October 4, 2007

World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration

47-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey



The publics of the world broadly embrace key tenets of economic globalization but fear the disruptions and downsides of participating in the global economy. In rich countries as well as poor ones, most people endorse free trade, multinational corporations and free markets. However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey of more than 45,000 people finds they are concerned about inequality, threats to their culture, threats to the environment and threats posed by immigration. Together, these results reveal an evolving world view on globalization that is nuanced, ambivalent, and sometimes inherently contradictory.

There are signs that enthusiasm for economic globalization is waning in the West — Americans and Western Europeans are less supportive of international trade and multinational companies than they were five years ago. In contrast, there is near universal approval of global trade among the publics of rising Asian economic powers China and India.

The survey also finds that globalization is only one of several wide-ranging social and economic forces that are rapidly reshaping the world. Strong majorities in developing countries endorse core democratic values, but people are less likely to say their countries are ensuring free speech, delivering honest elections or providing fair trials to all. Conflicting views on the relationship between religion and morality sharply divide the world. But on gender issues, the survey finds that a global consensus has emerged on the importance of education for both girls and boys, while most people outside the Muslim world also say that women and men make equally good political leaders.

Costs and Benefits of Globalization

Overwhelmingly, the surveyed publics see the benefits of increasing global commerce and free market economies. In all 47 nations included in the survey, large majorities believe that international trade is benefiting their countries. For the most part, the multinational corporations that dominate global commerce receive favorable ratings. Nonetheless, since 2002 enthusiasm for trade has declined significantly in the United States, Italy, France and Britain, and views of multinationals are less positive in Western countries where economic growth has been relatively modest in recent years.

In most countries, majorities believe that people are better off under capitalism, even if it means that some may be rich and others poor. Support for free markets has increased notably over the past five years in Latin American and Eastern European nations, where increased satisfaction with income and perceptions of personal progress are linked to higher per capita incomes.


But there are widely shared concerns about the free flow of people, ideas and resources that globalization entails. In nearly every country surveyed, people worry about losing their traditional culture and national identities, and they feel their way of life needs protection against foreign influences. Importantly, the poll finds widespread concerns about immigration. Moreover, there is a strong link between immigration fears and concerns about threats to a country’s culture and traditions. Those who worry the most about immigration also tend to see the greatest need for protecting traditional ways of life against foreign influences.

Immigration Fears

In both affluent countries in the West and in the developing world, people are concerned about immigration. Large majorities in nearly every country surveyed express the view that there should be greater restriction of immigration and tighter control of their country’s borders.

Although Western publics remain concerned about immigration, they generally are less likely to back tighter controls today than they were five years ago, despite heated controversies over this issue in both Europe and the United States over the last few years. In Italy, however, support for greater restrictions has increased — 87% now support more controls on immigration, up seven points from 2002.

Concerns about immigration have increased in other countries as well, perhaps most notably in Jordan, where an influx of Iraqi refugees has raised the salience of this issue — 70% of Jordanians back tighter immigration controls, up from 48% five years ago.

Religion and Social Issues

Updated May 27, 2014

The original version of this report included public opinion data on the connection between religion and morality in China that has since been found to have been in error. Specifically, the particular survey item that asked whether one needed to believe in a higher power or God to be a moral person was mistranslated on the China questionnaire, rendering the results incomparable to the remaining countries. For this reason, the data from China has been removed from the current version of the report, re-released in May 2014.

For further information, please contact info@pewresearch.org.

Global publics are sharply divided over the relationship between religion and morality. In much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, there is a strong consensus that belief in God is necessary for morality and good values. Throughout much of Europe, however, majorities think morality is achievable without faith. Meanwhile, opinions are more mixed in the Americas, including in the United States, where 57% say that one must believe in God to have good values and be moral, while 41% disagree.


The survey finds a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.1 This relationship generally is consistent across regions and countries, although there are some exceptions, including most notably the United States, which is a much more religious country than its level of prosperity would indicate. Other nations deviate from the pattern as well, including the oil-rich, predominantly Muslim — and very religious — kingdom of Kuwait.

The survey also measured global opinion about contemporary social issues, finding a mix of traditional and progressive views. Throughout Western Europe and much of the Americas, there is widespread tolerance towards homosexuality. However, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Israel stand apart from other wealthy nations on this issue; in each of these countries, fewer than half of those surveyed say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Meanwhile, in most of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, there is less tolerance toward homosexuality.

Regarding gender issues, there is a broad consensus that both boys and girls should receive an education. In all 47 countries surveyed, at least seven-in-ten respondents believe that education is equally important for boys and girls. Most publics also believe that men and women are equally qualified for political leadership, although there is less agreement on this issue. Notably, in several predominantly Muslim publics — including Mali, the Palestinian territories, Kuwait, Pakistan and Bangladesh — majorities say that men make better political leaders. The survey also asked about another often contentious gender issue: Muslim women wearing the veil. In 15 of 16 Muslim publics surveyed, majorities say women should have the right to decide whether they wear a veil. Women generally are more likely than men to express this opinion.

Views of Democracy

Most key democratic principles are broadly supported throughout the developing world. Large majorities in most of the 35 developing countries surveyed strongly value religious freedom and an impartial judicial system. Somewhat smaller majorities endorse honest multiparty elections, free speech and a media free from government censorship. But majorities in only six nations rate civilian control of the military as very important, the least valued of the six core democratic principles tested.

While basic democratic freedoms are prized throughout the developing world, experiencing such liberties is another matter. This “democracy gap” is generally widest in the Middle East. In Lebanon, for example, more than eight-in-ten people view free speech, honest multiparty elections and a fair judicial system as “very important.” But the number of Lebanese who believe these characteristics describe their country “very well” is much lower — only 36% for free speech, 23% for a fair judicial system, and 17% for multiparty elections.

As in past surveys, majorities in predominantly Muslim nations continue to believe Western-style democracy can work in their countries. But in the current poll, Turks are more skeptical of this than they have been over the past five years. This may reflect anti-Western sentiment more than a diminished appetite for democracy, which Turks broadly embrace. In contrast, however, the weakest endorsement of democracy comes not from the Muslim world, but from Russia, where by a greater than two-to-one margin people say a strong leader, rather than democracy, can best solve the country’s problems.

Other questions suggest that the struggle to meet basic human needs can supersede support for democracy. For example, most publics in both the developed and developing world say being free from hunger and poverty is more important to them than either free speech or religious freedom. The conflict between basic rights and basic needs is particularly apparent in the developing world, home to many of the newest and most fragile democracies. When asked to choose between a strong economy and a good democracy, majorities in 14 of 36 developing countries choose prosperity, while majorities in 15 select a good democracy.

Other findings from this wide-ranging survey include:

Attitudes toward government

American exceptionalism

Muslims and their beliefs


Media and technology


  1. Religiosity is measured using a three-item index ranging from 0-3, with “3″ representing the most religious position. Respondents were given a “1″ if they believe faith in God is necessary for morality; a “1″ if they say religion is very important in their lives; and a “1″ if they pray at least once a day.