Global Issues >> Globalization


Globalization in General

Overall, it appears that Americans feel that globalization has a mixture of positive and negative impacts, with the positive ones moderately outweighing the negative ones. A majority or plurality sees globalization in general as more positive than negative. A majority sees globalization as quite positive for the economy, American business, and consumers, but attitudes are less positive for American jobs and the environment. Only a small minority favors resisting the process of globalization, though enthusiasm for promoting it seems to have waned in recent years. The public appears to be growing more familiar with the concept of globalization. Globalization is seen not just as an economic process, but as a process of the world becoming increasingly interconnected--and also as one in which values are becoming more oriented to a global context, and international institutions are playing a more central role.

Overall, Americans view globalization as having a mixture of positive and negative elements, with the positive elements outweighing the negative ones. Positive responses to globalization vary from a plurality or small majority to a large majority depending on how globalization is defined in a given question.

An October 2005 poll by the German Marshall Fund simply asked whether respondents have a favorable or unfavorable view of globalization. A plurality of 46% said they had a favorable view, while 36% said they had an unfavorable view. It is worth noting though that those who had a very unfavorable view (15%) were significantly greater than those who had a very favorable view (7%).[1]

In PIPA's January 2004 poll, respondents were given a very broad definition of globalization that included economics, communication, travel and culture. Then they were asked to rate globalization using a scale with zero being completely negative, ten being completely positive and five being equally positive and negative. The average response was 5.62, down a bit from when PIPA asked this question in October 1999 and found a mean response of 6.04

Rating Globalization Graph

In 2004 40% rated globalization above 5, while just 19% rated it below 5, and 39% rated it at 5, i.e., equally positive and negative. In the 1999 poll, a modest majority of 53% rated it above 5, suggesting attitudes have cooled slightly in the past few years.

When asked about the term “globalization” but given no context or definition, attitudes are more positive. A September 2002 Pew poll found a solid majority of 62% saying it was a “very good” (10%) or “somewhat good” (52%) thing. Only 23% said it was bad. [2]

When asked about the impact of globalization on the United States a clear majority gives a favorable rating. Since 1998, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has asked a question in which it defines globalization as meaning “especially the increasing connections of our economy with others around the world” and asks about its impact on the United States. In July 2004 64% said it was “mostly good” and 31% said “mostly bad”-- the most positive reading this question has ever elicited. In 2002 and 1998, 56% and 54%, respectively, said it was mostly good. Responses of “mostly bad” in 2002 were 27% and in 1998 were 20%. Those volunteering the response “equally good and bad” dropped from 15% to 8% to none between 1998 and 2004, suggesting that more people have become familiar enough with the concept to have a view one way or another. [3]

The Women in International Trade survey, conducted by Epic-MRA in October 2001, posed two detailed statements about the impact of economic globalization and asked respondents to choose the one that was closer to their view. A plurality sided with the more positive view. Forty-eight percent chose the one that said:

Globalization has a positive impact because it enables the US to increase trade in services, manufacturing, agricultural and food products, it enables Americans to buy cheaper and more abundant consumer goods, and it creates more U.S. jobs.

Thirty-five percent picked the other statement:

Globalization has a negative impact because it exploits the developing world, denigrates the world's environments, and results in U.S. jobs being transferred to other countries.

Seventeen percent were undecided. [4]

An October 2000 Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey asked whether "the globalization of the world economy is mostly good for the United States, mostly bad for the United States, or doesn't make much difference." Thirty-eight percent said it is mostly good, 22% felt it was mostly bad, and 25% said it does not make much difference. A relatively high 14% said they did not know or had not heard of globalization. [5]

Pew polls have also asked about the idea of globalization without actually using the term. This formulation – “how do you feel about the world becoming more connected through greater economic trade and faster communication?” – elicits the most positive responses of all the general questions about globalization. In May 2003, 79% said this was a good thing (including 30% very good), while just 16% said this was bad. An overwhelming 86% had a positive response to this question in September 2002.[6]

Evidence of a modestly positive orientation toward globalization is the public’s negative view of anti-globalization protestors. A September 2002 Pew poll found that a plurality (49%) believed the “influence of anti-globalization protestors” on “the way things are going the United States was “bad”. Thirty percent thought it was “good”, with 21% saying they didn’t know. A June 2002 CCFR poll posed a feeling thermometer question about “protestors against globalization” and the public gave a mean rating of 45 on a scale of 0-100 (cool to warm).[6a]

