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Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

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polarization of countries 2023

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Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

How do you measure something that’s made headlines for half a decade but is still difficult to quantify? We’re talking about polarization.

Even within the social sciences, polarization covers everything from racial segregation, to labor skill levels, to class divide, to political ideology.

How Do You Quantify Polarization?

Edelman’s data on which countries are the most polarized comes from survey results asking respondents two very simple questions:

  • How divided is their country?
  • How entrenched is the divide?

The questions help bring to light the social issues a particular country is facing and the lack of consensus on those issues.

Plotted against each other, a chart emerges. A country in the top–right corner of the chart is “severely polarized.” Countries located closer to the lower–left are considered less polarized.

In the report, Edelman identifies four metrics to watch for and measure which help quantify polarization.

Economic AnxietiesWill my family be better off in five years?
Institutional ImbalanceGovernment is viewed as unethical and incompetent.
Class DividePeople with higher incomes have a higher trust in institutions.
Battle for TruthEcho chambers, and a low trust in media.

Following Edelman’s metrics, countries with economic uncertainty and inequality as well as institutional distrust are more likely to be polarized. Below, we look at key highlights from the chart.

Severely Polarized Countries

Despite being one of the largest economies in Latin America, Argentina is the most polarized country surveyed by a large margin. Foreign loan defaults, a high fiscal deficit, and now surging inflation have created a perfect storm in the country.

43% of the Argentinian respondents said they will be better off in five years, down 17 percentage points from last year.

Along with fiscal upheaval, Argentinians are also dealing with enduring corruption in the public sector and abrupt policy reversals between governments. Only 20% of those surveyed in Argentina said they trusted the government—the least of all surveyed countries.

Here are all six of the countries considered to be severely polarized:

    🇦🇷 Argentina
    🇨🇴 Colombia
    🇺🇸 United States
    🇿🇦 South Africa
    🇪🇸 Spain
    🇸🇪 Sweden

In the U.S., heightened political upheaval between Democrats and Republicans over the last few years has led to strengthening ideological stances and to an abundance of headlines about polarization. Only 42% of respondents in the country trust the government.

And in South Africa, persistent inequality and falling trust in the African National Congress also check off Edelman’s metrics. It’s also second after Argentina with the least trust in government (22%) per the survey.

Moderately Polarized Countries

The biggest cluster of 15 countries are in moderately polarized section of the chart, with all continents represented.

    🇧🇷 Brazil
    🇰🇷 South Korea
    🇲🇽 Mexico
    🇫🇷 France
    🇬🇧 United Kingdom
    🇯🇵 Japan
    🇳🇱 Netherlands
    🇮🇹 Italy
    🇩🇪 Germany
    🇳🇬 Nigeria
    🇹🇭 Thailand
    🇰🇪 Kenya
    🇨🇦 Canada
    🇦🇺 Australia
    🇮🇪 Ireland

Some are on the cusp of being severely polarized, including economic heavyweights like Japan, the UK, France, and Germany. On the other hand, smaller economies like Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria, are doing comparatively better on the polarization chart.

Less Polarized Countries

Countries with fair economic outlook and high trust in institutions including China, Singapore, and India are in the bottom left sector of the chart.

    🇮🇩 Indonesia
    🇨🇳 China
    🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
    🇸🇬 Singapore
    🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
    🇲🇾 Malaysia
    🇮🇳 India

It’s interesting to note that of the seven countries in that sector, three are not democracies. That said, there are also more developing countries on this list as well, which could also be a factor.

Looking Ahead

Edelman notes that polarization is both “cause and consequence of distrust,” creating a self-fulfilling cycle. Aside from the four metrics stated above, concerns about the erosion of civility and weakening social fabric also lead to polarization.

Edelman polarization quote

As global events unfold in 2023—including looming worries of a recession—it will be fascinating to see how countries might switch positions in the year to come.

Where does this data come from?

Source: The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer

Data note: Survey conducted: Nov 1 – Nov 28, 2022. Survey included 32,000+ respondents in 28 countries. Russia was omitted from this year’s survey. See page 2 of the report for more details.

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Economy

Interactive: Comparing Military Spend Around the World

Which countries have the highest military spend relative to their economy? This visual breaks down the amount spent in each country by GDP.

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A map showing countries' military spend as a percentage of their gross domestic product.

Comparing Military Spend Around the World

One of the easiest ways to identify a nation’s priorities is by tracking its expenditures, and military spend is no different.

