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Global Stars: The Most Innovative Countries, Ranked by Income Group

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The Most Innovative Countries, Ranked by Income Group

Innovation can be instrumental to the success of economies, at macro and micro scales. While investment provides powerful fuel for innovation—the relationship isn’t always straightforward.

The 2020 ranking from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reveals just that.

The above map breaks down the most innovative countries in each World Bank income group, based on data from WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII), which evaluates nations across 80 innovation indicators like research and development (R&D), venture capital, and high-tech production.

While wealthier nations continue to lead global innovation, the GII also shows that middle-income countries—particularly in Asia—are making impressive strides.

Fueling Innovation

The economic and regulatory spheres within countries can have an enormous impact on their level of innovation—and vice versa, as innovation in turn becomes an economic driver, stimulating further investment.

The positive feedback loop between investment and innovation results in the success of some of the top countries in the table below, which shows the three most innovative countries in each income group.

Income GroupGroup RankCountry (Overall Rank)
High1🇨🇭 Switzerland (#1)
High2🇸🇪 Sweden (#2)
High3🇺🇸 United States of America (#3)
Upper Middle1🇨🇳 China (#14)
Upper Middle2🇲🇾 Malaysia (#33)
Upper Middle3🇧🇬 Bulgaria (#37)
Lower Middle1🇻🇳 Vietnam (#42)
Lower Middle2🇺🇦 Ukraine (#45)
Lower Middle3🇮🇳 India (#48)
Low1🇹🇿 Tanzania (#88)
Low2🇷🇼 Rwanda (#91)
Low3🇲🇼 Malawi (#111)

Switzerland, Sweden, and the U.S. are the top three in the high-income group. Considering that Switzerland has the second-highest GDP per capita globally, it is not a surprise leader on this list.

Upper middle-income countries are led by China, Malaysia, and Bulgaria. Note that China far surpasses other nations in the upper-middle-income group ranking, reaching 14th spot overall in 2020. Others in the income group only appear in the overall ranking after 30th place.

Below are several income group leaders, and some of their key areas of output:

  • Switzerland: First in Knowledge Creation, second in Global Brand Value
  • U.S.: First in Entertainment and Media, Computer Software Spending, Intellectual Property Receipts
  • China: First in Patents Registered
  • Vietnam: Second in High-Technology Net Exports
  • India: First in Information and Communication Technology Services Exports
  • Tanzania: 23rd in Printing and Other Media

Shining a Light on Global Innovators

Since 2011, Switzerland has led the world in innovation according to this index, and the top five countries have seen few changes in recent years.

Sweden regained second place in 2019 and the U.S. moved into third—positions they maintain in 2020. The Netherlands entered the top two in 2018 and now sits at fifth.

Here’s how the overall ranking shakes out:

