Published on 20 October 2022
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A World Divided: Russia, China and the West

War in Ukraine widens global divide in public attitudes to US, China and Russia – research shows

Executive Summary

  • In this report, we examine how worldwide attitudes towards the major international powers – China, Russia, and the United States – are shifting in the wake of the Ukraine war, China’s rising assertiveness, and recent challenges to American democracy.

  • We do so by harmonising and merging data from 30 global survey projects that collectively span 137 countries which represent 97% of world population. This includes 75 countries surveyed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, giving us updated insights into the current views of 83% of all people across the globe.

  • As a result, our analysis covers not only high-income democracies but also a comprehensive coverage of emerging economies and the Global South – revealing a marked divergence between the two.

  • On the one hand, western democracies stand more firmly than ever behind the United States. Not only that, but the war in Ukraine has galvanised democratic societies worldwide – as the peoples of upper-income democracies in South America, the Asia-Pacific, and Eastern Europe have also moved to a more pro-American stance.

  • However, across a vast span of countries stretching from continental Eurasia to the north and west of Africa, we find the opposite – societies that have moved closer to China and Russia over the course of the last decade. As a result, China and Russia are now narrowly ahead of the United States in their popularity among developing countries.

  • While the war in Ukraine has accentuated this divide, it has been a decade in the making. As a result, the world is torn between two opposing clusters: a maritime alliance of democracies, led by the United States; and a Eurasian bloc of illiberal or autocratic states, centred upon Russia and China.

  • We suggest that this new cleavage cannot be reduced to simple economic interests or geopolitical convenience. Rather, it follows a clear political and ideological divide. Across the world, the strongest predictors of how societies align respective to China or the United States are their fundamental values and institutions – including beliefs in freedom of expression, personal choice, and the extent to which democratic institutions are practised and perceived to be legitimate.


Report: A World Divided: Russia, China and the West

Press release: War in Ukraine widens global divide in public attitudes to US, China and Russia – report 

Authors

Dr Roberto Foa

Assistant Professor in Politics and Public Policy

Roberto Stefan Foa is an Assistant Professor in Politics and Public Policy, Co-Director of the Cambridge Centre for the Future of Democracy, and Director of the YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public...

Margot Mollat

Margot Mollat is a research and policy specialist, with a specific interest in governance, corruption and human rights. She holds an Mphil in Public Policy from the University of Cambridge,...

Dr Xavier Romero-Vidal

Research Associate

Xavier Romero-Vidal is a Visiting Scholar at POLIS, studying the drivers of democratic legitimacy across countries and over time. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Leuphana University...

Han Isha 

Han Isha is an economist with a MA in Public Policy from the University of Cambridge, and a MSc in International Economics, and Accounting and Finance from Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research...

David Evans

David Evans was a research assistant at the Centre of the Future of Democracy during summer 2022. He is a finalist studying BA History and Politics at the University of...

Dr Andrew Klassen

Affiliated Researcher

Dr Klassen is the Principal Researcher for the Human Understanding Measured Across National (HUMAN) Surveys project, which merges, formats, and harmonizes individual level data from multiple cross-national public opinion surveys....

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