When respondents are asked about the impact of globalization on them personally, they are also generally positive. A December 2003 PIPA poll asked respondents to think about the impact of globalization (defined as “increased trade between countries in goods, services and investment”) on “you and your family’s interests.” Sixty-five percent felt the effects to be positive and 32% said they were negative. A June 2002 CCFR poll found a slim majority (51%) saying globalization was good for “your own standard of living.” Twenty-eight percent said it was bad. In the October 1999 PIPA poll, when respondents were asked how globalization is "for you personally" on a scale of 0 to 10, the mean response was 5.67-a bit lower than the score for globalization per se in the same poll. [7] A February 2000 Belden, Russonello and Stewart survey asked, "As the world becomes more interconnected, do you see more problems or more advantages for you personally?" Fifty-one percent said they saw more advantages, while 38% saw more problems. [8]

Interestingly, when asked about the impact of globalization in the future, the response is substantially more positive. When asked in an October 1998 Penn, Schoen and Berland survey about the of globalization on them personally, fully half of respondents (50%) said it had not affected them. But of the remainder, positive responses outweighed negative ones by 2 to 1 (31% said it had helped them, while 15% said it had hurt). But when asked about the impact of "increasing trade and globalization," on their children a strong majority (61%) felt that it would help their children. Only 18% felt increasing trade and globalization would be bad, and just 12% thought it would not affect them. [9]

Overall, attitudes about globalization are quite similar to attitudes about international trade (see International Trade in General), though a bit more positive. As discussed below, Americans see globalization as something more complex than just trade.

Impact of Globalization on Specific Fronts

When asked about the impact of globalization on specific fronts, attitudes are quite differentiated. An April 2000 Harris poll and a 2002 CCFR survey asked whether globalization is positive or negative for a variety of areas. Majorities said globalization is good for the US economy, American companies and consumers. However, responses were substantially more negative on the question of jobs and the environment. These responses are consistent with attitudes about international trade. Stronger majorities said that globalization is also good for "providing jobs and strengthening the economy in poor countries" and “democracy and human rights abroad.” However, it should be noted that polls that have asked about the impact of international trade on poor countries have found less sanguine attitudes (see International Trade in General). It is also striking that trend lines on poll questions about the effects of globalization, where available, show a clear increase in negative attitudes between 2000 and 2002. [10]

Overall, do you think globalization is good or bad for...
Jun 2002
Apr 2000
Dec 1999
…the US (United States) economy?      
Good 52% 64% 61%
Bad 30 28 29
...American companies?      
Good 55% 63% 65%
Bad 30 29 25
...consumers like you?
Good 55% 68% 65%
Bad 27 23 25
...providing jobs and strengthening the economy in poor countries?
Good 64% 75% 70%
Bad 21 16 19
...creating jobs in the US (United States)?
Good 43% 50% 46%
Bad 41 42 45
...the environment?
Good 42% 45% 38%
Bad 37 38 44
... job security for American workers?      
Good   32%  
Bad   51  
... maintaining cultural diversity in the world?      
Good   53%  
Bad   28  
... democracy and human rights abroad?      
Good   61%  
Bad   20  

One other aspect of globalization that does not appear to be particularly popular is foreign investment - an activity that has increased dramatically with globalization. The October 1999 PIPA poll asked a question about foreign investment, though it did not directly tie it to globalization. When asked to choose between two statements, a slight majority (52%) say foreign investment in the US is "dangerous because it allows outsiders too much control over our affairs." Forty-three percent said it "has a necessary and positive influence on our economy." [11]

Public Supports Not Resisting Globalization, Says Can't Go Back

It appears that a fairly strong majority favors not resisting the process of globalization. In the January 2004 PIPA poll, a strong majority of 59% thought the US government should either "actively promote" globalization (19%) or "allow it to continue" (40%). Only 38% favored trying to "slow it down" (29%) or "stop or reverse it" (9%). There is little change in this overall attitude since 1999 when PIPA last asked the question, though a CCFR poll did find more lukewarm support in 2002. What does seem clear is that the percentage wanting to actively promote globalization has declined over time (see graph below).[12]