RankCountryScoreIncome Group
1Switzerland66.1High
2Sweden62.5High
3United States of America60.6High
4United Kingdom59.8High
5Netherlands58.8High
6Denmark57.5High
7Finland57.0High
8Singapore56.6High
9Germany56.6High
10South Korea56.1High
11Hong Kong, China54.2High
12France53.7High
13Israel53.6High
14China53.3Upper Middle
15Ireland53.1High
16Japan52.7High
17Canada52.3High
18Luxembourg50.8High
19Austria50.1High
20Norway49.3High
21Iceland49.2High
22Belgium49.1High
23Australia48.4High
24Czech Republic48.3High
25Estonia48.3High
26New Zealand47.0High
27Malta46.4High
28Italy45.7High
29Cyprus45.7High
30Spain45.6High
31Portugal43.5High
32Slovenia42.9High
33Malaysia42.4Upper Middle
34United Arab Emiratesx42.4High
35Hungary41.5High
36Latvia41.1High
37Bulgaria40.0Upper Middle
38Poland40.0High
39Slovakia39.7High
40Lithuania39.2High
41Croatia37.3High
42Viet Nam37.1Lower Middle
43Greece36.8High
44Thailand36.7Upper Middle
45Ukraine36.3Lower Middle
46Romania36.0Upper Middle
47Russian Federation35.6Upper Middle
48India35.6Lower Middle
49Montenegro35.4Upper Middle
50Philippines35.2Lower Middle
51Turkey34.9Upper Middle
52Mauritius34.4Upper Middle
53Serbia34.3Upper Middle
54Chile33.9High
55Mexico33.6Upper Middle
56Costa Rica33.5Upper Middle
57North Macedonia33.4Upper Middle
58Mongolia33.4Lower Middle
59Republic of Moldova33.0Lower Middle
60South Africa32.7Upper Middle
61Armenia32.6Upper Middle
62Brazil31.9Upper Middle
63Georgia31.8Upper Middle
64Belarus31.3Upper Middle
65Tunisia31.2Lower Middle
66Saudi Arabia30.9High
67Iran (Islamic Republic of)30.9High
68Colombia30.8Upper Middle
69Uruguay30.8High
70Qatar30.8High
71Brunei Darussalam29.8High
72Jamaica29.1Upper Middle
73Panama29.0High
74Bosnia and Herzegovina29.0Upper Middle
75Morocco29.0Lower Middle
76Peru28.8Upper Middle
77Kazakhstan28.6Upper Middle
78Kuwait28.4High
79Bahrain28.4High
80Argentina28.3Upper Middle
81Jordan27.8Upper Middle
82Azerbaijan27.2Upper Middle
83Albania27.1Upper Middle
84Oman26.5High
85Indonesia26.5Lower Middle
86Kenya26.1Lower Middle
87Lebanon26.0Upper Middle
88United Republic of Tanzania25.6Lower I
89Botswana25.4Upper Middle
90Dominican Republic25.1Upper Middle
91Rwanda25.1Lower I
92El Salvador24.9Lower Middle
93Uzbekistan24.5Lower Middle
94Kyrgyzstan24.5Lower Middle
95Nepal24.4Lower I
96Egypt24.2Lower Middle
97Paraguay24.1Upper Middle
98Trinidad and Tobago24.1High
99Ecuador24.1Upper Middle
100Cabo Verde23.9Lower Middle
101Sri Lanka23.8Upper Middle
102Senegal23.8Lower Middle
103Honduras23.0Lower Middle
104Namibia22.5Upper Middle
105Bolivia (Plurinational State of)22.4Lower Middle
106Guatemala22.4Upper Middle
107Pakistan22.3Lower Middle
108Ghana22.3Lower Middle
109Tajikistan22.2Lower I
110Cambodia21.5Lower Middle
111Malawi21.4Lower I
112Côte d’Ivoire21.2Lower Middle
113Lao People’s Democratic Republic20.7Lower Middle
114Uganda20.5Lower I
115Madagascar20.4Lower I
116Bangladesh20.4Lower Middle
117Nigeria20.1Lower Middle
118Burkina Faso20.0Lower I
119Cameroon20.0Lower Middle
120Zimbabwe20.0Lower Middle
121Algeria19.5Upper Middle
122Zambia19.4Lower Middle
123Mali19.2Lower I
124Mozambique18.7Lower I
125Togo18.5Lower I
126Benin18.1Lower I
127Ethiopia18.1Lower I
128Niger17.8Lower I
129Myanmar17.7Lower Middle
130Guinea17.3Lower I
131Yemen13.6Lower I

Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland continue their strong showing across innovation factors—like Knowledge Creation, Global Brand Value, Environmental Performance, and Intellectual Property Receipts—leading to their continued presence atop global innovators.

But the nations making the biggest moves in GII ranking are found in Asia.

China, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines have risen the most of all countries, with all four now in the top 50. China broke into the top 15 in 2019 and remains the only middle-income economy in the top 30.

In 2020, South Korea became the second Asian economy to enter the top 10, after Singapore. As the first Asian country to move into the global top five, Singapore joined the leaders in 2018, and now sits at 8th place.

In another first for 2020, India has now broken into the top 50.

Innovation Input & Output: The Overachievers

While annual rankings like these confirm the importance of a robust economy and innovation investment, variations in the relationship between input and output are not uncommon.

The correlation between wealth and innovation isn’t always straightforward, and neither is the connection between innovation input and output.

Below is an overview of the GII inputs and outputs, as well as several of the world’s overall leaders in each pillar.

Input variables can be characterized as factors that foster innovation—everything from the quality of a country’s university institutions to its levels of ecological sustainability.

Input PillarsInput ExamplesInput Leaders
Institutions
Human Capital & Research
Infrastructure
Market Sophistication
Business Sophistication
University Institutions
Regulatory Environment
Intangible Assets
Entrepreneurship
R&D Spending
Venture Capital Deals
Researchers
1. Singapore
2. Switzerland
3. Sweden
4. U.S.
5. Denmark
6. U.K.
7. Hong Kong, China
8. Finland
9. Canada
10. South Korea

Output factors include innovation indicators like the creation of new businesses, and even the number of Wikipedia edits made per million people.

Output PillarsOutput TypesOutput Leaders
Knowledge & Technology
Creative
Registered patents
Creative goods and services
Scientific publications
National feature films
Entertainment and media
High-tech manufacturing
1. Switzerland
2. Sweden
3. United Kingdom
4. Netherlands
5. U.S.A.
6. China
7. Germany
8. Finland
9. Denmark
10. South Korea

Countries with impressive innovation outputs compared to input levels include:

  • China: 26th in inputs, but sixth in overall innovation outputs
  • Netherlands: 11th in innovation input, but fourth across outputs
  • Thailand: 48th in overall input, first in business R&D
  • Malaysia: 34th in overall input, first in high-tech net exports

Innovation Fuel Reductions Up Ahead?

Although financial markets have ignited, the economy as a whole has not fared well since lockdowns began. This begs the question of whether a steep decline in innovation capital will follow.