Usually spending is measured, and ranked, in absolute amounts. For example, countries around the world collectively spent $2.1 trillion on their militaries in 2021, with the most coming from the U.S. ($800 billion), China ($293 billion), and India ($77 billion).

But these eye-popping figures are best understood in the context of each country’s economy. Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Varun Jain has visualized 158 countries’ military expenditures, both as a percentage of their total GDP as well as in average per-capita spend.

Countries’ Military Spend as a Percentage of their Economy

To begin, Jain identified three categories of military expenditure as a percent of GDP, using the five-year (2018‒2022) average for more consistent data:

Military Spend% of GDPCountries
HighAbove 5%7
Medium2‒5%44
LowBelow 2%107

Under this categorization, the stand outs are the countries spending an outsized amount of their economic output on military, rather than the highest total spenders in absolute terms.

At the top of the table is Ukraine, which has earmarked a staggering average of 9.46% of its total economic output on defense over the past five years. That’s well ahead of second-place Saudi Arabia, which is slightly above 8%.

In Ukraine’s case, its high ranking shows how quickly priorities can change. From 2018 to 2021, the country spent 3.2-3.8% of its GDP on its military, but the outbreak of war with Russia saw its expenditures jump to one-third of economic output.

Other countries from the Middle East and North Africa follow in this tier, with Oman third at 8.11% and Qatar fourth with 5.88%. Rounding out the top seven high spenders are Algeria, Kuwait, and Israel.

