Do people identify as global or national citizens? New report suggests a tipping point, but North and South heading in opposite directions

This is interesting, and feels like it could be part of a big normative shift. According to a new report from Globescan (a polling company), across 20,000 people in 18 countries ‘more than half (51%) see themselves more as global citizens than citizens of their country, against 43 per cent who identify nationally. This is the first time since tracking began in 2001 that there is a global majority who leans this way.’

What the poll also shows is a gap opening up between North and South. The 2016 shift is driven by rapid increases in global identification in Nigeria, China, India and elsewhere (see graph, which covers only the 14 countries tracked since 2001, hence slight disparities in the numbers).Globescan global citizenship poll













The Globescan report doesn’t speculate on the reasons for this, so here are a few random thoughts to get you started.

North and South start to diverge around 2009, which would suggest a link to the onset of the Global Financial Crisis, which hit developed economies harder than others. It would make sense for economic crisis to promote insularity and a retreat from global identity.

What’s driving the opposite, growing sense of global identity in countries such as India and China? Economic rise? Greater connection through improved media links with the rest of the world?

To what extent do the results tell us much about what people really think? Maybe it has just become more socially acceptable to be chauvinist in the North, and less so in the South, so people’s sense of what they ought to tell pollsters is the only thing that has changed? What other evidence is there that would confirm/challenge these findings? There are plenty of signs of disenchantment with globalization in the rich countries – just look at the fate of assorted trade negotiations. What evidence is there for a countervailing globophilia in China, India etc?

If this is true, it feels massive – a seismic and global normative shift in how people see themselves. What could be the long term political/economic implications of such a transformation?

One cautionary note: I am told that some people have doubts about Globescan’s methodology. That stuff is all way over my head, but is meat and drink to the nerdy end of the FP2P readership – over to you (and h/t to Barney Tallack for passing on the report)

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8 Responses to “Do people identify as global or national citizens? New report suggests a tipping point, but North and South heading in opposite directions”
  1. Alice Evans

    ‘Urban-only samples were used in Brazil, China, Indonesia, and Kenya’.

    Possible sample bias? Urban people are more likely to be exposed to global flows, norms and networks. Oversampling people more likely to be cosmopolitan in those four non-OECD countries.

  2. Finn Heinrich

    The poll includes a very similar question to the one about global vs national citizen on p9 of the press release about the “most defining criteria of self-identity” with one answer option: “being a world citizen”. The results for this question are quite different than for the first one about global-national with the highest % of respondents self-identifying as global citizens in Spain, France, Australia, Canada and the UK and NOT in the global South. Overall, in my view, the findings for this question (which also includes answer options for “local community”, “religious group” and “race/culture”) seem to have much more face validity than the one which is put as the headline result. In addition, its question wording and the answer options appear also more solid. So, I’d doubt that we are witnessing a seismic shift in self-perceptions across the globe.

  3. Deborah

    This analysis appears somewhat consistent with long-standing research (e,g, GLOBE Study 2004 and many others) about differences in cultural values between individualist and collectivist societies and links to increased urbanisation. To me, the Globescan finding appears consistent with the idea that as people become more urbanised, societies become more individualist (and therefore less collectivist). Individualists tend not to identify with or feel any obligation to any particular group and are much more comfortable making decisions about their own lives and sense of identity. They are likely to determine their allegiances (e.g. to the world or some global movement) according to their own interests. Aid workers themselves tend to be highly individualistic in some ways, reflected in the way they can identify with people and issues in other parts of the world. Collectivists tend to identify with and feel strong mutual obligations to smaller groups (more like a tribe, place, island, religious or language group, family, clan etc. than a nation state) and their decisions are based on perceptions about what is best for that group. As societies become more individualistic, people tend to identify themselves more as global citizens. This shift in cultural values contributes to a shift in identity. Thus, in part, what this Globescan survey might be finding is simply a manifestation of greater urbanisation in non-OECD countries. Why OECD countries may be going in the opposite direction is curious: maybe people feeling political and financial uncertainty are more likely to want to retreat from identification with global citizenship?

  4. Pete

    I see the lack of identification as a national citizen as more worrying – maybe I am just looking at this differently?

