Global Trends 2020

A divided world?

Overall, the world is becoming more socially liberal, but divisions across societies remain. In Ipsos Global Trends 2020, we trace four changing divides in personal values: individualism, support for democracy, attitudes to religion and spiritualism, and a fast-emerging cultural divide on LGBTQ+ issues.

The divide between two of the powerful nations on Earth remains strong. In the US, 9 in 10 (88%) say that one’s personal feelings are the best way of making decisions, versus three-quarters (74%) in China.

There are wide differences on the value of democracy – even within well-established democratic states. Globally, seven in ten think democracy is the ideal governance system, although in France and Poland just six in ten feel the same. The figure drops to less than half in Russia. In the US, a self-styled bastion of democracy, just two in three now think democracy is the best way forward – a drop of six percentage points since 2016 (the year of Trump’s election). In contrast, eight in ten Swedes and Danes think democracy is the best form of government, in part reflecting higher satisfaction with both politics and public services, and lower levels of corruption.

Spiritualism also divides countries along the emerging-established market line we have seen elsewhere. In developed countries, only a minority are interested in developing a more spiritual side. In contrast, 8 in 10 of those in India, China and South Africa agree. A similar pattern emerges around ideas of positive inspiration. In Germany, more than half actively reject the idea of finding new and positive sources of inspiration, whereas in Indonesia 90% seek it. However, this distinction between east and west may be positioning as much as philosophy – as relatively high numbers in the west say they do try to find time to switch off on a regular basis.

Even traditionally conservative Russia has seen a nine percentage point rise in support for LGBTQ+ rights since 2013

Attitudes towards gay, lesbian and trans people also divide the world. In some nations there is consensus: in Great Britain and the Netherlands more than nine in ten agree that gay men and lesbians should be free to live their lives as they wish. Others see things very differently. In Indonesia, for example, less than a third feel the same way. As a result, the value tied to social liberal sentiment – beyond binary – rises to the top right of our Global Values Map (see page 28), highlighting that it is more divisive and radical than many others and will be a key area of social contest in the 2020s.

Globally, we have seen a six percentage point increase in liberal attitudes since 2013. South America has become notably more liberal, with the proportion of Brazilians agreeing that gay men and lesbians should be free to do as they wish increasing by 15 percentage points over that time. This is reflected by a spike in Brazilian social media traffic following the criminalisation of trans and homophobia in June 2019. Even Russia, which remains one of the most conservative countries, has seen a nine percentage point rise in support for LGBTQ+ rights.

We see signals of this in social media as well, but linked to specific events, rather than a general overall trend. For example, in Asia we see a stark contrast between Chinese firm Sina Weibo’s ban of #LGBTQ in April, and Taiwan being the first in the region to allow same-sex marriage.

One might think cultures will converge as the world becomes more connected, but it is clear that much still divides us – and is likely to continue doing so. If multinational companies continue to grow, and climate challenges do not reverse the trend of international travel, it is likely that global connections will continue to drive a sharing of values. Moreover, as Netflix and other streaming services dissolve the national borders that were the preserve of local television, cultural references and nuances may well also become wildly more shared. It was only five years ago that Netflix first commissioned content from outside the US, and yet this foreign content has performed well outside its country of origin. As we enter the 2020s, we do so in a world that is connected, but still very diverse, an important message for marketers and politicians alike.

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