US Goals Regarding Globalization Graph

One possible explanation for what appears to be decreased enthusiasm for globalization is the idea that globalization is a long-term threat to the US. In the June 2002 CCFR poll, 29% said globalization was a “critical threat” to the “vital interest of the United States in the next 10 years.” Another 44% felt it was an “important but not critical threat”. Only 15% said it wasn’t an important threat. [12a]

Still, earlier polling has shown a general consensus that the US has little choice but to embrace globalization. In the October 1999 PIPA poll, even among those who wanted to stop or reverse globalization (just 9% of the total sample), a plurality said it was not possible. When posed two choices in the October 1998 Penn, Schoen and Berland survey, 60% felt the US "could not turn away" from globalization "even if it wanted to"; just 36% chose the statement, "It is not too late to turn back from globalization and the US should concentrate on domestic interests." [12b]

Even after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the public did not perceive much slowing in the pace of globalization. In December 2001, the Pew Research Center asked how much "the pace of globalization [had] recently been slowed." A slight majority (52%) felt it had been slowed "hardly any" (30%) or "not at all" (22%). Forty percent felt it had been slowed "a little" and just 8% "a lot." And even among those who felt the pace of globalization had been slowed a little or a lot, a strong majority (68%) felt the slowdown was a short-term phenomenon. Moreover, a strong majority (63%) of this group said that the slowing down of globalization was a "bad thing for ordinary people"; only 32% felt it was a good thing. [13]

Americans Increasingly Familiar With Globalization

Americans are also becoming more familiar with the concept of globalization. In two ATIF polls from the early 1990s, more than four in ten said they were not familiar enough with the idea to say how they felt about it, or expressed no opinion. In the 1999 PIPA poll, just 29% said they were not familiar with the concept of globalization. A poll by the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University during the 2000 presidential campaign asked how well respondents understood what candidates meant when they used the phrase "globalization of the world economy." Just 15 percent said they either did not know or did not understand the phrase at all. A solid majority (57%) said they understood the phrase very well (18%) or fairly well (39%). Another 28% understood it some, but not too well. [14]

Consistent with these findings, a fairly strong majority believes globalization in general has had at least some impact on them. A February 2000 Belden & Russonello survey found 69% felt that globalization of "the economy, communication, health, environment, and other areas" had a great deal (33%) or some impact (36%) on them personally. Just 29% thought it had just a little impact (10%) or not much impact at all (19%). [15]

What Globalization Means to Americans

In PIPA's October 1999 poll, respondents who had heard of the term 'globalization' (70% of sample) were asked to say what it meant to them. In various ways, virtually all responses described globalization as a growing interconnectedness of the world. As one respondent said, "It means we've become a more global society, economically and politically, so decisions being made here affect other areas, and other governments' decisions affect us." Said another, "Whatever happens in one country affects all countries." People made similar connections in the focus groups. In Baltimore, one man called it "a big merging of everything…a single culture, a big openness; the Internet…instant communication."

The dimensions of this interconnectedness varied. Most commonly cited was the economic dimension. One poll respondent said, "It means we trade with everybody and everybody trades with us." Another explained, "It means that in business everybody all over the world is connected monetarily."

However, this does not mean globalization was seen as only, or even primarily, an economic process. A bit more than half of survey respondents did not mention the economic dimension at all. A substantial number spoke in terms of values and norms. As one respondent said, globalization is "looking at things in terms of the world instead of a single country," while another said it is "all countries united, working for a better world." Others talked in terms of international institutions, for example defining globalization as "the United Nations and their [sic] influence." In a focus group, one woman said she believed globalization meant "respect for others, not necessarily for changing them but for respecting them where they are…I think that somehow we're all one."

Even though most views of globalization were positive on balance, the focus groups did bring to light some concerns about the increasing interconnectedness of the world. Naturally there was concern about the threats to American jobs that come with the growth of international trade. In addition some mentioned the faster spread of diseases, such as AIDS, while others brought up the possibility that outsiders may gain too much power in the US, or that countries will lose their individual identities. Some participants bristled at the notion of global government. As one man said, "Globalization as trade is good. Globalization as government is bad."