RankCountryMilitary Spend% of GDP
1🇺🇦 UkraineHigh9.46%
2🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaHigh8.19%
3🇴🇲 OmanHigh8.11%
4🇶🇦 QatarHigh5.88%
5🇩🇿 AlgeriaHigh5.70%
6🇰🇼 KuwaitHigh5.66%
7🇮🇱 IsraelHigh5.09%
8🇯🇴 JordanMedium4.81%
9🇦🇲 ArmeniaMedium4.53%
10🇦🇿 AzerbaijanMedium4.53%
11🇱🇧 LebanonMedium4.01%
12🇷🇺 RussiaMedium3.98%
13🇧🇭 BahrainMedium3.79%
14🇵🇰 PakistanMedium3.75%
15🇲🇦 MoroccoMedium3.72%
16🇺🇿 UzbekistanMedium3.56%
17🇺🇸 U.S.Medium3.48%
18🇨🇴 ColombiaMedium3.24%
19🇬🇷 GreeceMedium3.15%
20🇳🇦 NamibiaMedium3.09%
21🇧🇳 BruneiMedium3.09%
22🇸🇸 South SudanMedium3.05%
23🇹🇬 TogoMedium3.03%
24🇲🇱 MaliMedium2.90%
25🇨🇺 CubaMedium2.88%
26🇸🇬 SingaporeMedium2.86%
27🇧🇼 BotswanaMedium2.86%
28🇲🇲 MyanmarMedium2.76%
29🇧🇫 Burkina FasoMedium2.70%
30🇮🇶 IraqMedium2.69%
31🇰🇷 South KoreaMedium2.69%
32🇨🇬 Republic of CongoMedium2.68%
33🇹🇩 ChadMedium2.66%
34🇮🇳 IndiaMedium2.58%
35🇹🇳 TunisiaMedium2.58%
36🇪🇨 EcuadorMedium2.34%
37🇮🇷 IranMedium2.32%
38🇻🇳 Viet NamMedium2.28%
39🇰🇭 CambodiaMedium2.26%
40🇲🇷 MauritaniaMedium2.24%
41🇳🇪 NigerMedium2.21%
42🇧🇮 BurundiMedium2.21%
43🇹🇷 TurkeyMedium2.19%
44🇵🇱 PolandMedium2.17%
45🇱🇻 LatviaMedium2.14%
46🇱🇹 LithuaniaMedium2.13%
47🇪🇪 EstoniaMedium2.13%
48🇬🇧 United KingdomMedium2.12%
49🇺🇾 UruguayMedium2.11%
50🇷🇸 SerbiaMedium2.06%
51🇺🇬 UgandaMedium2.02%
52🇭🇷 CroatiaLow1.97%
53🇦🇺 AustraliaLow1.93%
54🇨🇱 ChileLow1.92%
55🇫🇷 FranceLow1.91%
56🇨🇾 CyprusLow1.90%
57🇷🇴 RomaniaLow1.87%
58🇧🇬 BulgariaLow1.85%
59🇸🇿 EswatiniLow1.82%
60🇳🇴 NorwayLow1.81%
61🇨🇫 Central African RepublicLow1.78%
62🇱🇰 Sri LankaLow1.77%
63🇵🇹 PortugalLow1.77%
64🇹🇼 TaiwanLow1.76%
65🇨🇳 ChinaLow1.72%
66🇬🇪 GeorgiaLow1.71%
67🇸🇰 SlovakiaLow1.67%
68🇬🇼 Guinea-BissauLow1.65%
69🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanLow1.62%
70🇬🇳 GuineaLow1.61%
71🇫🇮 FinlandLow1.60%
72🇸🇳 SenegalLow1.58%
73🇭🇳 HondurasLow1.56%
74🇬🇦 GabonLow1.56%
75🇲🇿 MozambiqueLow1.56%
76🇱🇸 LesothoLow1.56%
77🇲🇪 MontenegroLow1.54%
78🇫🇯 FijiLow1.54%
79🇯🇲 JamaicaLow1.49%
80🇦🇴 AngolaLow1.48%
81🇮🇹 ItalyLow1.48%
82🇭🇺 HungaryLow1.48%
83🇧🇴 BoliviaLow1.46%
84🇸🇨 SeychellesLow1.43%
85🇳🇱 NetherlandsLow1.41%
86🇸🇩 SudanLow1.39%
87🇷🇼 RwandaLow1.39%
88🇳🇵 NepalLow1.36%
89🇩🇰 DenmarkLow1.36%
90🇦🇱 AlbaniaLow1.34%
91🇪🇸 SpainLow1.34%
92🇹🇭 ThailandLow1.33%
93🇦🇫 AfghanistanLow1.33%
94🇳🇿 New ZealandLow1.32%
95🇨🇦 CanadaLow1.32%
96🇩🇪 GermanyLow1.31%
97🇲🇰 North MacedoniaLow1.30%
98🇧🇷 BrazilLow1.29%
99🇧🇿 BelizeLow1.28%
100🇸🇻 El SalvadorLow1.28%
101🇧🇩 BangladeshLow1.26%
102🇿🇲 ZambiaLow1.25%
103🇬🇶 Equatorial GuineaLow1.24%
104🇬🇾 GuyanaLow1.22%
105🇨🇮 Cote d'IvoireLow1.22%
106🇪🇬 EgyptLow1.20%
107🇵🇪 PeruLow1.20%
108🇧🇾 BelarusLow1.18%
109🇸🇪 SwedenLow1.17%
110🇰🇪 KenyaLow1.13%
111🇸🇮 SloveniaLow1.10%
112🇹🇱 Timor LesteLow1.08%
113🇹🇿 TanzaniaLow1.05%
114🇨🇲 CameroonLow1.04%
115🇹🇯 TajikistanLow1.03%
116🇯🇵 JapanLow1.03%
117🇧🇪 BelgiumLow1.02%
118🇱🇷 LiberiaLow1.00%
119🇲🇾 MalaysiaLow0.98%
120🇵🇭 PhilippinesLow0.96%
121🇵🇾 ParaguayLow0.95%
122🇽🇰 KosovoLow0.95%
123🇿🇦 South AfricaLow0.94%
124🇲🇼 MalawiLow0.92%
125🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaLow0.84%
126🇰🇿 KazakhstanLow0.83%
127🇦🇹 AustriaLow0.78%
128🇬🇲 GambiaLow0.76%
129🇹🇹 Trinidad & TobagoLow0.75%
130🇮🇩 IndonesiaLow0.74%
131🇨🇭 SwitzerlandLow0.73%
132🇨🇿 Czech RepublicLow0.71%
133🇩🇴 Dominican RepublicLow0.70%
134🇲🇳 MongoliaLow0.69%
135🇲🇬 MadagascarLow0.68%
136🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of CongoLow0.64%
137🇳🇬 NigeriaLow0.64%
138🇪🇹 EthiopiaLow0.64%
139🇸🇱 Sierra LeoneLow0.64%
140🇦🇷 ArgentinaLow0.63%
141🇱🇺 LuxembourgLow0.61%
142🇲🇽 MexicoLow0.61%
143🇳🇮 NicaraguaLow0.60%
144🇨🇻 Cape VerdeLow0.54%
145🇧🇯 BeninLow0.54%
146🇲🇹 MaltaLow0.48%
147🇬🇹 GuatemalaLow0.45%
148🇬🇭 GhanaLow0.43%
149🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaLow0.38%
150🇲🇩 MoldovaLow0.36%
151🇮🇪 IrelandLow0.27%
152🇿🇼 ZimbabweLow0.26%
153🇻🇪 VenezuelaLow0.20%
154🇭🇹 HaitiLow0.17%
155🇲🇺 MauritiusLow0.16%
156🇨🇷 Costa RicaLow0.00%
157🇮🇸 IcelandLow0.00%
158🇵🇦 PanamaLow0.00%

The medium group consists of 44 countries and is led by four nations (Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon) that all spend more than 4% of their GDP on their militaries. Other familiar countries known to have large military budgets, like Russia, Pakistan, the U.S., India and the UK, are also in this category.

