By Christine Wilson

19 September 2018 - 08:05

Chess board
'People don’t just define peace as the absence of violence.' Photo ©

Free-Photos licensed under CC0 1.0 and adapted from the original.

The Peace Perceptions Poll 2018 asked 100,000 people in 15 countries about their views on conflict and peace. Christine Wilson, the British Council's Research Portfolio Lead, summarises its findings.

The poll showed that people who live in more peaceful countries, such as the UK, the US and Hungary, tended to be more pessimistic about the prospects of peace, while those who live in countries with more conflict – such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are more optimistic.

Forty per cent of people in the UK, 36 per cent of people in the US and 35 per cent of people in Hungary thought the current situation would worsen. However, 84 per cent of people in Syria and 68 per cent of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) thought it would improve.

Why are peaceful countries more pessimistic about future prospects for peace?

When we look at how people define a peaceful society, we may see an explanation. People don’t just define peace as the absence of violence. It includes economic and political inclusion or exclusion, and the sense of having influence in our lives.

Many of the countries that were most pessimistic have undergone economic, social or political stress. In the UK, there have been high-profile terror attacks, as well as continued uncertainty following the EU referendum. In the US, social and political discourse is deeply divisive.

What is the link between economic inclusion and perceptions of peace?

In the 15 countries we surveyed, 90 per cent of people said economic inclusion was very or somewhat important for peace.

Those who felt the most economically excluded lived in relatively developed, middle- and high-income countries, including Ukraine (41 per cent), the UK (40 per cent), Lebanon (37 per cent) and the US (33 per cent).

While they may not experience absolute levels of poverty as others on the list, these findings may reflect people's experience of relative poverty and economic inequality within their country. 

Overall, those who felt they had less economic opportunity were more likely to be pessimistic about peace and security over the coming five years.

Who feels the least able to influence politics in their own country, and why?

In countries including South Africa, the UK and Hungary, people felt they had less political influence than five years ago.

In addition to economic inclusion, respondents rated political inclusion as key to peace, with 83 per cent saying it was important or somewhat important. Yet in a number of countries, people felt they had less political influence than five years ago. Forty-one per cent of those polled in the UK felt they had less political influence than before; the same was true in South Africa (44 per cent). Again, political change may be part of the reason for this.

In the countries where people felt they had less political influence, the main reason given was ‘corruption and bribery in politics’. Globally, 34 per cent of people named this as the main reason they have less political influence than five years ago . A lack of trustworthy information is also an important factor - for people polled in the US and the UK, this was seen as their main reason for decreased influence (and perhaps a result of the ‘fake news’ rhetoric?)

What are people’s top security concerns?

Terrorism is the top security concern for most people polled, but there is also concern about harassment by state authorities, as well as criminal violence.

However, there are different levels of concern in different countries. In the DRC the main concern was violence from the state (the main concern for 29 per cent); in Colombia, people remain concerned about violent armed groups (25 per cent noted this as their main concern) and in Ukraine and Lebanon, interference by another country was the main worry (31 per cent and 25 per cent respectively).

We believe the poll shows what while responses to terrorism and criminal security threats are important, it is vital to recognise that violence takes many forms.

What are the most-cited reasons for violence?

When asked about how they responded to violent acts in their community, respondents in countries including Colombia, Nigeria and Northern Ireland included ‘violent acts in retaliation' in their top three options.

There are several possible reasons for this. Some research  suggests that exposure to violence is more likely to encourage violent responses. And for many people, recourse to police or security forces is not an option, nor can they rely on the protection of the judicial system.

What contributes to long-term peace and security?

The top five contributors globally are:

  1. being able to resolve disputes without violence
  2. the opportunity to earn a living and thus support a family
  3. less crime
  4. being able to vote
  5. less violence

Access to education was the number one factor for people aged 16–24.

What action do people want their governments to take toward peace and security?

People want their governments to deal with the reasons conflict arises in the first place.

They also want schools to teach peace, tolerance and conflict resolution.

The Peace Perceptions Poll 2018 is a partnership between the British Council and International Alert. Read the full report. 

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