Isolationism Abounds in Global Community

A High Level Analysis Based on Global Research By Ipsos & the Halifax International Security Forum

Friday, November 22, 2013

Halifax, NS— A new international poll by global research company Ipsos, on behalf of the Halifax International Security Forum, was released today and sheds light on the state of global affairs.

The research found that eight in ten (78%) global respondents agree that given the difficult economic issues in their country today, their country needs to focus less on the world, and more at home. In fact, 75% of Canadians and 88% of Americans agree with this perspective.

Further, the subsequent analysis indicates that Canadians and Americans can be described as "conditional isolationists”: while their respective populations want their governments to be domestically focused, they also realize that certain circumstances and events might require their country to play a greater role in the global community.

The world is a complicated, dangerous place. As such, both Canadians and Americans want to save their global engagement energies for situations where they can provide specific leadership on issues and events where they see their core values impacted. That hasn't wavered over time and hasn't been impacted by the events of the last few years. While they appear to be holding on to the hope that their engagement in the world might make a difference, the issue of an intervention in Syria is a good example that this optimism does not carry across all issues.

Globally, across the 24 countries surveyed, respondents express that economic power is more important than military power. For American and Chinese respondents, however, war over a just cause is seen as an acceptable option under some conditions. These are dangerous views to be held by two of the world’s most powerful nations.

Americans and Canadians, as well as many others around the world, see the world today as a more dangerous place than they did just three years ago. Compared with 2010, a jump of 30 percentage points among Canadians and 22 percentage points among Americans is seen in likelihood to see a nuclear or chemical attack in the world as a real threat. The difference is 18 points among Canadians and 13 points among Americans to see a terrorist attack in their country as a real threat since 2010.

There are continued pulls toward isolationism and pulling back from the world. Strong majorities of Canadians (75%) and Americans (88%) agree that, given the difficult economic issues at home, we should focus less on the world and more at home. Among the 23 countries surveyed, only Sweden (56%) reveals a majority against focusing less on the world.

Yet, support for specific policies of global engagement has remained surprisingly stable over this time. Three-quarters (75%) agree that their country has a responsibility to be a moral leader for the world, to support economic sanctions against countries that behave badly, and to help respond to natural disasters or famines. Majorities in both Canada (65%) and the United States (57%) agree their country should help the growth of democracy and assist countries with less developed economies.

But the world is not sure how or who will lead. When asked about the deal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control, strong majorities supported the deal, but only minorities believe it would actually succeed. For example, 68% of Canadians and 66% of Americans support the deal, but only 40% of Canadians and 36% of Americans are confident it will succeed.

Overwhelming majorities around the world agree that, in today's world, economic power is more important than military power - 83% of the Chinese, 79% of the Canadians, and 72% of Americans. But if you ask people if war is necessary to obtain justice under some conditions, only the Chinese (80%) and Americans (74%) seem to definitely agree – half (48%) of Canadians agree.

Established in 2009, the Halifax International Security Forum is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Halifax is a forum and a network for leaders from militaries, governments, business, academia, and the media to work together to meet emerging security threats and discuss pressing global issues. Halifax is important to the global security community because it promotes closer cooperation among democratic leaders and helps build partnerships across borders and sectors, creating strategies to strengthen international security. The fifth-annual Halifax International Security Forum will take place November 22-24, 2013 in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada.

Topline Findings

Seven in ten (67%) global citizens feel a ‘nuclear, biological or chemical attack taking place somewhere in the world’ is a real (very + somewhat) threat. Six in ten (56%) feel this way about ‘a terrorist attack taking place in their country.’

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Eight in ten (78%) global respondents agree (strongly + somewhat) with the following statement: ‘Given the difficult economic issues in my country today, my country needs to focus less on the world, and more at home’ – down two points since 2011. Support for specific policies of global engagement has remained stable over this time:

  • My country should help parts of the world that are experiencing difficulties such as natural disasters or famines. (79%, down 2 pts since 2011)
  • My country should support economic sanctions against countries that behave badly in the world, or treat their own people badly. (77%, down 1 pt)
  • My country has a responsibility to be a moral leader in the world and set an example for other countries to follow. (75%, down 2 pts)
  • My country should help the growth of democracy in the world. (74%, down 3 pts)
  • My country should assist countries that have less developed economies. (64%, down 1 pt)

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Respondents were asked to consider the situation in Syria, described as follows: ‘As you may know, the conflict in Syria has intensified in recent months, including the death of over 100,000 people and the use of chemical weapons. The United States and Russia have brokered a deal they hope will place Syria’s store of chemical weapons under international control and eliminated by the middle of 2014.’ Majorities (72%) across all countries surveyed agree (strongly + somewhat) they support the agreement but only half (52%) say agree they are confident the agreement will succeed.

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Strong majorities (82%) agree (strongly + somewhat) that ‘economic power is more important in world affairs than military power’ while only four in ten (41%) agree ‘under some conditions war is necessary to obtain justice.’

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Methodology: The survey instrument is conducted monthly in 24 countries via the Ipsos Online Panel system. For the results of the survey herein, a total sample of 18,083 adults age 18-64 in the US and Canada, and age 16-64 in all other countries, was interviewed between October 1 and October 15, 2013. Approximately 1000+ individuals were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China*, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States of America. Approximately 500+ individuals were surveyed in Argentina, Belgium, Hungary, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia*, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey. In countries where internet penetration is approximately 60% or higher the data output is comparable the general population. Of the 24 countries surveyed, 15 yield results that are balanced to reflect the general population: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States. *The nine remaining countries surveyed –Brazil (45.6% Internet penetration among the citizenry), China (41%), India (11.4%), Indonesia (22.1%), Mexico (36.5%), Russia (47.7%), Saudi Arabia (49%), South Africa (17.4%) and Turkey (45.7%)—are not reflective of the general population; however, in these less developed countries respondents are deemed to be “primary engaged citizens” as they meet minimum thresholds of education/income and connectivity compared to their fellow citizens. The precision of Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Darrell Bricker
Ipsos Global Public Affairs

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. In October 2011 Ipsos completed the acquisition of Synovate. The combination forms the world’s third largest market research company.

With offices in 85 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across six research specializations: advertising, customer loyalty, marketing, media, public affairs research, and survey management.

Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe.

Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,789 billion (2.300 billion USD) in 2012.

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Isolationism Abounds in Global Community


Darrell Bricker
CEO, Global
Ipsos Public Affairs