Diversity and Division in Advanced Economies

Another informative survey by Pew. Canada tends to have lower perceptions of conflict than the median (as one would expect) except for urban/rural:

Wide majorities in most of the 17 advanced economies surveyed by Pew Research Center say having people of many different backgrounds improves their society. Outside of Japan and Greece, around six-in-ten or more hold this view, and in many places – including Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Taiwan – at least eight-in-ten describe where they live as benefiting from people of different ethnic groups, religions and races.

Chart showing increasing shares see diversity positively

Even in Japan and Greece, the share who think diversity makes their country better has increased by double digits since the question was last asked four years ago, and significant increases have also taken place in most other nations where trends are available.

Alongside this growing openness to diversity, however, is a recognition that societies may not be living up to these ideals: In fact, most people say racial or ethnic discrimination is a problem in their society. Half or more in almost every place surveyed describe discrimination as at least a somewhat serious problem – including around three-quarters or more who have this view in Italy, France, Sweden, the U.S. and Germany. And, in eight surveyed publics, at least half describe their society as one with conflicts between people of different racial or ethnic groups. The U.S. is the country with the largest share of the public saying there is racial or ethnic conflict.

Chart showing perceptions of conflict between groups much higher in South Korea and U.S., especially between those who support different political parties

Notably, however, in most societies racial and ethnic divisions are not seen as the most salient cleavage. Rather, in the majority of places surveyed, more people identify conflicts between people who support different political parties than conflicts between people with different ethnic or racial backgrounds. Political divisions are also seen as greater than the other two dimensions tested: between those with different religions and between urban and rural residents. (For more on the actual composition of each public surveyed on each of these dimensions, see Appendix A.)

In the U.S. and South Korea, 90% say there are at least strong conflicts between those who support different parties – including around half or more in each country who say these conflicts are very strong. In Taiwan, France and Italy, around two-thirds say the political conflicts in their society are strong. Still, in around half of the surveyed publics, fewer than 50% say the same.

Chart showing around half or more in several publics say people do not agree on basic facts

In some places, this acrimony has risen to the level that people think their fellow citizens no longer disagree simply over policies, but also over basic facts. In France, the U.S., Italy, Spain and Belgium, half or more think that most people in their country disagree on basic facts more than they agree. Across most societies surveyed, those who see conflict among partisans are more likely to say people disagree on the basic facts than those who do not see such conflicts.

Views on the topic are also closely related to views of the governing party or parties in nearly every society (for more on how governing party is defined, see Appendix B). In every place but the U.S. and Italy, those with unfavorable views of the governing coalition are more likely to say most people disagree on the basic facts than those with favorable views of the government.

Chart showing views of COVID-19’s effect on unity factor into views of political conflict

Although divisions between racial and ethnic groups as well as between partisans are palpable for many, other types of conflicts are less commonly perceived. For example, in no place surveyed does a majority think there are strong conflicts between people who live in cities and people who live in rural areas. Similarly, only a minority in most countries say there are divisions between people who practice different religions – though around half or more do sense such conflicts in South Korea, France and the U.S.

Beyond divisions between specific groups, there is also a widespread – and growing – sense that societies are more divided now than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. A median of 61% across the 17 advanced economies say they are now more divided than before the outbreak, and in all but one of the 13 countries also polled in summer 2020, the sense that societies are more divided than united has risen significantly since last year. Those who describe their society as more divided than before the global health emergency are also significantly more likely to see conflicts between different groups in society and to say their fellow citizens disagree over basic facts.

Source: Diversity and Division in Advanced Economies

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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