In response to the 2020 pandemic, will spending on R&D echo the 2009 recession and aftermath of 9/11? Will venture capital flows continue to decline more than they have since 2018?

Because innovation is so entwined with the economic growth strategies of companies and nations alike, the WIPO notes that the potential decline may not be as severe as historical trends might suggest.

No Stopping Human Innovation

Thankfully, innovation opportunities are not solely contingent on the level of capital infused during any given year. Instead, the cumulative results of continuous innovation stimuli may be enough to maintain growth, while strategic cash reserves are put to use.

What the GII ranking shows is that inputs don’t always equal outputs—and that innovative strides can be made with even modest levels of capital flow.

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Politics

How Do Democrats and Republicans Feel About Certain U.S. Industries?

A survey looked at U.S. industry favorability across political lines, showing where Democrats and Republicans are divided over the economy.

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A cropped chart with the percentage of Democrats and Republicans that found specific U.S. industries "favorable."

Industry Favorability, by Political Party

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Much and more has been written, in the last decade particularly, about the U.S. political sphere becoming increasingly polarized. The two main parties—Democrats and Republicans—have clashed over how to run the economy, as well as on key social issues.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Democrat and Republican voters are also divided on various U.S. industries, per a YouGov poll conducted in 2022.

Between November 7-9th of that year, the market research firm polled 1,000 adult Americans, (sampled to represent prevailing demographic, racial, and political-party-affiliation trends in the country) on their opinions on 39 industries. They asked:

“Generally speaking, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the following industry?” — YouGov Poll.

In this chart we visualize the percentage with a favorable view of an industry minus those with unfavorable view, categorized by current voter status.

A higher percentage means more Democrats or Republicans rated the industry as favorable, and vice-versa. Negative percentages mean more respondents responded unfavorably.

Democrats vs. Republicans on Industry Favorability

From a glance, it’s immediately noticeable that quite a few industries have divided Democrats and Republics quite severely.

For example, of the sampled Democrats, a net 45%, found Higher Education “favorable.” This is compared to 0% on the Republican side, which means an equal number found the industry favorable and unfavorable.

Here’s the full list of net favorable responses from Democrats and Republicans per industry.

IndustryDemocrat Net
Favorability
Republican Net
Favorability
Agriculture44%55%
Trucking27%55%
Restaurant53%54%
Manufacturing27%53%
Construction23%49%
Dairy45%46%
Higher education45%0%
Technology44%36%
Food manufacturing15%37%
Transportation27%37%
Railroad37%35%
Mining-3%36%
Automotive19%36%
Grocery35%22%
Hotels30%35%
Textiles24%34%
Entertainment34%-17%
Shipping24%33%
Retail31%31%
Book publishing30%29%
Alcohol23%16%
Television22%3%
Waste management15%22%
Education services21%-16%
Wireless carriers19%19%
Broadcasting17%-30%
News media17%-57%
Airlines11%3%
Oil and gas-28%7%
Real-estate-2%6%
Utilities2%6%
Health care3%4%
Fashion4%-6%
Cable-12%3%
Finance2%-2%
Professional sports1%-2%
Insurance-12%-14%
Pharmaceutical-18%-14%
Tobacco-44%-27%

The other few immediately noticeable disparities in favorability include:

  • Mining and Oil and Gas, (more Republicans in favor),
  • Entertainment, Education Services, and News Media (more Democrats in favor).

Tellingly, the larger social and political concerns at play are influencing Democrat and Republican opinions about these parts of the economy.

For example Pew Research pointed out Republicans are dissatisfied with universities for a number of reasons: worries about constraints on free speech, campus “culture wars,” and professors bringing their politics into the classroom.

In contrast, Democrats’ criticisms of higher education revolved around tuition costs and the quality of education offered.

On a more recent note, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, a big Harvard donor, pulled funding after criticizing universities for educating “whiny snowflakes.” In October, donors to the University of Pennsylvania withdrew their support, upset with the university’s response to the October 7th attacks and subsequent war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the reasons for differences over media favorability are more obvious. Commentators say being “anti-media” is now part of the larger Republican leadership identity, and in turn, is trickling down to their voters. Pew Research also found that Republicans are less likely to trust the news if it comes from a “mainstream” source.

But these are industries that are already adjacent to the larger political sphere. What about the others?

U.S. Politics and the Climate Crisis

The disparity over how the Oil & Gas and Mining industries are viewed is a reflection, again, of American politics and the partisan divide around the climate crisis and whether there’s a noticeable impact from human activity.

Both industries contribute heavily to carbon emissions, and Democrat lawmakers have previously urged the Biden transition to start planning for the end of fossil-fuel reliance.

Meanwhile, former President Trump, for example, has previously called global warming “a hoax” but later reversed course, clarifying that he didn’t know if it was “man-made.”

When removing the climate context, and related environmental degradation, both industries usually pay high wages and produce materials critical to many other parts of the economy, including the strategic metals needed for the energy transition.

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