Wake-up call for politicians

Almost two-thirds of citizens worldwide think their leaders are dishonest, among other serious failings.


Ian Traynor
November 19, 2004 7:59PM (UTC)

The world is becoming a much more dangerous place, led by politicians who are too incompetent, dishonest and untrustworthy to deal with the challenges, according to an ambitious survey of global opinion released Thursday. In a massive vote of no confidence in political elites worldwide, the poll of 50,000 people in more than 60 countries found that almost two out of three people considered their leaders to be dishonest. while just over half saw them as unethical.

People in western Europe and the Middle East were particularly gloomy about the prospects for their children, believing they faced less safe and less prosperous lives, offering an apparent thumbs-down to the Bush administration's declared mission of spreading liberty, democracy and prosperity by toppling regimes such as the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

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The annual survey, claiming to represent the views of 1.2 billion people, was conducted last summer by Gallup International for the World Economic Forum, based in Davos, Switzerland. Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the forum, described the results as a wake-up call for leaders. "The findings of this comprehensive global survey send a strong message to the world's leaders. People around the world expect and demand a lot more from their leaders than they receive. They want leaders who are capable of courageous and long-term decisions, acting in the best interests of a global citizenry," he said.

Worldwide 63 percent of respondents said their political leaders were dishonest, 60 percent said they had too much power, and 52 percent said they were unethical.

Distrust of politicians was higher among those in Latin America, Asia and Africa than those in Europe or North America. Characterizing the results as depressing and grim reading for political leaders everywhere, the forum noted that Europeans and the U.S. public appeared more tolerant of politicians' failings than people elsewhere. But Europeans are much more anxious about the future, with Germany, in particular, alarmed at the prospect of eroding wealth and growing insecurity.

The survey described Germany as the most pessimistic country in the world and one of the most critical of its political and business elites. Three out of four Germans, for example, had little confidence in their political leaders, while in the Netherlands, the figure was one in 10.

On fears for future security, the west Europeans led the global league, 55 percent believing the next generation would inhabit a more dangerous world. Fifty-four percent of people in the Middle East felt similarly, although the respondents were drawn from only three countries, Turkey, Egypt and Israel.

The pessimism-optimism gap between the older and young democracies of western and eastern Europe was striking, with only 27 percent of east Europeans fearing for their future security. On prosperity prospects, only one in five west Europeans believed in increased affluence in the years ahead, while half of east Europeans took the rosier view.

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In what may represent a damning verdict on Tony Blair's determination to maintain the U.K.-U.S. "special relationship" with the Bush White House, 72 percent of Britons believed that "politicians respond to people more powerful than themselves." That outcome in Britain was considerably higher than the west European average of 58 percent.


Ian Traynor

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