Gallup measures economic confidence in two ways: first, by having respondents rate economic conditions in their country today, and second, by asking them whether they believe those conditions are getting better or worse.
I've mapped Gallup's most recent results above. Dark blue indicates countries where people are most optimistic about the economy and its future; dark red indicates countries where they're most pessimistic. Purple countries are about equally optimistic and pessimistic.
The data looks even more interesting when compared with 2009 survey results. The map below shows change between 2009 and 2012 in economic confidence. In blue countries, people are becoming more optimistic; in red countries, more pessimistic. (Keep in mind that blue and red do not show overall attitudes, just change.) Below that are some initial observations from the data.
• Economic outlook is improving almost everywhere. After the depths of the global economic crisis, attitudes are improving in the vast majority of the countries surveyed, particularly in the Americas, Asia and in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and even in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
• Fast improving outlook in the developed world. People in Latin America, the former Soviet republics, well-performing Mideast economies, such as Turkey, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa have seen some of the fastest-growing confidence ratings in the last few years, reflecting rising standards of living and higher standings in the world economy.
• The world's rich, "developed" economies are among the most pessimistic. From 2009 to 2012, economic confidence plummeted from bad to worse in much of Europe, wracked by the euro crisis. The four lowest "economic confidence" ratings in the world were all in Europe: Greece, Spain, Portugal and Slovenia. Japan and South Korea, already pessimistic in 2009, also continued their declines.
• The United States is a success story. The United States is now the developed world's second-most optimistic country, after Sweden, and saw the developed world's fastest growth in economic confidence since 2009, when it was quite pessimistic. Gallup has maintained an economic confidence tracking poll on the United States since early 2008; a Gallup representative told me it's comparable to the data from other countries. (Unfortunately, we don't have data from Canada or Australia, which the representative said were excluded for methodological reasons.)
• People in China and Qatar are the most optimistic. Though some economists are worried about China's economic development, which they warn could stall, the Chinese themselves seem to be quite confident. Other very-confident nations are in Central Asia, which has seen strong economic growth (in part due to China's rise), in Southeast Asia and, interestingly, in the most oil-rich regions of the Middle East. Saudis, Kuwaitis, Emiratis and Qataris all rate their economic futures highly, perhaps as petrodollars start to play a larger political role in shaping the Middle East's future.