Skip to content

Globalization tops populism in WEF poll

Globalization and international cooperation have more staying power than populist nationalism, the World Economic Forum found in a global survey.

GENEVA (AN) — Globalization and international cooperation have more staying power than populist nationalism, the World Economic Forum found in a global survey.

Ahead of its yearly gathering of political and business elites at the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, WEF released a poll of 10,000 people globally that said the overwhelming majority — 76% — favor multilateralism through international organizations, treaties and laws.

The poll's findings ran counter to the well-publicized sound and fury of dozens of populist leaders or political parties in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. They were meant to provide fodder for talks among the 3,000 leaders at Davos in the coming week.

"The findings can be viewed as an endorsement by the public of the key principles of the multilateral system," WEF said in a statement. "It also roundly debunks the negative notion of immigrants that has raced to the top of the news agenda across Europe, North America and elsewhere."

This year's meeting underscores the challenges from U.S. President Donald Trump's aversion to immigration, multilateralism and free trade, Britain’s chaotic withdrawal from the European Union and French President Emmanuel Macron's deep unpopularity among "yellow vest" protesters.

Populist and authoritarian leaders are restricting immigration, undercutting free trade, attacking press freedoms and allowing corruption to thrive. That has global financial markets worried as WEF anticipates a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” hitting technology, medicine and other fields, and causing artificial intelligence and robotics to jeopardize employment.

"Globalism is dead. Long live globalization," WEF headlined in an article by W. Lee Howell, its managing director and head of global programming. "Though belief in globalism — a top-down conspiracy to impose an international system that trumps national sovereignty — may be dead, globalization is alive and well. An effective and resilient international order, comprising strong nation-states, thus remains essential."

The poll found at least six-in-10 people believe in multilateralism. In Southeast Asia and Africa, it found, people most strongly believe that international cooperation brings benefits; 88% said it was extremely or very important. Western Europeans expressed the least enthusiasm; 61% shared in that belief. Among North Americans, it was 70%.

Support for migrants and scientists

Around the world, 57% said immigrants were “mostly good” for the nation where they arrived. In North America, 66% shared a positive view of immigrants, in contrast to the Trump administration's portrayal of immigration as a threat to rally its political base.

Human Rights Watch separately reported what it called a growing global trend to confront the abuses of headline-grabbing autocrats.

Nations, civic groups and protesters have been pushing back against anti-rights populists in places such as the United States, Europe, Yemen and Myanmar, HRW said in its World Report 2019.

“The same populists who spread hatred and intolerance are fueling a resistance that keeps winning battles,” said Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director. “Victory isn’t assured, but the successes of the past year suggest that the abuses of authoritarian rule are prompting a powerful human rights counterattack.”

Many of the presidents and prime ministers, central bankers, CEOs, cultural figures and others who flock to Davos espouse the advantages of a global economy that they benefitted from and was organized around a convergence of common business and political interests.

In December, almost 200 nations came together to adopt rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement —  examples of hard-fought wins for multilateralism over national interests.

But the gargantuan, combined efforts it will take to accomplish the Paris deal put in grave doubt whether the world can achieve its goal of preventing average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.

Most also said they believe the world's knowledge about the threats of global climate change is backed by well-established science. Contrary to the global average of 54% who trusted in climate scientists, however, just 17% of North Americans shared that view.

The findings reflected what the Union of Concerned Scientists said has been a continuing campaign by the Trump administration and his Republican allies in Congress aimed at "actively dismantling science-based health and safety protections, sidelining scientific evidence and undoing recent progress on scientific integrity."

Economic fears

Despite the vote of confidence towards international cooperation, many people were less optimistic about their nations' economic futures. WEF described those views as a reflection of pervasive despondency over a lack of upward mobility.

It was most acute in Western Europe, where just 20% of survey respondents said they believed it was extremely or somewhat common for someone to become rich through hard work.

Even in the United States, where the ideal of the rags-to-riches millionaire is a pillar of the so-called American Dream, the poll found that only 34% saw self-made wealth as extremely or very common anymore.

WEF's founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab, a German economist and former business professor, said people want their leaders to address these challenges — by putting their heads together.

"Climate change, income inequality, technology and geopolitics pose an existential threat to humanity," he said. "What we see with this research is that, while the international community’s capacity for concerted action appears constrained, the overwhelming desire of the global public is for leaders to find new ways to work together that will allow them to cooperate on these critical shared challenges we all face."