Sunday, May 10, 2009

This Weekend's Contemplation - Poll Indicates Social Problems Ahead for the US and Europe

The following is a summary of a poll conducted by Harris. This is the the original relaease from Harris. Otherwise this is the link from the NY Times for the article below. Text in bold is my emphasis.

A solid majority of people in the major Western democracies expect a rise in political extremism in their countries as a result of the economic crisis, according to a new poll.

Even in the United States and Italy, the two countries whose citizens are least likely to hold that view, fully 53 percent of those surveyed say more extremism is “certain to happen” or “probable” in the next three years, according to the poll, conducted by Harris Interactive for the International Herald Tribune and France 24. The number rises to 65 percent in Britain and Germany, with about 60 percent expressing that view in the other two countries surveyed, France and Spain.

“I believe there will be a rise in political extremism in the United States, particularly from the right, between now and the next presidential election,” said Robert J. Kepka of Addison, Illinois, one of the people surveyed who agreed to a follow-up interview by e-mail. He said he expected such a result, however, “not as a result of the current economic crisis, but rather the perceived erosion of conservative Christian values.”

The survey found a widespread expectation of unrest, with strikes and demonstrations forecast by 86 percent of those in the six countries. Half of those surveyed expected riots in their own countries.

Other changes forecast were “greatly increased immigration into your country” (60 percent), a “rise of religious fanaticism in your country” (45 percent) and a drop in human rights or individual freedoms (41 percent).

The one political figure that people consistently pin their hopes to is President Barack Obama. About half of all people surveyed expressed the most confidence in his ability to solve the crisis, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany coming in second, with 22 percent. Only in Britain did a minority back Obama — one in three — but even there he handily outdistanced the runner-up, Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Another person surveyed, Amanda King of Newport, Wales, said it was more important to focus on systemic change rather than looking to personalities.

“It is almost impossible for one single leader to resolve such a crisis,” she said. “Especially in today’s globalization, bringing a recession to a close requires international co-operation.”

Speaking of Obama, she added: “Every measure he might make in response to this financial crisis will be limited and on its own will have very little effect. Confidence and stability will only increase over a period of time.”

The survey exposed pockets of optimism amid the gloom. For instance, two in three people thought the crisis could result in reform of the worldwide economic systems. And half thought it could strengthen solidarity among people, though again half thought it would not.

Looking to neighboring nations, most people found less cause for alarm. Given four possible pessimistic outcomes (bankruptcy, coup, civil war, international war), only a minority found such a result probable or certain in their region.

The story on the home front, however, was quite different. Around half of all respondents said they worried at least somewhat about losing their job or their pension, being unable to afford medical care, or being able to afford basic utilities like electricity, water or the telephone.

And fully one in three respondents even worried about becoming homeless. Only the Germans, at 19 percent, were relatively worry-free on this score. Nearly half of those in Italy and Spain had such a nightmare, but the Italians, for one, thought it would not become a reality. When asked whether they thought such a thing could happen to them in the next three years, only 12 percent of Italians said yes — the lowest percentage of any country. The highest number, at 32 percent, was in the United States.

This poll was conducted online from March 25 to 31 by Harris Interactive, in partnership with France 24 and the International Herald Tribune, among 6,449 adults, ages 16 to 64, in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the United States and adults, ages 18 to 64, in Italy. The data for age, gender, education, region and Internet propensity were weighted when necessary to bring them into line with the current proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was applied to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

Harris Interactive relied on the Harris Poll Online panel as the primary sample source for the survey.

The panel consists of potential respondents who have been recruited through online, telephone, mail and in-person approaches. Because the sample is not random but is based on those who agreed to participate, no statistical estimate of sampling error can be calculated.

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