When considering a global democracy, it makes sense to ask what policy outcomes would result from enabling everyone in the world to vote.
There’s a lot of polling data that suggests generally reassuring answers to this question. Not all mainstream American values are shared worldwide, but most are.
Due to their size, three population groups are particularly important: China, India, and the Islamic world:
- Islam accounts for 23% of the world’s population. Islam, of course, is not monolithic; moreover, the Muslim population is spread across many countries. Those with the largest Muslim populations, in descending order, are: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Algeria, and Morocco.
The Pew data includes polling of all the countries with the largest Muslim populations except Iran and Algeria. A summary of poll results on relevant topics for the U.S., China, India, and the other countries with the largest Islamic populations, is below.
(Note: In this post, I use “Islamic countries” or “Muslim countries” as shorthand for countries whose Islamic populations are among the world’s largest, including India, even though a majority of India’s population is not Islamic.)
Climate Change & Environment
Overwhelming majorities in the all the countries selected agree that climate change is a serious problem.
In the most recent poll on climate change, in a smaller set of countries, most respondents think it’s a threat, with divergence as to whether it’s a major or minor one.
Most respondents in China and India say “people should be willing to pay higher prices in order to address global climate change.” However, majorities in most Muslim countries and in the U.S. disagree.
Asked whether “protecting the environment should be given priority, even if it causes slower economic growth and some loss of jobs,” strong majorities in almost every selected country say it should.
Poor quality of drinking water is seen as a serious problem by most respondents in every selected country except the U.S..
Overwhelming majorities in all Muslim countries polled say it’s important to live in a country where:
- You can openly say what you think and can criticize the state;
- Honest elections are held regularly with a choice of at least two political parties;
- There is a judicial system that treats everyone in the same way*;
- The military is under the control of civilian leaders; and
- The media can report the news without state censorship.
* China is also included in this question.
Majorities in almost all the Muslim countries polled, and a plurality in China, would prefer to rely on a democratic form of government rather than a strong leader to solve problems.
Majorities in almost all Muslim countries polled say democracy could work in their country and is not just for the West.
Majorities in many major Muslim countries express a strong preference for democracy over other forms of government.
Overwhelming majorities in three major Muslim countries say it’s important that:
- People can openly say what they think and can criticize the government; and
- People choose their leaders in free elections.
People in all the selected countries, including China, India, and the U.S., see “corrupt political leaders” as a major problem.
United Nations & Globalization
“The influence of the U.N.” is seen as a clear positive in every country selected except Pakistan, Turkey, and the U.S. (in a 2003 survey).
On whether their “country should have U.N. approval before it uses military force”, those surveyed are about evenly split, with several countries’ respondents marginally in favor.
People feel good about “the world becoming more connected through greater economic trade and faster communication” by overwhelming margins in all countries selected.
They feel good about “faster communication and greater travel between the people of (survey country) and people in other countries” also by overwhelming margins in all countries selected.
Economic Issues & Values
In all selected countries, majorities agree that economic prosperity is important.
In all selected countries, respondents agree that the gap between the rich and the poor is a significant problem.
Majorities in all selected countries agree that “most people are better off in a free market economy, even though some people are rich and some are poor.”
Yet there’s also strong agreement in all the selected countries that “it is the responsibility of the state to take care of very poor people who can’t take care of themselves.”
There are significant differences between selected countries on whether it’s more important “that everyone be free to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state or that the state play an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody is in need,” with people in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Turkey favoring an active role for the state, while respondents in India, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the U.S. prefer a laissez-faire approach.
In many selected countries (China, several Muslim countries, and the U.S., but not India), majorities agree that a lack of employment opportunities is a big problem. In another survey, majorities in China (again) and also India see unemployment as a major problem.
International financial instability is seen as a threat, to a broadly similar degree, in China, several Muslim countries, and the U.S..
In China and India, majorities agree that “today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.”
Rights of Women
Overwhelming majorities in almost all selected countries agree that women should have equal rights with men. A further poll shows that this is important to clear majorities in three major Muslim countries.
In all selected countries, majorities agree that women should be able to work outside the home.
However, majorities in all selected countries except the U.S. believe that “when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women.”
In almost all selected Muslim countries (not including India), majorities agree that “Women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil.”
Majorities in every selected country agree that “religion is a matter of personal faith and should be kept separate from government policy.”
Overwhelming majorities in all Muslim countries polled say it’s important to live in a country where “you can practice your religion freely.”
Similarly overwhelming majorities in three major Muslim countries say it’s important in a democracy that “people of all faiths can practice their religion freely.”
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