A survey conducted by Pew Research Center, a US nonpartisan fact think tank, has found that Indians’ approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and their satisfaction with both their country’s direction and the state of its economy has grown considerably in recent years. Among the prominent findings of the survey, which was conducted among 2,464 respondents in India from 21 February 2017 to 10 March 2017 in 16 states, nearly nine-in-ten Indians held a favourable opinion of Modi, comparable to their view of him in 2015. Overall, seven-in-ten Indians expressed satisfaction with the way things were going in the country. This positive assessment of India’s direction, the survey said, had nearly doubled since 2014.
According to the survey, the Indian public believed the national government was doing the right thing for the country. More than eight-in-ten (85%) voiced trust in the national government, including 39% who expressed a “lot of trust”.
THREE YEARS ON, MODI REMAINS STRONG
While public support for Modi dipped slightly in 2016, it recovered 12 percentage points in 2017, the Pew survey noted. Meanwhile support for Congress Party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi went up from 2013, but went down by five points for Rahul Gandhi, and eight points for Sonia Gandhi since 2016.
The survey explained: “Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Indian adults said lack of employment opportunities was a very big problem in India. A comparable share of the public (72%) approved of the Prime Minister’s handling of this issue. A similar share of the public cited corrupt officials (74%) and terrorism (76%) as very big challenges, and roughly seven-in-ten Indians approved of Modi’s record in dealing with each problem. Public approval of his handling of corruption has gone up 11 points and support for his dealings with terrorism has gone up 10 points. Rural Indians have viewed the Prime Minister’s handling of corruption less favourably than city dwellers. Modi’s lowest ratings were for his handling of communal relations (50%) and for his efforts to curb air pollution (48%).”
On Modi’s conduct of international affairs, the survey found that the subject was less central to the public’s day-to-day concerns. More than a third of those surveyed expressed no opinion about the Prime Minister’s handling of relations with prominent players on the world stage. This was particularly the case in eastern India – where roughly half or more offered no opinion about this aspect of the Modi government. A majority (55%) approved of the Prime Minister’s handling of relations with the United States, and 36% held no opinion on the matter.
SATISFIED WITH DEMOCRACY
Amongst its latest findings, the survey highlighted that about eight-in-ten (79%) Indians were satisfied with the way their democracy was working. This included 33% who were “very satisfied”.
The survey also noted that the public supported the idea of both direct and representative democracy. Three-quarters of Indians said that a democratic system, where representatives elected by citizens decided what became law, would be a good way to govern their country. A similar share believed it would be good if citizens, not elected officials, voted directly on major national issues to decide what became law.
On the other hand, roughly two-thirds of Indians said a good way to govern the country would be experts, not elected officials. 55% liked the idea of a governing system in which a strong leader could make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts, while 53% supported military rule. Support for autocratic rule is higher in India than in any other nation surveyed, the Pew survey stated. Meanwhile, India is one of only four nations where half or more of the public supports governing by the military.
MAJOR WORRIES: TERRORISM, CORRUPTION, CRIME
Public’s contentment with the way things are going in India, as pointed out by the survey, was found to be widespread between men and women and across political affiliations, age groups, income distributions and education levels. The survey appropriately highlighted that India has come a long way in the past half century; at $1,709 in 2016, its GDP per capita has seen a nearly twentyfold increase. Over the same time period, life expectancy in India went up from 45 years to 68 years.
The Pew survey showed an optimistic picture of what Indians felt about their future economic situation. As per the survey, roughly three quarters (76%) believed that their children will be better off financially than their parents. Only 12% believed the next generation would be worse off. Nonetheless, that such pessimism has fallen by 11 percentage points since 2013.
Despite their upbeat views on the current economy and rising optimism for the next generation, the survey showed Indians to be still concerned about several problems facing their nation. Crime took the top spot on the list, with 84% of Indians seeing it as a very big problem.
Yet, despite periodic outbreaks of religious violence, relatively few Indians saw communal relations as a very big problem. Similarly, despite Prime Minister Modi’s decision last November to abolish high-value bank notes, less than half of the Indian population saw the lack of availability of cash to be a major problem. While women and men viewed many issues similarly, men were found to be more worried about health care, lack of employment opportunities and corrupt officials.
