24.06.22 Analytics

Is the World at Risk of a New Great Divergence?

Polls show the global community polarized on whether Russia should be economically excluded

Ratings for Russia and Vladimir Putin have plummeted sharply around the world, Pew Research Center poll shows.

The survey was conducted in 18 countries in February–May 2022. However, the geography of the poll seems to be shifted in favor of advanced economies, while Malaysia, also covered in the survey, is showing a very different picture.

The Democracy Perceptions Index presents an even more vivid picture of polarization toward Russia. The zone of generally positive attitudes toward Russia, in addition to vigorously pro-Russian China, covers South Asia and the countries in North Africa and the Middle East. In this region the majority of respondents are against cutting economic ties with Russia, while the Western Alliance, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan adhere to the anti-Russian position. India and Latin America hold the middle ground.

Survey data thus demonstrates that the Western Alliance will find it difficult to force this part of the world to support its sanctions policies and the global community might face geo-economic fragmentation if the pressure from the alliance is too strong.

Russia’s approval rating dropped to a record low of 10%, according to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center. Respondents also expressed little confidence in Putin, with only 9% having a favourable opinion of Russia’s president. This was in stark contrast to other world leaders: 18% of respondents have confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping of China while American President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hold ratings of around 60%. At the same time, there are two groups of respondents more likely to have a positive opinion of Putin: Europeans who support far-right parties in their own countries and younger people, who tend to have less trust in Western leaders such as Macron and Biden. There are also several countries that fall outside of the overall trend, including Greece, Singapore and Malaysia (where 60% of respondents say they trust Putin). Overall, the Pew Research Center survey tends to favour advanced European economies (12 out of 18 of the surveyed countries are either members of the EU or NATO).  

The yearly Democracy Perception Index, compiled by the The Alliance of Democracies Foundation in collaboration with Lantana, points to an even greater polarisation of attitudes towards Russia. On the one hand, the number of respondents with a positive attitude towards Russia outnumbered those with negative attitudes in only 11 of the 53 countries included in the survey. Yet these countries amount to almost half of the world’s population and include China, India, Pakistan, South Asia and the Middle East.   

This trend can be clearly seen in China, for example, where respondents holding a positive opinion of Russia outnumber those with a negative opinion by 49 percentage points. Overall, Asian countries show a negative 4 percentage point balance, Latin America sits at negative 39 p.p. and Europe, as well as the US, reach negative 60 p.p. In most “free” democratic countries the negative balance is 57 p.p., whereas in those with less freedom it is only 2 p.p.

Respondents' Net Perceptions of Russia and Continued Economic Ties, %

According to the Index, 31 of 52 countries opposed cutting economic ties with Russia. At the same time, the majority of respondents in European countries, as well as those in the US, turned out to be in favour of the ban. In the US, the number of people who would prefer to cut ties came in higher by 45 p.p., and in Europe (with the exceptions of Hungary and Greece) that figure was 31 p.p. In Latin America opinion was divided almost equally, although it did lean more towards negative. 

China unanimously leads the way when it comes to supporting continuedthe desire to maintain economic relations with Russia: its positive balance hits 62 p.p. It should be noted that on the whole, however, the situation in the rest of Asia comes off as contradictory. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea support the Western coalition in severing economic ties with Russia. India is also generally in favour of the ban. Yet South Asia predominantly polls positive when it comes to keeping economic ties with Russia (countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam). The same can be said of the Arab states, and specifically MENA (the Middle East and North Africa), where most nations with robust oil and gas industries are situated. Opinion is tipped towards maintaining economic ties and sits at 19 p.p. This data corresponds to the idea of a “divided Asia” as outlined by experts in this report, which analysed the diplomatic and official reactions of various Asian countries to Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.    

Net Perceptions Re Maintaining Economic Ties with Russia, %

Those polled were also asked whether their country should sever economic ties with China in the event that it invades Taiwan. Responses were divided almost equally. However, as the authors of the report note, those countries that are in favour of cutting economic ties with China also account for 53% of its trade. The strongest supporter of the ban is India (with a score of 30 p.p.) and the most fierce opponent is, of course, Russia.

On the whole, free countries hold a score of 19 p.p in favour of the ban, whilst less free countries come in at 12 p.p. Democratic nations are similarly divided: 25 p.p. in favour of severing economic ties amongst free countries and 14 p.p. against the ban in countries with a lower freedom score. The issue may not have a whole lot to do with “democratic ideals”, however. Developing nations, as opposed to developed ones, are less willing to incur economic costs whilst defending political values even if they are against Russia’s invasion (such is the case of  Latin America). India’s position, according to experts, is largely informed by the need to contain China’s hegemony. Finally, an important channel of Russian influence is the arms trade in Asia — which multiple experts have written about, while the Italian Institute for International Political Studies has even provided data regarding Russia’s role in importing weapons to Asian countries.     

The danger of geopolitical fragmentation (or the collapse of the world into several isolated and rival trade zones) was previously reported upon by the experts at the annual Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum and the leaders of the IMF. If such zones should appear, a key feature would be politicised trade rules and even autonomous payment systems. The survey results confirm this worrying trend and demonstrate that the position of governments towards the Ukrainian conflict reflects the position of their citizens irregardless of whether a country is democratic or not, or even what its citizens and government base their opinions on. The results also visualise the contours of the possible “great divergence”: the Western alliance with its allies in Southeast Asia against the countries of the Middle East and South Asia. 

The Pew Research Center report includes survey data from 18 countries: the US, Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Israel, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. Polls were conducted February 14 —May 11, 2022, but mostly after February 24. The Democracy Perception Index survey was conducted in 53 countries March 30 — May 10 and covered nearly 53,000 people.