Pew poll finds strong support for global cooperation amid Covid-19 pandemic

Majority say such action would have lowered virus cases in home country

A poll conducted amid the coronavirus pandemic has found strong support for global cooperation across 14 advanced economies, with a majority believing that cooperating more with other countries would have reduced the number of infections at home.

People also generally approved of the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak by the United Nations and World Health Organisation, according to the poll released today by the non-partisan Pew Research Centre, although there were large differences in attitudes driven by age and political leanings.

Younger respondents and those who were more highly educated were more likely to have positive views of international organisations, while the support was strongly partisan in some countries, including the US.

Taken together, the results offer a snapshot of persisting support for the UN, which turns 75 this year, along with some scepticism of its effectiveness.

Support for cooperation rather than competition also remains the dominant view, albeit one held less strongly by supporters of right-wing populist parties in Europe and Republicans in America.

"People generally agree it is important to take other countries' interests into account when dealing with major international issues, even if it means making compromises," the report's authors wrote.

From June to last month, researchers surveyed 14,000 adults in 14 top UN donor nations: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Some 59 per cent said greater international cooperation would have lowered Covid-19 case numbers at home, while 36 per cent said no amount of cooperation would have reduced the pandemic's impact in their country.

Similarly, 58 per cent agree their country should take into account the interests of other nations even if it means making compromises with them. But 40 per cent said their country should follow its own interests even in the face of strong disagreement from other nations.

The survey found favourable, if mixed, views of the UN. About three-quarters of respondents said the UN promotes human rights and peace, while two-thirds think it promotes economic development.

But just over half reckon it deals effectively with global issues or cares about the needs of ordinary people, a finding in line with past polls that show doubts about multilateral organisations persist despite the public seeing them favourably, said the Pew researchers.

Views on multilateralism and global cooperation were linked to ideology, with left-leaning respondents more likely than those on the ideological right to approve of the WHO and UN, and say that countries should act as part of a global community.

Americans were the most ideologically divided. Some 90 per cent of liberals favoured acting as part of a global community, against 56 per cent of conservatives, the largest gap in all 14 nations surveyed.

This divide was consistently present. Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans to say that the UN advances the interests of America, in line with their much higher approval of the UN. This year, 85 per cent of Democrats are positive on the UN, against 39 per cent of Republicans.

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On the pandemic, 83 per cent of those who lean Democrat said the number of Covid-19 cases in America would have been lower if the US cooperated more with other countries, compared with 27 per cent of Republican-leaning respondents.

Some 68 per cent of Republicans and independent voters who lean Republican said the US should follow its own interests.

Similar inclinations were seen in Europe, where right-wing populist party supporters were more likely to favour their country following its own interests even when other countries strongly disagree.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Poll: Strong backing for global cooperation in advanced nations'. Print Edition | Subscribe