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A vague understanding about the Sustainable Development Goals for the French people

Published 28 October 2021 in Surveys

If 11% of French people claim to know "what the Sustainable Development Goals are", their perception of the SDGs still seem to be fairly vague, with many respondents providing "I don’t know" or fairly random answers to more detailed questions.

It turns out this lack of knowledge looks very stable between August 2018 and June 2021, except about the deadline (2030) of the SDGs agenda, a question on which there was a significant increase in correct answers (+20 percentage points).

To which countries to the Sustainable Development Goals apply?

In average, 27% of respondents know (or understand) that the SDGs apply universally to all countries. More men (31%) than women (24%) correctly answer this question, but this result should be considered with the fact in mind that women are consistently more likely to give a "I don’t know" answer than men in opinion polls. This is true for this question, where 37% of men gave a "I don’t know" answer compared to 50% of women.

Clearly, the scope of the SDGs is better known among French people over 35, who are the most likely to have selected the correct answer "all countries of the world". There is a difference of 14 percentage points between respondents aged 18 to 24 and those over 45.

Political orientation is not a determining factor related to the knowledge of the geographic scope of the SDGs, except in the case of the non-response rate, which is much lower among supporters of the center and, to a lesser extent, among supporters of the right.

And unsurprisingly, since people often learn about and understand the SDGs through studies, the level of education also has a strong influence on respondents’ ability to answer correctly or to answer at all. For instance, 40% of respondents with at least 5 years of higher education (Bac + 5) know that the SDGs apply to all countries in the world, which is +21 percentage points compared to those who declare not having the Baccalaureat. According to the same proportions, this difference can also be observed in the "I don’t know" rates (22 points difference).

How many Sustainable Development Goals are there?

This seemingly simple question immediately demonstrated the lack of knowledge about the SDGs amongst the French public. 79% did not know how many SDGs had been agreed (by the United Nations). It corresponds to the highest "Don’t know" rate in this series of questions. Only 8% knew there were 17 Goals, a result which must also be taken with a pinch of salt for those who had correctly guessed at the answer, possibly similar to the 11% of French people who claim that they know what the SDGs are.

When we delve a bit deeper into the answer, we can see once again that young people (18 to 34 years old) have better knowledge than older generations of the SDGs.

Center-voters are also, and again, more like to respond to the question. This engagement may be related to other socio-economic reasons (level of education, geographic location, etc), even if in fact these respondents were barely more likely than left-wing or right-wing voters to answer the question correctly.

Overall, the level of education had a clear impact on the ability of respondents to provide an answer to the question, but a precise knowledge of the number of SDGs was overall very low, despite a Bac+5.

One simple solution to improve this poor score may be for those working on the SDGs to ensure that any mention of the framework was always accompanied by the number 17.

What is the deadline to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

This is the detail question that now has the most correct answers. In August 2018, only 12% of French people were able to select "2030". Three years later, in August 2021, the rate of correct answers rose to 32%, a strong increase (+20 percentage points), suggesting that the deadline for the SDGs is much better known, although some of the answers may be due to chance. Moreover, the non-response rate obtained in 2018 (63%) is also greatly reduced in 2021 (41%).

To explain (and weight) this obvious evolution of the "good answers", it is also necessary to keep in mind that the difference between the distribution of the answers collected in August 2018 in comparison with those collected in August 2021 is undoubtedly also influenced by the fact that in 2018, the answer "2020" which collected more votes than in 2021, also related to a deadline two years away from the year in which the question was actually asked. Whereas in 2021, selecting the answer "2020" consisted, in fact, to select a year that had already passed.

On the other hand, the correct response rate (the year 2030) on this question relating to the deadline to achieve the SDGs is distributed accross socio-demographic discriminants in similar proportions as in the other questions previously asked.