe, far more blame forces outside the control of the unemployed for their jobless status. This view is most widespread in Spain (91%), France (88%), Kenya (80%), the U.S. (77%), the Palestinian territories (76%) and Lithuania (75%).

International Trade Still Favored

Despite widespread feelings of economic malaise, and specific worries about inflation and unemployment, publics in the nations surveyed see increased international trade and business ties as a good thing. However, not everywhere do people feel as strongly about the benefits of such ties.

Majorities in all parts of the globe say growing international trade and business ties is a good thing for their country. Roughly nine-in-ten or more share this view in Lebanon (97%), Spain (96%), Israel (95%), Germany (95%), Kenya (91%), Lithuania (91%) and China (89%). Public enthusiasm for trade is especially notable in Lebanon, Spain and Kenya – all countries where large majorities are unhappy with both their country’s direction and the domestic economy. In the other nations surveyed, no less than two-thirds endorse expanded trade and business ties with other countries.

While overall views of international trade are positive across regions, the intensity of support varies by country. In Spain (58%), Kenya (58%) and Pakistan (56%) majorities say trade is very good for their country. Roughly half in Lebanon (50%), Turkey (48%), India (48%) and Lithuania (47%) concur. By contrast, just 14% of Brazilians and 18% of Americans think increased trade and business ties with other nations are very good for their country.

In China, just a quarter believe international trade is very good for their country, up slightly from 2010. The percentage describing trade as very good jumped 25 percentage points in Spain between 2010 and 2011.