    For me, I am a citizen of 1 country (the UK). As a citizen I have a (small) influence on the government, I pay a contribution to the state and the state gave me a free education, provides many other services and is the ultimate safety net if my life goes wrong or if the bank that I use fails. To me that is the definition of citizenship and it is not at all related to chauvinism.

    On the global scale I have virtually no influence – except through my national government – and the global system doesn’t have a very good reputation for looking after individuals. So while I appreciate that we all share one humanity and one climate, my active citizenship is definitely linked to my country.

    I suspect that in Southern countries the government is often less influenced by ordinary people and provides fewer services to them – so their ties to their national government might not be as strong as their ties to a weak global identity or to an ethnic/religious identity that crosses national borders.

    I do have a cousin who probably considers herself a global citizen. After a free UK education she has moved to Singapore, set up her consultancy based in Hong Kong, employs a maid from the Philippines, has her wealth stored in the UK (in a house) and will probably come back to the UK to use the NHS in her retirement. Is this good?

  5. Natashia

    Just a very quick thought – would global south participants be thinking about climate change, and the fact that actions taken by the whole world impact on the rest of the world? Or is that reading too much into it?

  6. These are very insightful comments shared by everyone, and the diversity of opinion on how to interpret the findings shows how there is no right or wrong answers. The wording of the question did not define the term “global citizenship” and this was done on purpose, because the concept on its own might mean different things in different cultural contexts. It is therefore left entirely open to respondents to approach the expression the way they want and understand it.

    However, we can broadly assume that the results in the emerging economies are a reflection about how people increasingly project themselves in to the world, in many different ways, for example:

    – Projection of their country’s rising economic clout and weight on the global economy;
    – Projection of their country’s increased political and diplomatic influence in world affairs;
    – Growing feeling of being affected by global issues whose response, to be effective, needs to be global and collective rather than national (climate change, terrorism, international migration, financial crisis); these impressions feed in and validate to some extent the concepts of togetherness and global society, for the best and the worst;
    – Growing feeling of being part of an interconnected world in which digital communication are increasingly prominent and influential, and give anyone the opportunity to have a voice and share their opinion widely across the world through social media. Global citizens here could mean global netizens.*
    – Migration and international mobility: let’s not forget that population of many of these countries that feel more “global” have traditionally been countries with important diaspora population; today’s growing use of digital communication channels unveil and reinforce a renewed link of proximity and closeness despite geographic separation.

    Regarding the methodology, it’s true that we cannot exclude the fact that urban sampling could indeed inflate the results in favour of “global citizenship”. Urban citizens are more prone to embrace “globalised” attitudes because they are more exposed to the Other and to multiculturalism. However, our methodology, even in countries with urban-only samples, has been consistent over time and the trends are what they are: in the four urban-sampled countries listed, this feeling has grown steadily over the past years, which indicates a quite well rooted attitude, independently from the methodology used. Besides, even in other countries where methodology was fully national representative (e.g. Peru, Pakistan), the trend is similar to the urban-sample countries. The feeling of global citizenship among Peruvians and Pakistanis has also become stronger for the past 3 or 4 times the question was asked in these two countries and is now at its highest.

    The following article from CS Monitors gives very interesting pointers to help better understand attitudes around this concept of global citizenship.

    The second question in the poll looks at perceptions of self-identities. It is worded and phrased completely differently – comparison with the global citizenship question is therefore tricky if not impossible. While the question about global citizenship indirectly measures attitudes towards external projection/integration of individuals to the outside and globalised world, the second is inward-looking. It asks respondents to think about their inner self and reflect on what it is that their most important, personal identity is made of. And the results are clear. As I was telling the journalist from the Christian Science Monitor who interviewed me about the findings, “you can feel increasingly part of a 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 a defining identity”. This does not mean the results of the two questions in the poll are contradictory; on the contrary, I do think they complement each other more than they contradict, and they bluntly outline how identity is a complex and constantly evolving issue. It will be interesting to track attitudes on the identity question in the next decade or so and see if the answer “citizen of the world” is indeed gaining traction over time at the expense of the answer “national citizen of my country”.

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