The low spend group has a total of 107 countries, but also contains some surprises. For example, China, France, and Germany—all in the top 10 countries by absolute military spend—actually have similar amounts of military spend as a percent of GDP as Georgia, Cyprus, and North Macedonia respectively.

At the bottom of the table are countries with either low military importance, or strange technicalities. For example, Mauritius is one of the countries with the lowest military budgets because it doesn’t officially have a standing military, instead relying on two paramilitary forces (a special mobile force and a Coast Guard).

Similarly, Iceland allocates 0% of its GDP towards military spending. In place of a standing army, the country maintains a specialized peacekeeping force, a substantial Coast Guard, and relies on security alliances within NATO, of which it is a member and provides financial support to.

Ranking Defense Spending Per Capita

While the measure above equalizes military spend on economic strength, per-capita military spending shows how much countries allocate while accounting for population size.

On a per-capita basis (again using a five-year average), Qatar leads the ranks with a per-capita spend of $4,564, well-ahead of Israel at $2,535, and Saudi Arabia at $1,928.

RankCountryPer Capita Spend ($)
1🇶🇦 Qatar$4,564
2🇮🇱 Israel$2,535
3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$1,928
4🇸🇬 Singapore$1,837
5🇰🇼 Kuwait$1,815
6🇺🇸 U.S.$1,815
7🇳🇴 Norway$1,438
8🇴🇲 Oman$1,254
9🇦🇺 Australia$1,131
10🇧🇳 Brunei$959
11🇬🇧 UK$913
12🇰🇷 South Korea$894
13🇧🇭 Bahrain$863
14🇩🇰 Denmark$861
15🇫🇷 France$811
16🇫🇮 Finland$801
17🇳🇱 Netherlands$765
18🇱🇺 Luxembourg$694
19🇸🇪 Sweden$662
20🇨🇭 Switzerland$647
21🇨🇦 Canada$645
22🇬🇷 Greece$629
23🇩🇪 Germany$623
24🇳🇿 New Zealand$610
25🇪🇪 Estonia$535
26🇹🇼 Taiwan$495
27🇮🇹 Italy$494
28🇧🇪 Belgium$487
29🇷🇺 Russia$467
30🇱🇹 Lithuania$463
31🇵🇹 Portugal$417
32🇱🇻 Latvia$405
33🇨🇾 Cyprus$399
34🇯🇵 Japan$398
35🇪🇸 Spain$395
36🇦🇹 Austria$393
37🇵🇱 Poland$359
38🇺🇾 Uruguay$354
39🇸🇰 Slovakia$334
40🇱🇧 Lebanon$334
41🇸🇮 Slovenia$302
42🇺🇦 Ukraine$302
43🇭🇷 Croatia$294
44🇨🇱 Chile$292
45🇷🇴 Romania$258
46🇭🇺 Hungary$248
47🇮🇪 Ireland$235
48🇸🇨 Seychelles$230
49🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$226
50🇩🇿 Algeria$219
51🇦🇲 Armenia$217
52🇧🇼 Botswana$215
53🇯🇴 Jordan$207
54🇹🇷 Turkey$199
55🇨🇴 Colombia$197
56🇧🇬 Bulgaria$194
57🇨🇳 China$183
58🇲🇹 Malta$175
59🇨🇿 Czech Republic$175
60🇮🇷 Iran$169
61🇳🇦 Namibia$159
62🇮🇶 Iraq$145
63🇪🇨 Ecuador$138
64🇲🇪 Montenegro$137
65🇷🇸 Serbia$133
66🇹🇹 Trinidad & Tobago$131
67🇬🇦 Gabon$124
68🇲🇦 Morocco$122
69🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea$112
70🇲🇾 Malaysia$109
71🇧🇷 Brazil$107
72🇹🇭 Thailand$97
73🇬🇾 Guyana$92
74🇹🇳 Tunisia$91
75🇫🇯 Fiji$83
76🇲🇰 North Macedonia$83
77🇰🇿 Kazakhstan$82
78🇵🇪 Peru$81
79🇬🇪 Georgia$80
80🇧🇾 Belarus$80
81🇯🇲 Jamaica$77
82🇦🇱 Albania$76
83🇸🇿 Eswatini$72
84🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$69
85🇦🇷 Argentina$66
86🇧🇿 Belize$60
87🇲🇽 Mexico$59
88🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$58
89🇻🇳 Viet Nam$58
90🇿🇦 South Africa$56
91🇸🇻 El Salvador$54
92🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina$54
93🇮🇳 India$53
94🇨🇬 Republic of Congo$53
95🇵🇾 Paraguay$52
96🇧🇴 Bolivia$51
97🇵🇰 Pakistan$49
98🇺🇿 Uzbekistan$44
99🇦🇴 Angola$43
100🇽🇰 Kosovo$42
101🇲🇷 Mauritania$42
102🇭🇳 Honduras$42
103🇪🇬 Egypt$41
104🇰🇭 Cambodia$36
105🇲🇲 Myanmar$35
106🇵🇭 Philippines$33
107🇲🇳 Mongolia$33
108🇮🇩 Indonesia$31
109🇧🇩 Bangladesh$27
110🇹🇱 Timor Leste$27
111🇲🇱 Mali$26
112🇸🇳 Senegal$24
113🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire$23
114🇹🇬 Togo$21
115🇰🇪 Kenya$21
116🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan$20
117🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$20
118🇬🇳 Guinea$19
119🇱🇸 Lesotho$19
120🇨🇻 Cape Verde$19
121🇬🇹 Guatemala$19
122🇹🇩 Chad$18
123🇸🇸 South Sudan$18
124🇸🇩 Sudan$18
125🇺🇬 Uganda$18
126🇿🇼 Zimbabwe$17
127🇿🇲 Zambia$16
128🇲🇺 Mauritius$16
129🇨🇲 Cameroon$16
130🇳🇵 Nepal$15
131🇳🇬 Nigeria$14
132🇳🇮 Nicaragua$12
133🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau$12
134🇹🇿 Tanzania$12
135🇨🇺 Cuba$11
136🇷🇼 Rwanda$11
137🇲🇩 Moldova$11
138🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea$10
139🇳🇪 Niger$10
140🇹🇯 Tajikistan$9
141🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8
142🇲🇿 Mozambique$8
143🇬🇭 Ghana$8
144🇧🇯 Benin$7
145🇧🇮 Burundi$7
146🇦🇫 Afghanistan$6
147🇬🇲 Gambia$6
148🇪🇹 Ethiopia$5
149🇻🇪 Venezuela$5
150🇲🇼 Malawi$4
151🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$3
152🇲🇬 Madagascar$3
153🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of Congo$3
154🇱🇷 Liberia$3
155🇭🇹 Haiti$2
156🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0
157🇮🇸 Iceland$0
158🇵🇦 Panama$0

