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Looking Back at the World in 2020 and Forward to 2021
Gallup Blog

Looking Back at the World in 2020 and Forward to 2021

When we put together our list of global trends to watch in 2020, like everyone else, Gallup's editors had no idea of what the "year like no other" actually had in store. Protests. Wildfires. Locust swarms. Murder hornets. The biggest disruption of them all arguably was, and unfortunately will continue to be as we start 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic threatened billions of people's lives and their livelihoods -- so far claiming millions of both -- and it threatened to prevent Gallup from talking to people around the world when they needed most to be heard. But, as the new year begins, there are vaccines -- and there is hope.

And, because the pandemic did not stop Gallup from polling the world, there is excitement. This year, we will find out and share on how people's lives in more than 100 countries changed -- or didn't -- during the pandemic. More importantly, we'll do so with an eye toward what our planet's future holds.

As we do most years, we begin the new year by taking stock of some of our biggest discoveries in the past year. Most of the global trends we set out to cover in 2020 remained big stories on their own merit -- even in the shadow of a pandemic. They are likely to be even bigger stories still in 2021.

U.S. Leadership Remains Unpopular Worldwide: After tumbling to a record-low 30% during the first year of Trump's presidency, the image of U.S. leadership was not much better in the third year of his term. The median global approval rating for U.S. leadership across 135 countries and areas edged up to 33% in 2019. In Gallup's latest update from 29 countries in 2020, President-elect Joseph Biden is inheriting a battered U.S. image abroad when he takes office later this month.

World Grows Less Accepting of Migrants: Overall, the world grew less accepting of migrants between 2016 and 2019, according to Gallup's latest update of its Migrant Acceptance Index. The global score on the index, which gauges people's acceptance of migrants based on increasing degrees of personal proximity to migrants, declined from 5.34 to 5.21. Canadians were the most accepting of migrants, while Americans were the sixth-most accepting population worldwide.

Most of the World Remains Confident in Police, Feels Safe: Nearly seven in 10 people worldwide said they felt safe walking alone at night where they live (69%) and are confident in their local police (69%). While Gallup's surveys on people's perceptions of their own security were collected before the pandemic, the results provide a baseline for how the world was primed to respond to the challenges that surfaced in 2020, including those related to law enforcement in the U.S. and elsewhere.

How Many Women Worldwide Are Single Moms? Gallup found that about one in eight women aged 18 to 60 worldwide -- 13% -- are unmarried and have children younger than 15 in their household. However, this figure is sharply higher in a few regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa at 32% and Latin America at 24%. Worldwide, single mothers were more likely than the rest of the population to be struggling to put food on their table and shelter over their head.

Trust in Government Lacking on COVID-19's Frontlines: Before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, substantial majorities of residents in Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain and the U.S. said they trust the medical advice and information they receive from their governments. However, the Wellcome Global Monitor study in 2018 also showed sizable pockets of distrust in every country.

How Do You Measure What Makes Life Worth Living? The world is good at quantifying nearly all the events and transactions in our lives, from when we are born, to everything we make and buy, to how and when we die. What the world is not good at is quantifying how we feel and how we experience life. Gallup's research on global emotions fills this gap by measuring how people live their lives, including in Lebanon, where political and economic strife exacted an emotional toll.

World Risk Poll Reveals Global Threat From Climate Change: The majority of people globally believe climate change poses a threat to the next generation in their countries. More than four in 10 (41%) people interviewed for the Lloyd's Register Foundation World Risk Poll in 2019 said that climate change poses a "very serious" threat to people in their countries in the next 20 years, and another 28% said it poses a "somewhat serious" threat. About one in eight (13%) said it was "not a threat at all."

750 Million Struggling to Meet Basic Needs With No Safety Net: About one in seven of the world's adults -- or about 750 million people -- fall into the Basic Needs Vulnerability Index's "High Vulnerability" group, which means they are struggling to afford either food or shelter, or struggling to afford both, and don't have friends or family to count on if they were in trouble. Globally, at least some adults in every country fall into the High Vulnerability group.

Internet Access at New High Worldwide Before Pandemic: Many residents confined to their homes during the pandemic relied on the internet as their link to the outside world. Gallup surveys in 145 countries and territories in 2019 and early 2020 show more of the world is online than ever, but there is still a digital divide.

Road to Recovery Tough in Latin America, Parts of Europe: Latin America and Eastern/Southeastern Europe are most likely to struggle with long-term efforts to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks and setbacks, according to a new measure that combines Gallup World Poll and Wellcome Global Monitor results from 2018 and 2019 with country-level demographic data. Many of Latin America's largest populations -- including Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Colombia -- score highly on the COVID-19 Risk Recovery measure, based on a combination of factors.

Read more 2020 findings from Gallup's surveys in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about the Gallup World Poll.


Julie Ray is a writer and editor at Gallup.

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