Wednesday, November 24, 2004

World Survey: Citizens Mistrust Their Leaders

Thursday, November 18, 2004 8:42 a.m. ET
By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - People around the globe largely mistrust their political leaders and nearly half fear the world will be less safe for their children, according to a survey issued on Thursday.

The survey, carried out in 60 countries by the Gallup International polling organization for the Swiss-based World Economic Forum, also found that business leaders have a better image than the politicians -- but not by a huge margin.

Worldwide, 63 percent of the 50,000 people questioned believe politicians are dishonest while 43 percent think the same term applies to business leaders, according to the survey, titled "The Voice of the People."

Some 52 percent feel politicians behave unethically, and 39 percent believe the same of business chiefs. But while 39 percent think politicians are not capable or competent, only 22 percent viewed their business counterparts in the same way.

Least trusted by their peoples, the survey indicated, are the political leaders of Latin America, West Asia and Africa with dishonesty ratings of 87 percent for the first, 84 percent for the second and 82 percent for the third.

Although in Western Europe as a whole 46 percent of the survey sample described their politicians as dishonest, in Germany 76 percent held that view, while 70 percent of Germans thought business leaders were dishonest too.

By contrast, across the border in France, where cynicism about political life has been long viewed from outside as rife, only 36 percent saw their politicians as dishonest and only 27 percent described them as unethical.

IRAQ WAR EFFECT

In Britain, 72 percent feel that "politicians respond to people more powerful than themselves" -- possibly reflecting disapproval of Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for President Bush over Iraq, survey compilers said.

The figure for Western Europe as a whole was 58 percent.

In North America, covering the United States and Canada, 50 percent of the sample felt political leaders are dishonest, and 47 percent believe business leaders behave unethically. The survey as issued by the Forum gave no other details or breakdown for the two countries.

It said Ecuador returned the highest dishonesty rating, 96 percent, followed by Mexico with 93 percent, Nigeria with 92 percent, Peru, Bolivia and India with 91 percent -- and new European Union member Poland with 90 percent.

At the other end of the scale, only three percent of those surveyed in Singapore saw their political leaders as dishonest, 12 percent in the Netherlands and 13 percent in Malaysia.

The survey found 45 percent of the sample around the globe -- and 46 percent in the United States -- predicting a less safe world for future generations, of whom nearly one third thought life would be "a lot less safe" in years to come.

In Western Europe, this view was expressed by 55 percent of the sample -- up to 63 percent in Germany.

But in Africa, scene of some of the worst natural disasters and civil conflicts of the last decades, optimism was stronger with 50 percent saying the world would be safer and only 30 percent expecting less security.