Survey Findings - Global Perceptions of Violent Extremism

To better understand public perceptions around violent extremism, CSIS commissioned a global survey with 8000 participants in eight countries: China, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Participants were asked 65 questions on the scope of violent extremism, motivations and drivers, responses to the threat, and effective strategies to combat it.

Perception of the Problem

Overall, respondents said terrorism is the number one challenge facing their country. Two-in-three respondents think violent extremism is a “major” problem in their country, led by Turkey, Indonesia and France. Even where the proportion dips below half, it is still seen as being at least a “minor” problem. In everywhere except China, at least 75 percent of those surveyed expect a terrorist attack in the next year. Indeed, in France, 60 percent think this is ‘very likely’, a view shared by 45-50 percent in Turkey, Indonesia and the United States. On a more alarming note, a majority in every country believes that it is likely that violent extremist groups will acquire and use weapons of mass destruction in their lifetime. Despite widespread anxiety about the terrorist threat, 73 percent of respondents believe that the challenge of violent extremism is solvable.

Motivations and Drivers

Views on motivations for violent extremism are divided between Muslim-minority and Muslim-majority countries. In every country except for Turkey and Egypt, “religious fundamentalism” is identified as the primary root cause of violent extremism. In Turkey, military actions by foreign governments are perceived to be the main driver, while Egyptians cite human rights abuses and poverty. Western countries also consider anti-Western sentiment to contribute to radicalization, with active recruitment mentioned in the United Kingdom and France. A lack of moderate religious guidance comes out as a secondary influence in Indonesia, Egypt and India.

Responses to Date

Globally, half of the respondents feel that their government’s response to containing and preventing violent extremism has been inadequate. The response from the broader international community is also seen as insufficient – by 64 percent of people polled. Military and economic actions were overwhelmingly chosen as the most effective tactics to counter violent extremism; however, most respondents also suggested that military efforts to date had not worked. With the exception of China and Indonesia, 70 percent of those surveyed think violent extremists are successfully promoting their ideologies and narratives using the internet (versus a minority who feel the internet is being adequately policed).

Effective Strategies for the Future

Respondents were overwhelmingly supportive of a wide range of interventions to counter violent extremism. Although military action and law enforcement strategies (e.g., ID cards and immigration controls) are at the top of the list, a significant majority of those surveyed support community-led efforts and targeted, prolonged information campaigns to undermine extremists’ narratives and ideologies. Seventy-five percent of survey participants think that social media platforms can be used effectively to amplify positive messages. Respondents were also open to cultural influencers, such as Hollywood, Bollywood, music and fashion icons, and sports figures, playing a greater role in contesting extremist propaganda. However, when asked who are the most credible messengers, respondents defaulted to religious leaders in all countries. Finally, while 64 percent of survey respondents believe that religious schools sometimes play a role in radicalization, 80 percent say that they are an important part of the solution.

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