Despite a bleak outlook for political engagement globally, there are a few issues that universally inspire people to take action, according to a survey released today by Pew Research Center.
Health care is the top issue of concern, followed by poverty and education, according to the report, which measured political involvement across nearly 15,000 survey respondents in 14 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa and Tunisia.
“People tend to see the health care issue as one of the most important reasons for taking political action,” says Jacob Poushter, a senior researcher at Pew. Mexico is the only country where health care was not considered the primary or secondary issue.
Other issues the survey asked about — freedom of speech, government corruption, police misconduct and discrimination — were not enough to compel people to take action in most countries. Free speech was the exception, as the top issue in Nigeria and the second-greatest concern in Italy and Poland.
Yet political engagement in general is low across the 14 countries. While 78 percent of respondents overall said they had voted in an election, smaller shares reported engaging in other political activity, including attending a campaign speech, volunteering or donating money, participating in a protest or commenting online about political issues.
Voting is compulsory for citizens in three countries that reported the highest voting rates: Argentina, Brazil and Greece. Indonesia and the Philippines also reported high shares of people who said they voted, at 91 percent each, while the smallest percentage of voters was found in Tunisia, at 62 percent.
Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that monitors political rights and civil liberties around the globe, considers nine of the countries included in the Pew survey to be “free,” while it rates Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria and the Philippines as “partly free.”
Yet Poushter says divides in political involvement are more pronounced within countries than among them. Social media users and people with higher education levels are more likely to be politically engaged. Younger people say they are more likely to comment online about social or political issues, but less likely to actually vote, which will likely be “no great surprise to political observers in the U.S.,” Poushter says.
“Those who are older are more likely to vote, or say they have voted, than those who are younger,” Poushter says. “It’s what you expect: Because older people are more likely to vote, they have more say in policies in each of their countries. Assuming that it’s a democracy, politicians are more likely to listen to their concerns.”
The study was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
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