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Thai National Pride in a Comparative Perspective

Updated: Feb 13

Jacob Ricks

Assistant Professor of Political Science

Singapore Management University

22 November, 2019

On 17 October, debate began in parliament over Thailand’s annual budget for fiscal year 2020. Already months behind schedule, the 3.2 trillion baht budget includes multiple proposals that have raised concerns from opposition leaders, especially the substantial increases to the Defense Ministry budget as well as the 10 percent increase to the general budget, which can be allocated at the discretion of the sitting government. One item that has received less attention is a 5,351.9 million baht (approx. 177 million USD) subsection designated for a “campaign to enhance love and pride in being Thai and in the Thai nation” (รณรงค์เสริมสร้างความรักและภาคภูมิใจในความเป็นคนไทยและชาติไทย).[1]This item was the first specific topic mentioned in Prayuth’s budget presentation, and it headlined the section of the budget titled “Security” (ด้านความมั่นคง).

While a fund to promote nationalism isn’t necessarily unheard of for a military-dominated government, it does give us a chance to reflect upon the levels of nationalism and pride in Thailand. In a recent article, I have considered sub-national variation in levels of national pride within Thailand, demonstrating that even disadvantaged communities in Thailand report feeling extremely proud of their national identity.[2]This work, though, leaves open the question as to whether or not Thais are proud relative to citizens of other countries.

Fortunately, international surveys provide plenty of data for such comparisons. Both the Asian Barometer[3]and World Values Surveys[4]have included questions regarding feelings of national pride that allow us to contrast responses across countries. These two sets of surveys allow us to draw two major conclusions regarding nationalism in Thailand.

First, across all surveys conducted in Thailand, respondents report very high levels of pride in their nationality. This holds true of all three rounds of the Asian Barometer since 2006. In both 2006 and 2010, more than 99 percent of respondents who answered the question said they were either very proud or somewhat proud to be citizens of Thailand. That percentage dropped slightly to 96.65 in the 2014 round of the survey. Similarly, the World Values Survey, which conducted two rounds in Thailand in 2007 and 2013, found that a respective 98.8 percent and 97.6 percent of respondents were very proud or quite proud of their nationality. In other words, an overwhelming majority of Thai people surveyed expressed a great deal of pride in their national identity.

Second, when we consider feelings of national pride in a comparative context, Thailand excels. In data drawn from the World Values Survey presented below (Table 1), we see that only respondents from one other Southeast Asian country (the Philippines) reported a “Very Proud” score of similar magnitude to Thais. If we combine the very proud and quite proud scores, at 97.6 percent of respondents, Thailand is the eighth-highest ranking country out of the 60 included in the World Values Survey.[5]In other words, in world-wide comparisons, Thais report a high degree of national pride.

Continuing this trend, if we look at Asian Barometer’s results, which focus specifically on Asia, we see that Thai respondents feel relatively proud of their nation. Again, taking responses from those who answered the question, we see that among the 15 countries in the survey, Thais responded that they were “very proud” to be citizens of their country at the third highest rate, behind only Myanmar and Mongolia. If we combine scores for very proud and somewhat proud, they account for 96.65 percent of respondents in Thailand, which would rank the country only behind Mongolia, Myanmar, and Indonesia in terms of pride levels.

These scores demonstrate that nationalism is alive and well in Thailand. Indeed, if we are to gauge nationalism using these large-scale surveys, the levels of pride that Thais feel for their country is among the highest in the world.

Of course, these are descriptive statistics rather than in-depth analysis of the current state of nationalism in Thailand. Even so, they give us some sense that, if there is anything missing in Thailand today, it is not nationalism. Thus efforts to bolster “love and pride in being Thai” are certainly not because such feelings are in short supply.

[1]For full text of his speech see Prachatai, 17 October, 2019, “Chai nob 5 phan lan pheu khwam mankhong sathaban lak khong chat lae sang khwam phumjai nai kanpen khon Thai” Accessible: https://prachatai.com/journal/2019/10/84781

[2]Jacob I. Ricks, “Proud to be Thai: The Puzzling Absence of Ethnicity-Based Political Cleavages in Northeastern Thailand.” Pacific Affairs92(2): 257-285.

[3]Fu Hu and Yun-han Chu, Asian Barometer: All Rounds (Taipei: National Taiwan University, 2017), www.asianbarometer.org.

[4]Ronald Inglehart et al., eds., World Values Survey: All Rounds – Country-Pooled Datafile (Madrid: JD Systems Institute, 2014), www.worldvaluessurvey.org.

[5]The top-ten in order are Qatar, Rwanda, Ghana, Jordan, Ecuador, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, and Columbia.