March 18, 2003

America’s Image Further Erodes, Europeans Want Weaker Ties

But Post-War Iraq Will Be Better Off, Most Say

Introduction and Summary

Anti-war sentiment and disapproval of President Bush’s international policies continue to erode America’s image among the publics of its allies. U.S. favorability ratings have plummeted in the past six months in countries actively opposing war ­ France, Germany and Russia ­ as well as in countries that are part of the “coalition of the willing.” In Great Britain, favorable views of the U.S. have declined from 75% to 48% since mid-2002.

In Poland, positive views of the U.S. have fallen to 50% from nearly 80% six months ago; in Italy, the proportion of respondents holding favorable views of the United States has declined by half over the same period (from 70% to 34%). In Spain, fewer than one-in-five (14%) have a favorable opinion of the United States. Views of the U.S. in Russia, which had taken a dramatically positive turn after Sept. 11, 2001, are now more negative than they were prior to the terrorist attacks.

Among possible coalition countries, majorities oppose joining the U.S. to take action against Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule. Even in Great Britain, a 51% majority opposes war. Among the unwilling allies, there is also virtually no potential support for a U.S.- led military effort.

But ironically, most publics surveyed think that in the long run the Iraqi people will be better off and the Middle East will be more stable if Iraq is disarmed and Hussein is removed from power. More than seven-in-ten of the French (73%) and Germans (71% ) see the Iraqi public benefiting. Only in Russia and Turkey is there significant pessimism that war may worsen conditions in the region.

More generally, criticisms of U.S. foreign policy are almost universal. Overwhelming majorities disapprove of President Bush’s foreign policy and the small boost he received in the wake of Sept. 11 has disappeared. As a consequence, publics in seven of the eight nations surveyed believe that American policies have a negative effect on their country. Only the British are divided on the impact of American foreign policy on their country.

While critics of America’s foreign policies mostly blame the president, rather than America more generally, the poll finds strong support for the idea that Western Europe should take a more independent approach to security and diplomatic affairs. Majorities in four of five Western European countries surveyed hold this opinion, and a 48% plurality in Great Britain agrees. In the U.S., by contrast, 62% believe diplomatic and security ties with Western Europe should remain as close as they have been.

There is more of a consensus on both sides of the Atlantic about the continued importance of the United Nations. Majorities in the U.S. and Western Europe (except for Spain) think it still plays an important role in addressing global conflicts, despite the controversy over Iraq. That view is not shared in Russia and Turkey, and even in the U.S., where as many as a third see the U.N. as less important. Republicans, in particular, are divided about the continued importance of the U.N. More than four-in-ten Republicans (44%) think the Iraq crisis has shown it to be less important.

The latest survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project interviewed more than 5,500 people in the United States and eight other countries from March 10-17. See page 8 for a full description of the methodology.