Academic Director, YouGov

Survey of 23 countries has found surprisingly moderate attitudes on subjects such as immigration


Gratefully reposted from The Guardian, where it was first published here.


Ever since the financial crisis swept through dozens of countries a decade ago, “globalisation” has become a dirty word – a creed of amoral liberalism under siege from the forces of populist public opinion.

So it might come as a surprise that a new survey of opinions in 23 of the world’s biggest countries uncovers a much more nuanced attitude towards the economic and social phenomenon that has shaped the world over the past 30 years.

The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project – the largest survey of its kind on populism and the public state of globalisation – portrays a broadly moderate critique of the liberal international consensus, rather than mass public revolt against it.

Attitudes to immigration are a case in point. The issue is clearly one of prominent concern in many countries, with substantial numbers saying the costs outweigh the benefits for their country, ranging from 31% in the US to 37% in the UK, 40% in Germany and 50% in Italy.

There is also important variation in attitudes towards different types of migrants. All 23 samples express a net positive view of “qualified professionals coming here with a job offer”, with similar trends for qualified professionals arriving “to search for work”. The opposite is largely the case for unskilled labourers searching for employment. But feelings are more mixed towards unskilled labourers who already have jobs.

Even among those who believe immigration “should be reduced a lot”, there are notable nuances in attitudes towards open borders, trade and multinational institutions.

In comparative analysis across France, Germany, Britain, the US and Australia, for example, we find net positive views among this subset towards professionally qualified migrants.

About a third say their government “should do more to cooperate with international institutions and agreements”, or think the current balance is about right between multilateral cooperation and their country “acting on its own in world affairs”.

In Germany and the three anglophone countries, the percentage of these respondents who think the costs of international trade outweigh the benefits is either balanced or trumped by those with a more positive opinion. In attitudes to other issues such as gender equality, climate change and the importance of “a good democracy” versus “a strong economy”, this group looks somewhat more conservative than the national population, but not greatly so.

In other words, even the hard sceptics of immigration reflect a range of sentiment on globalisation, rather than simple ideological divides.

If these findings give comfort to western liberal optimists, they are bolstered by other results suggesting the democratic world still has a clear lead in the global balance of soft power.

The most admired countries in the study are Japan, the US, Canada, Australia and France, while the most popular cities overall are New York, Paris, London, Rome and Tokyo. Rising or resurgent heavyweights such as Russia, China and India are much less likely to feature in either list, emphasising a certain difference between raw power and cultural influence.

By a similar token, in 19 out of 23 countries, the larger number of respondents would still prefer the US, rather than China, to be the most powerful force in world politics. In a series of questions on what type of political model is generally best, the percentage of those choosing “a non-democratic system” seldom reaches double digits. So much, then, for the so-called growing allure of authoritarian alternatives to democracy.

Hence, perhaps the single most important finding in this study is what it says about the enduring appeal of the post-Soviet, liberal international order. Three decades after that order first began to materialise, both governments and populations are duly agitating for more autonomy or shelter from it in certain respects.

But if globalisation is to survive and evolve, we must get better at distinguishing between measured public doubts and exaggerated tribal stereotypes. Otherwise, we only reinforce the grievance culture of genuine fundamentalists and authoritarians.

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YouGov-Cambridge Centre

The YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public Opinion Research is a joint research centre run by YouGov and the Cambridge University POLIS Department, which promotes in-depth, academic collaboration between pollsters and subject-experts. Alongside research and events, the Centre contributes to teaching at the University and provides several postgraduate scholarships each year.
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