Public opinion: Activists 'take the world's pulse' in largest ever poll - but what do people across the globe want most?

In a new online survey, 116,000 people in 194 countries picked their priorities for 2014. Top of the (long) list? 'Fighting political corruption'. Jane Merrick reports on a new, action-based global order

Fighting political corruption, economic injustice and catastrophic climate change are the issues that matter most to people worldwide in the largest global poll ever carried out, it is revealed this weekend.

Some 116,000 people in 194 countries responded to the online survey by Avaaz, the social-activist network, also calling for action to tackle slavery, genetically modified food and the protection of endangered species.

At a time when participation in traditional politics and membership of parties is declining, support for petition-organising groups such as Avaaz has soared in the past two years. Last year, membership of Avaaz was 17 million worldwide; it has now nearly doubled to 33 million.

Meredith Alexander, campaign director of Avaaz, said they were "taking the world's pulse".

For the survey, members were asked to pick their top three priorities for Avaaz for 2014. The latest figures last night showed that people care most about "fighting political corruption, including corporate capture of our governments", a priority backed by 49 per cent. Some 38 per cent chose having an "economic policy that benefits the common good over the elite few", while 37 per cent wanted action on "preventing catastrophic climate change". The next priorities were "tackling slavery and human trafficking", backed by 36 per cent, "safeguarding our health and food, including from GMOs", by 27 per cent of people, and "protecting endangered species, including biodiversity", also backed by 27 per cent.

Perhaps surprisingly, "ending the war in Syria" was a priority for only 15 per cent of people – perhaps because citizens view this as an issue that can be dealt with by governments and international organisations – while 21 per cent backed "defending women's rights".

Of the top specific campaign ideas where people wanted to see action, 40 per cent wanted "Education for All – Get the International Funding Needed to Put Every Child in School"; 33 per cent wanted "End the Rape Trade – Offer Rewards for Info Leading to Arrest of Corrupt Officials Who Help Sex Trafficking"; and 33 per cent backed a campaign to "Challenge Monsanto – Create a Seed Bank to Offer Farmers an Alternative to GMO Seeds". Some 32 per cent supported the "100 per cent Clean – Push UN Climate Summit to Commit to a Goal of 100 per cent Clean Energy".

Ms Alexander said: "At this moment we are taking the world's pulse. Climate change is a really good example of how this poll helps people come together to make a decision and to take action on that decision.

"Next week, the EU is setting its agenda for climate change for the next 30 years – carbon reductions for 2030." A global survey by Avaaz last year also put fighting corruption at the top of the list. The past year has seen Avaaz and other petition-driven campaigning organisations such as Change.org achieve key successes –for example, a petition backed by two million Avaaz members to get the Maldives to drop a flogging sentence against a 15-year-old rape victim, an issue highlighted by The Independent on Sunday, and the campaign by Change.org to get a woman on a British banknote.

Ms Alexander added: "Everything that we do is funded by our members in small donations. The members really are in charge.... Last year we grew from 17 million to 33 million members. That is great for Avaaz as it makes us much stronger and it is also part of the global zeitgeist."

What the people say

Tilda Long, 27, London, UK

Private tutor

"My heart says the fight for women's rights and the abolition of the death penalty is what really matters. But my head says climate change is the biggest issue, because without a functioning planet the others become irrelevant. The challenge is to see the big picture – and the onus is on us to make sure our leaders see it too."

Jay N Jayaram, 59, Bangalore, India

Independent journalist

"Human rights are a major issue. In the news every day are atrocities against women and against minority communities. India is a land of minorities, with hundreds of languages, beliefs, caste and tribal origins, not to speak of the headline issues such as religion. Animal rights are also important."

Nebila Abdulmelik, 27, Nairobi, Kenya

Head of communications, Femnet

"Inequalities and violence are prevalent, and discrimination is at the root of it all – on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status. We want to live dignified lives where we're respected, and for human rights to be respected. The struggle continues."

Daniel Caldas, 29, Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil

Lawyer

"Key issues are political persecution and the repression of peaceful demonstrations. The right to equality was conceived centuries ago, but is not yet a reality. Tolerance of inequality is unfair. We also need to focus on our environment because our neglect of it is beginning to affect us. The prime example is climate change."

Neale Mulligan, 55, Port Macquarie, Australia

Eye doctor

"The indifference and inactivity of governments in the damage we are doing to our planet means people must apply pressure on them to act responsibly. Organisations like Avaaz help us understand the problems we face, and show how we can start to solve them in a way our leaders and traditional media rarely do."

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