Measured this way, we get a perspective of how small defense budgets can be per person, even if the total expenditure is large.

For example, India has the fourth-highest total defense expenditure in 2022, but because of its massive population only sets aside $53 per resident for its military, putting it solidly at the bottom third of the per-capita rankings.

Patterns Revealed By Measuring Military Spend

Changing how we look at a country’s military budget can reveal a lot more than just looking at absolute numbers.

For example, the Middle East is the region with the highest spenders on defense as a percentage of their GDP, giving us insight into regional security concerns.

Countries from the medium group of military spending—including parts of Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia—highlight past or recent conflict zones between neighbors, countries with internal strife, or countries wary of a regional aggressor. Ukraine’s average per capita military spend, for example, was just $122.4 from 2018 to 2021. The next year, it jumped nearly 10 times to $1,018.66 per person after Russia’s invasion.

In fact, European military spending saw its sharpest one-year jump in 30 years as a direct result of the war.

Alongside European anxieties, ongoing tension between China and Taiwan has also contributed to increased military spending in Asia and Oceania. Will these budgets continue their dramatic ascent or will they rise evenly alongside their relative economies in 2023?

Data note: For these comparisons, the creator is calculating five-year averages (using data from 2018-2022) for military spending as a percentage of GDP and per-capita military spending for each country. The military expenditure data is pulled from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Data for some countries is missing or may vary significantly from official figures. Countries with up to
two years of missing data had averages calculated on the years available, while countries with three or more years of missing data have been removed from this dataset, including: Djibouti, Eritrea, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Yemen.

Please see SIPRI’s methodologies page for more details on how they collect their data and create estimates.

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