Many people around the world now believe their country is in decline and that the system built by the ‘establishment is rigged against them.
2016, quite unexpectedly, was a year of historic political events such as Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the Italian constitutional referendum. The rise of right wing political parties is not only evident but a reality with impending elections in France and Germany, both with huge potential to derail the entire EU project, especially the first, due in France April 23rd.
A major new Ipsos survey across 22 countries paints a picture of a global public, feeling that they have paid the price for rising inequality and simply been left behind by the traditional system of politics and government. Notably, this has translated into high levels of support for a strong leader willing to break the rules. These leaders tend to ride on a wave of populism, quite often with no real plan as in the case of the leader of Britain’s UK Independence Party (Ukip) Nigel Farage, who, after more than a decade of campaigning to exit the EU, retired from British politics within days of Brexit. Donald Trump seems to have a plan but with many mixed messages being issued over domestic and foreign policy is also currently experiencing a series of post-election protests – and yet Trump’s favourability rating amongst Americans has risen to 50% (Obama’s outgoing rating being 56%) the week of his inauguration, despite what you might have read in the press.
The survey, among online adults aged under 65 in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, South Africa, South Korea Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States covers just how people are feeling right now about their current and future prospects for themselves and that of their country. Most think their country is in decline and experts such as economists and more particularly politicians do not understand their lives. There is ambivalence towards globalisation. Inequality has risen with the rich getting visibly wealthier while their own living standards have fallen, especially as the middle classes contract year after year.
The evidence of this ambivalence from the survey is that on average, 57% of people across the 22 countries believe their country is in decline. Of course, perceptions of decline vary – the highest is in South Africa, South Korea, Italy and Brazil, and the lowest in Canada. About 15% of those who say their country is in decline think it is totally irreversible.
People are also on balance likely to feel that their generation has had a worse life than their parents. Europe comes out worse than Asia and South America. Overall 43% think they are having a worse time. There are many studies that confirm adults with young children fear that the next generation in turn, will do worse through even harsher economic conditions. Across the entire study, only 27% thought that their lives will be better than their parents.
Under these conditions, it is not hard to understand that 64% across all 22 countries say that the traditional established political parties simply don’t care about how their citizens are coping. In France and Spain it rises to 75%.
Support for a strong leader who will break the rules is especially high in France and at 80% the probabilities of right-wing leader Marine LePen gaining control of the country and be the architect of the EU’s downfall along with Brexit.
In another survey commissioned by the EU parliament two years ago, it was discovered that over 70% of all Europeans think that corruption is endemic and caused almost entirely by politicians in collaboration with corporations. A good example of this are the huge protests across the continent against proposed trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA, along with banking and corporate scandals and bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis.
About 36% of Western countries such as the US, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, and Germany feel they should protect themselves from the world.
It is clear that globalisation is at the heart of all these worries. Globalisation was supposed to solve economic insecurity but what has emerged is that people are feeling ignored by a small elite who care little about anything other than their own wealth. Many blame open borders allowing immigration to drive down wages and job security – anti-immigration sentiment is rising as a result. The study suggests that many countries around the world share the view that the system no longer serves them.
Further, this feeling of the people is that there is no respect of their borders – from emerging economies to the developed world, from the Americas to Europe to Asia, there are clear frustrations and dissatisfaction and a reaction is taking place – clear signs indeed that ruling elites are taking no notice.
The mood of discontent is likely to gain traction throughout 2017 and beyond and no doubt will shape the current political and economic ideologies as the evolution of capitalism continues. In the meantime, it is likely that extreme neoliberal capitalism will drive the current political climate to even greater reductions in civil liberties and civil rights and that the social democracy movement will be driven by greater levels of aggression leading to violent protests and even civil unrest. In this environment, radical and opportunistic leaders on the extremes of the political spectrum emerge.
(One should not forget that poverty and starvation throughout the world has remained pretty much unchanged in recent decades and these people are not represented at all in this study who make up nearly half of world population. 1 billion children live in real poverty conditions, 165 million of them suffer from chronic malnutrition health problems – the result is that 8 million children (22,000 each day) die each year through appalling living conditions. Overall, nearly a billion people are starving and just as many suffering from illnesses connected to a lack of access to clean drinking water.)