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Cost of living and climate are higher global priorities than Ukraine, poll finds

The cost of living is ranked by most voters globally as a more important issue than liberating Ukraine from Russian occupation, but there is still strong support for a Russian military withdrawal, according to a survey showing global preoccupations.

Majorities in 16 of the 22 largest countries believe Russia should leave the territory it has occupied in Ukraine, the survey shows. The polling in 22 countries of more than 21,000 citizens also underlines the extent to which the global south is less engaged with the war in Ukraine than Europeans.

Asked to list their top-three priority issues, voters more often cited the climate crisis and cost of living ahead of Ukraine. Even in the UK, the country with some of the most solid support for Ukraine, more voters cite climate change.

The climate emergency was the top priority, with 36% of respondents ranking it as one of the three most significant issues facing the world, compared with 28% who picked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In all but three of the countries surveyed, fewer than 40% cited Ukraine as a top-three priority issue.

The polling was conducted by Datapraxis and YouGov
by the Open Society Foundations, a group funded by the businessman and philanthropist George Soros, and has been released ahead of the UN general assembly later this month in New York.

It will be examined closely by world leaders for signs of any fracture in support for the war in Ukraine in view of rising inflation and energy prices. Although the survey clearly shows Ukraine globally viewed as less important than the climate crisis and the cost of living, Russia can take little solace from the poll. For instance, there was also a strong plurality (49%) supporting the statement “war crimes are mostly being committed by Russia”, compared with 28% supporting the view that “war crimes are being committed by both sides”.

Fault lines also appear about responsibility for the Ukraine crisis. Respondents in the global north and global south have differing perspectives on the causes of the invasion of Ukraine. Almost half (49%) of respondents in South Africa, 54% in Nigeria and 56% in India agree that Russia was “justified in wanting to have greater influence over its neighbour, Ukraine”, compared with 78% in the UK who disagree, along with 53% in Germany and 58% in the US and France.

But there is strong and general support for a peace that requires Russia to withdraw from Ukrainian territory it has occupied, including in some countries deemed sometimes sympathetic to Russian messages, such as Turkey and South Africa. Only in four of the 20 countries in which this question was asked – Senegal, India, Indonesia, and Serbia – did fewer than 50% of the respondents take the view that Russia should withdraw. Just 8% of North Americans and 13% of western Europeans surveyed believe Russia should not withdraw. Even in South Africa, 59% were in favour of total Russian withdrawal compared with 19% agreeing that “Ukraine should give up part of its territory now controlled by Russia”, and in Turkey 55% backed withdrawal compared with 16%.

Russia-Ukraine survey

There are large disparities between how importantly respondents in different countries rank Ukraine as a global issue. Concern is particularly high in eastern Europe and most G7 countries, including in Poland where 45% and the UK 39%, rank it as a top-three issue. Few citizens view the war as a top global priority in Nigeria (21%), India (21%) or Colombia, Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey (less than 20%). Strikingly, just 22% of respondents in the US listed Ukraine as a top-three global issue, despite cross-party US financial and military support for Kyiv. More respondents in Kenya (37%) than in Germany (33%) or France (29%) ranked the invasion as a top global challenge.

Almost half of respondents (49%) named inflation and the cost of living as one of the top-three challenges facing their family and community today, with the greatest concern in high-income countries. The cost of living is ranked as a top-three concern in Singapore (76% of respondents), Britain (70%), France and Serbia (58%), Poland (57%), Germany (45%) and Japan (46%). Conversely, in Turkey, where high double-digit inflation has been persistent for several years, only 53% of respondents cited inflation and cost of living as a top-three concern.

A massive 83% of those surveyed in Mexico, 64% in Senegal, and 56% in India worried their family could go hungry. So did nearly 40% of Americans and more than 25% of people in Great Britain.

Overall pessimism about the direction in which the world is heading was strongest in Europe and the US, with much more confidence in Asian countries polled, including Indonesia, Singapore and India, possibly a reflection of the confidence on the Asian tiger economies.

Despite the apparent interest in global solutions, there is clear dissatisfaction with the work of the UN in relation to Ukraine, particularly in richer countries. In only three countries – Kenya, Nigeria, and Ukraine – at least 50% of the respondents believe that the UN had generally done a good job in relation to the Ukraine invasion, falling to 25% or less in eight countries, including significant UN donors such as France and the US (both 25%), Great Britain (24%) and Japan (16%). Support for Russia’s ejection from Ukraine is near-unanimous within Ukraine, where there is unusually high support for the EU’s handling of the issue.

Yamide Dagnet, Open Society’s director of climate justice, said: “We shouldn’t be surprised that so many people around the world cite climate change as the most important challenge facing the world – the climate crisis is inextricably linked to the turmoil we are witnessing worldwide. Without meaningful action, it will compound further these crises. Yet again, the public are ahead of policymakers.”

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