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Oxford survey finds confidence in the West to be declining

The results of a major global public opinion survey indicate confidence in the West and the stability of its alliances is waning. 

Oxford University’s Europe in a Changing World research project—in partnership with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)—conducted an opinion poll across 21 nations, asking participants for their views on international alignment, the West, and leadership. 

The survey, conducted in September and October 2023, had about 1,000 respondents from each participating country. However, respondents from China, India, and Russia were not representative of national demographics since they were chosen from exclusively rural areas. 

The subsequent report, co-authored by Oxford Professor Timothy Garton Ash, political scientist Ivan Krastev, and ECFR director Mark Leonard, concluded that although respondents across the world generally view the Western way of life positively, the West (specifically the EU) lacks the hard power necessary to compete. Instead, a large number of individuals have diagnosed the West as having less stable alliances and a dim future for liberal democracy. 

Central to the report is the finding that alliances are becoming more fluid, with respondents preferring to side with different countries depending on the target issue. This is a significant shift away from bipolar blocs that have traditionally dominated international politics. 

Despite alliance fragmentation, many nations still say they would prefer security cooperation with the US to China, and, when asked what a “good leader” is, most participants chose “seeking international cooperation” as paramount. 

When asked where they would prefer to live (other than their own country) most non-Western respondents said either the US or the EU. Only 5% of non-Western respondents chose China. 

However, although Western standards of living are internationally recognised as preferable, there is surprisingly little trust in the future of Western political clout. Most people surveyed in Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia believe the EU will collapse in the next 20 years. When asked to describe the EU in one word, respondents rarely chose “strong.” 

Moreover, the majority of respondents from China and Saudi Arabia indicated they believed the US would cease to be a democracy in the next 20 years. The grim picture of the West painted by these autocratic countries may be a reflection of a new anti-West posture in these states. 

Additionally, while the West believes in its ability to help Ukraine beat Russia, most of the rest of the world is placing their bets on Russia. 

It is important to note, however, that respondents from some countries might not have been able to share their true opinions. 

The authors of the survey suggest the EU should adopt a policy of “strategic interdependence,” recognizing that while the EU will never be completely self-sufficient, it needs to do much more to make itself a strong geopolitical actor. Additionally, the report suggested the EU broaden its alliances by fortifying relations with newly emerged middle powers such as Turkey, India, Brazil, and South Africa. In response to the weakening perception of the West and its alliances, Professor Garton Ash concludes the solution is investment in military and security to bolster “hard power” in a bid to secure the EU’s role as a geopolitical actor on the world stage. 

The survey, though alarming, doesn’t point to freezing ties between states as much as to shifting attitudes of individuals across different countries. The question of whether popular opinion will influence policy changes is still up for debate.

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