Among other things, older Swedes think India is already a developed country (in reality India hit lower middle income status in 2022) and other such details have emerged in this survey.
A photo from a celebration of Sweden-India ties in Sweden.
In a survey conducted on the Swedish population, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs measured the level of awareness and the public opinion as it stands regarding India. The data was collected by the University of Gothenburg and the sample size consisted of respondents from the different strata of the Swedish population as a part of the National SOM survey in 2021. This was a nationwide study and one of the focus areas was India and how the Swedish public viewed the country. The respondents were presented with eight statements to which they had to respond using the given options, which were - completely agree, partly agree, agree a little and do not agree at all. There was an additional option called ‘don’t know’ for the people who might not be necessarily aware about the statement. As it turns out, over 30 per cent of the respondents had chosen this option for the statements which primarily points to the knowledge gap that mutually exists among the two countries.
What is the need for such a survey?
The main premise of such a survey is that India is going to hold greater prominence for Europe in the times to come. The idea is that Europe is willing to diversify its engagement in Asia by moving the focus away from China to the other strategic countries in the region. India, in the capacity of the most prominent emerging power internationally, is going to be very important for Europe.
Surveys that measure public opinions like these provide a greater picture of the level of grassroots understanding that the people possess about a certain issue. It may not necessarily translate into hardcore foreign policies but it could help us in measuring the trends within the population. In this case, it was evident that a large part of the population was not particularly aware about the need for engaging with India and the potential value in it but there could be various factors that contribute to this. There is merit in identifying these factors.
Perceptions of India
Over the course of this survey some compelling aspects regarding the Swedish understanding of India were revealed.
Interestingly enough, about 40 per cent of the total respondents in the study considered India to be a developed economy already and these people largely belong to a 65- 85 year age group. These people agreed with the statement that suggested that India already has a developed economy. A major section also agreed to the statement which implied that India would have a bigger role to play in international politics and would be an important actor in the near future.
It has already been established that India does not necessarily occupy a central place in mainstream Swedish discourse, hence the disconnect of about 30 per cent of the Swedish population on issues pertaining to the country. However, over the years it can be noted that there has been a growing political attention paid to India in the country’s parliament. This is evident in the study of the parliamentary motions tabled in the House as well as the bills that have passed that mention some or the other aspect of India.
Figure 1: Total motions and government bills mentioning India
The figure above indicates that there has been an upward trend in the Swedish political interest regarding India. On top of this, the survey also indicates about a 5 per cent increase in the mentions of India by the Swedish print media from 2000 to 2021. India has been majorly discussed as a part of the strategy for economic and trade cooperation and a lesser focus has been on the democratic and civic values when it comes to the Swedish media. This suggests that there has been a greater acknowledgement of the economic potential of cooperation with India in the print media.
This has been largely reflected in the results of the survey as well wherein more people responded in favour of Sweden’s direct cooperation with India.
Some notable trends
This survey can be considered a major access point to the understanding of the Swedish perceptions of India. It is also an important starting point as it stands as the only such survey to be conducted in Europe.
Through this assessment of the Swedish public opinion it is largely clear that factors such as the political affiliation, level of education, income group as well as exposure to media content largely dictates the perceptions of the people. In this case it was evident that the section of the Swedish population that was in support of the far right nationalist Swedish democrats had a largely negative view of India. They had particularly disagreed with the statement about Indian investments to Sweden and have not been in favour of increased bilateral cooperation as well. On the other hand, the supporters of the Liberals have been growing increasingly favourable to this potential cooperation.
The level of education as well as the income groups of the people also seem to have an influence on the opinions of the people over this issue. As the survey notes, the people with a stronger educational background had greater awareness of the importance of cooperation with India, these were consequently also the people in the higher income category.
It is also very interesting to note that despite being critical of India’s approach to certain democratic and civic rights, the Swedish population still votes in favour of increased cooperation with the country. India’s merit as the rapidly emerging global powers is the major reason for this approach and this has been reflected largely in the Swedish media as well.
This brings us to another major trend is the level of media reporting. The print or visual media alike has the potential to influence the public opinion more than any political party ever can. This has been largely the reason for a somewhat positive shift in India’s perception among the Swedish people as the survey identifies the positive respondents as the ones who largely consume information through media.
This survey holds importance because it is one of its kind. While it may not be the whole picture of the reality on the ground, it provides a significant starting point for us to understand the potential for cooperation between the two countries. Over the years, the greater media engagement and political interest in India is extensively reflected in the public opinion about the country. However, a lot of potential still remains untapped. As India climbs to the ladder to greater prominence on the international stage, it is only natural for Europe to manoeuvre towards increased cooperation with India.