WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thailand suffered a shocking national tragedy in early October when a former police officer killed more than 30 people — most of them children — in a day care center in the country’s rural northeast. The massacre has raised questions about gun ownership and access to mental health services in the country and has brought another source of distress to a population in which anxiety levels have risen substantially over the past decade.
The percentage of Thai people who said they had experienced worry for much of the previous day doubled between 2012 (18%) and 2019 (36%) — and then surged again after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to 50% in 2020 and 46% in 2021. Similarly, the percentage who reported a lot of stress the previous day rose from 17% in 2012 to 44% in 2021.
Notably, Thailand’s rise in negative emotions such as worry and stress is part of a broader global trend discussed in Gallup’s new book, Blind Spot. Across all countries surveyed for the Gallup World Poll each year, the percentage of people who experienced worry for much of the previous day rose from 32% in 2012 to 42% in 2021. However, the 28-percentage-point rise in Thailand makes it one of the five countries worldwide in which this figure rose the most during that period, after Afghanistan, Mali, Bangladesh and Venezuela.
In recent years, economic inequality has increased in Thailand, with household incomes declining among those at the bottom of the country’s income distribution. Gallup’s trends show that worry levels rose much more between 2012 and 2021 among Thais in the country’s poorest income group (17% to 55%) than those in the richest income group (23% to 38%).
Thais Losing Faith in Government and Criminal Justice System
Thailand has also seen a growing crisis of confidence in national institutions over the past few years. Thais’ confidence in their country’s national government, judicial system and local police all hit near-record lows in 2021, after having declined since 2018. Together, these trends suggest a crisis of confidence in the country’s democratic processes and rule of law — a crisis that may make a crime like the mass killing all the more unnerving.
Though confidence in the country’s governing institutions has fallen sharply among all Thai adults over the past decade, Gallup’s 2021 data show that it is particularly low among younger people. Among Thais aged 15 to 49, 39% say they have confidence in the military, versus 50% among those aged 50 and older. Similarly, 19% of people aged 15 to 49 have confidence in the national government, versus 34% of those aged 50 and older.
The massacre in Thailand has added concerns about public safety to the list of worries facing Thais who were already uneasy about the country’s economic and political conditions. Though the pandemic likely heightened levels of worry and stress among much of the Thai population, Gallup trends show that increases began well before the pandemic struck. Declining confidence in the government, police and judiciary suggest Thais may continue to express their frustration in political unrest, particularly ahead of the national elections planned for early 2023.
by Steve Crabtree and Chayanun Saransomrurtai