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2007 Chicago Council Survey: World Public Opinion

Shadows cast from a crowd of people in front of an American flag.

The 2007 Chicago Council Survey broke new ground in international public opinion research to gain understanding and discover commonalities in public opinion around the world.


It has become a platitude that we now live in a globalizing world. The increasing flow of information, goods, and people across national boundaries has made the nations of the world increasingly interconnected. This increasing interconnection presents challenges as well as opportunities.

A key challenge is for people to understand the perspectives of people in other nations: seeing how they differ and how they converge. Relations between governments may dominate the news but public opinion plays a significant role in influencing the nature and direction of these relationships. While this influence is greater in some countries than in others, its presence can be found in all nations. Government leaders arise from the broader culture in which they live. Understanding this context better can provide insight into the behavior of governments.

Polling in regions throughout the world may also reveal common ground on urgent international issues. It is in everybody’s interest that nations find shared norms upon which to build effective international agreements and institutions.

We are still in the early stages of measuring world public opinion and understanding its significance for the policy process. Only recently has the infrastructure been in place to conduct international polling. This study is therefore breaking new ground in the effort to gain understanding and discover commonalities in public opinion around the world.

The present study of world public opinion has been undertaken in this light. Included in the study are 18 nations plus the Palestinian territories. Together these nations represent approximately 56 percent of the world population.

This study is a joint effort of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs (formerly The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations), and participating research centers around the world. The Chicago Council has conducted periodic surveys of the American public on international issues since 1974., a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, regularly conducts polls around the world.

The current study evolved out of The Chicago Council’s 2006 survey on the rise of China and India and its impact on the international order, undertaken in partnership with the Asia Society. This survey included polling by The Chicago Council in China, India, and the United States, together with parallel surveys undertaken in South Korea (by the East Asia Institute), and Australia (by the Lowy Institute). took the lead in recruiting other centers around the world to participate in a supplemental survey that asked many of the same questions as the 2006 Chicago Council survey. managed this additional survey and oversaw the production of this report.

World Public Opinion

A total of 21,890 people were interviewed between July 2006 and March 2007. Each center decided which questions to include in their respective surveys. Thus not all questions were asked in every country.

Please see the Appendix for additional information about the methodology, fielding dates and contact information for the various research partners.

Naturally the question arises as to how significant these findings are. Do people around the world even have opinions on these issues, some of which are fairly complex? Do they care about them?

One of the first questions we asked was how interested people are in “news about the relations” of their country “with other countries.” As shown below, in all 15 of the publics that answered this question, at least two out of three respondents said they were somewhat or very interested. In most of them, at least eight in 10 said they were interested.

Another indicator of public interest is whether people think their country should play an active role in world affairs. When asked whether “it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs,” majorities in all 14 publics said that it would be best to take an active part. In most countries, at least seven in 10 took this position.

This study also includes analysis of variations in responses by subgroups. In general we found that views vary only slightly according to demographic differences such as gender and age. There are some modest variations, however, according to individuals’ level of attention to news, education, and income. These are also the most politically relevant groups: people who pay attention to news and have higher education and income are those most likely to influence the political process.

While some might assume that those who are better informed and more educated would hold different opinions than the “masses,” they instead tend to agree with the dominant view. In fact, within the better-informed group the dominant view is accepted by a larger majority than within the population as a whole. This suggests that if people were to scrutinize these issues more closely, the dominant view would more than likely become more pronounced.

Key Findings

Globalization and Trade

  • Majorities around the world have a largely positive view of globalization and believe that international trade benefits national economies, companies, and consumers.
  • Many are concerned that trade harms the environment and threatens jobs.
  • Large majorities, even in developing countries, favor including environmental and labor standards in trade agreements.

Climate Change

  • There is widespread agreement that climate change is a pressing problem that poses a significant threat.
  • Views are divided on whether global warming requires urgent, costly measures or more modest, low-cost efforts.
  • Publics agree that developed countries should provide aid to developing countries if they agree to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

Genocide and Darfur

  • Publics around the world say the United Nations has the right and even the responsibility to protect people from genocide and other severe human rights abuses even if this means acting against the will of the victims’ government.
  • Large numbers are open to UN intervention in Darfur, but many seem to be uninformed about the situation in western Sudan.
  • Support for contributing troops to an international peacekeeping operation in Darfur is relatively low in most countries, but high in France and the United States.

Future of the United Nations

  • Large majorities approve of strengthening the United Nations by giving it the power to have its own standing peacekeeping force, regulate the international arms trade and investigate human rights abuses.
  • Most publics believe the UN Security Council should have the right to authorize military force to address a range of problems, including aggression, terrorism, and genocide.
  • Publics show more modest support for accepting UN decisions that go against their own country’s preferences, though majorities still favor this in most countries polled.

US Leadership

  • Publics around the world reject the idea that the United States should continue to be the preeminent world leader and prefer that it play a more cooperative role.
  • Most believe that the US plays the role of world policeman more than it should.
  • Views are divided about whether the United States should reduce the number of its overseas military bases.

Rise of China

  • Majorities around the world believe that the Chinese economy will someday grow to be as large as the US economy.
  • In no country do majorities feel that it would be mostly negative for China to catch up with the United States.
  • World publics do not trust China to act responsibly in the world any more than they trust the United States to do so and distinctly less than they trust Japan.
About the Author
John E. Rielly
President Emeritus, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Rielly was president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (now the Chicago Council on Global Affairs) from 1974 to 2001. He's currently Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University.