Similarly, corruption and inequality were found to be areas of major concerns amongst Indians. Indians living in cities were found to be particularly sensitive to inequality; 72% saw the gap between rich and poor as a major living problem, compared with just 55% of rural Indians. Likewise, those living in urban areas were found to be more likely than those in rural areas to see corrupt businesspeople as a big issue.
Not surprisingly, those with more education were found to be more concerned about corruption and inequality. The survey explained: “nine-in-ten Indians with at least some college education saw corrupt officials as a very big problem, compared with 70% of those with a primary school education or less. The same applied for corrupt businesspeople (73% to 56%) and inequality (71% to 59%). On communal relations, air pollution and health care, concern was down more than 10 percentage points.
INDIA AND THE U.S.
Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States, yet, amid steep declines in the image of the US around the world, Indians remained relatively positive on America and its president. The survey pointed that roughly half (49%) had a favourable view of the United States, while just 9% had an unfavourable view. Four-in-ten had confidence in President Donald Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs, and only 16% did not trust him on the world stage. Yet, this year’s ratings for the US and its president were lower when compared to the previous years.
Nearly half of Indian adults voiced no view when asked about Trump’s personal characteristics. But among Indians who had an opinion, most said that Trump was a strong leader and well-qualified to be president. The survey found Indians split on whether the new American president was dangerous, arrogant and someone who cared about ordinary people. On balance, those responding to the question tended to believe Trump was neither charismatic (29% vs. 22%) nor intolerant (32% vs. 17%). Interestingly, these assessments stood in stark contrast to the negative ratings Trump has received in much of the world. Across 37 countries, people were most likely to say they think of Trump as “arrogant” (a global median of 75%), “intolerant” (65%) and “dangerous” (62%).
The survey further noted that much of the Indian public did not offer any opinion on Trump’s policies. However, more Indians approved than disapproved of Trump’s plan to restrict immigration from select majority Muslim countries (37% vs. 24%). There was also more approval than disapproval for a US withdrawal from international climate change agreements (32% vs. 25%). Those who expressed an opinion on the US withdrawing support from the Iran nuclear deal, building a wall on the Mexican border and pulling American support for international trade agreements were found to be divided on these issues.
U.S. MORE POPULAR THAN CHINA
Even when US has lost some ground in India, it still remains popular than China. The survey found that while a smaller share (41%) disliked China, negative views outranked positive by 15 percentage points, reflecting the increasingly tense relationship between the world’s most populous countries. Russia fared about as well as the US, with 47% of Indians saying they saw Russia in a positive light, and a slightly smaller share (42%) expressed warmth toward Japan, notwithstanding recent efforts by New Delhi and Tokyo to deepen economic ties. Just 26% of the Indian public held a positive view of Beijing compared with the 49% who saw the US in a favourable light. About four-in-ten (42%) believed the American government respected the personal freedoms of its people, but just 25% said the same about the Chinese government.
All in all, a plurality of Indians (42%) believed the US is the world’s leading economic power, only 11% of Indians saw China as the world’s top economy, a sentiment that is virtually unchanged since 2016.
ISIS: THE TOP GLOBAL THREAT
The survey observed that roughly two-thirds (66%) of Indians believed that ISIS posed a major threat to their country, easily outstripping concern about all other international issues tested. Indian concerns about the Islamic militant group were found to be up 14 percentage points since 2016.
On the highly contentious India-Pakistan issue, the survey found Indians favoring a tough stance with Pakistan. Indians have consistently given Pakistan negative ratings in Pew Research Center surveys, but the extent of their disapproval has intensified in 2017. More than six-in-ten (64%) in India had a very unfavourable view of Pakistan today, up from 55% last year. Disdain for Pakistan cut across party lines – BJP and Congress party supporters expressed similar levels of negativity for India’s longtime foreign rival (70% vs. 63% very unfavourable).
When it came to dealing with the disputed border regions of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian public favoured an aggressive stance. A 63% majority believed the government should be using more military force. Few say India should use less force or even the same amount as it is using now.