Less nationalism? In poll, majority see themselves as 'global citizens'

For the first time, an 18-nation survey finds 51 percent lean toward a global view of themselves. The trend is most notable in large developing countries.

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Salesmen waited for customers at footwear stores outside a shopping arcade in Mumbai, India, last month. Around 70 percent of Indian respondents to a Globescan poll said they felt more globally minded than nationally defined.

For the first time, an international poll has found a majority of respondents seeing themselves more as global citizens than as citizens of their country, possibly presaging major shifts in world affairs.

Polling organization Globescan reported Thursday that 51 percent of people in 18 countries worldwide lean toward a global view of themselves, against 43 percent who identify nationally. The polling group has been tracking the issue for 15 years.

The study, carried out for the BBC World Service, found that the trend was largely driven by big developing countries. In wealthier countries, such as Germany and Britain, people seem less globally minded.

Without defining a “global citizen,” “we measured how far people consider themselves integrated into world society,” says Lionel Bellier, the associate director of Globescan who authored the report. “We are measuring the march towards a global world society.”

That march appears more confident in countries such as India, China, and Nigeria, where around 70 percent of respondents said they felt more global. In the seven rich countries surveyed, sentiment has been heading in the opposite direction since the 2008 financial crisis. In Germany, beset by questions about how open it should be to refugees from Syria and elsewhere, only 30 percent of respondents identify with global citizenship.

People in developed countries are more prone to see the negative aspects of globalization, such as job losses, suggests Mr. Bellier. “They have retracted to more nationalistic feelings, with a sense their countries are losing ground.”

In contrast, he says, the increasingly global outlook expressed in developing nations “reflects their growing importance, a sense that they are being taken more and more seriously by the Western democracies and that their voices are more likely to be heard than 20 years ago.”

Beyond the opinion gap between advanced and developing nations, the poll’s reported rise in global citizenship comes with another big caveat: Poll responses can depend greatly on how questions are framed.

The trend toward a global mind-set emerged when respondents were asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “I see myself more as a global citizen than a citizen of [country].”

But another poll question revealed that ties to national identity remain very strong. The question said, “Different people identify themselves in different ways. In your own case, would you say your most important identity is as…,” and then respondents were given choices that included “member of a religious tradition,” a “citizen of [country],” a “member of your race or culture,” a “resident of a community or area (smaller than country),” or “a citizen of the world.”

On that question, 52 percent of respondents polled across 19 countries defined their most important identity as citizens of their country, while only 17 percent viewed themselves primarily as world citizens.

“You can feel increasingly part of global society, making your voice heard on the other side of the planet through social media, for example, but nonetheless national citizenship remains paramount for most people if they have to choose” an identity, Bellier says.

Nonetheless, the poll shows a growing sense of “world citizenship,” whether that is taken to mean the ability to project national influence more broadly, or a sense of responsibility for global problems such as climate change. For some it means being able – or forced – to pick up and move elsewhere, as more than a million refugees in Europe have done.

The poll also found encouraging rates of open-mindedness in most countries, with 75 percent of respondents approving of intermarriage between different races or ethnic groups; at around 90 percent approval ratings, Spain, Australia, and Canada are the most tolerant, with Germany (34 percent) and Russia (43 percent) the least accepting.

Overall, more than 6 in 10 respondents worldwide are supportive of immigration from other countries, with 31 percent disapproving of it. Again, German and Russia are the most disapproving, and Spain, Australia, and Canada are the most supportive.

German responses seem colored by worries about the impact of the more than 1 million refugees who have arrived in their country over the past year. Russians, it appears, “do not feel part of the global discussion on many topics, and have a sense they are being rejected by many other countries,” says Bellier, as a result of their government’s policies in Ukraine.

But the overall picture painted by the poll, he argues, “is quite positive about the direction the world is taking ... towards a more interconnected society. If you don’t jump on the boat, you risk isolating yourself.”

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