June 23, 2005

U.S. Image Up Slightly, But Still Negative

Chapter 1. Image of the United States

Even though the image of the United States has improved slightly in some parts of the world over the past year, this country’s global approval ratings trail well behind those of other leading nations.

When the publics of the 16 nations covered by the survey were asked to give favorability ratings of five major leading nations – the United States, Germany, China, Japan, and France – the U.S. fared the worst of the group. In just six of the 16 countries surveyed does the United States attract a favorability rating of 50% or above. By contrast, China receives that level of favorability rating from 11 countries, while Japan, Germany and France each receive that high of a mark from 13 countries.


The U.S. draws its most negative assessments from Muslim nations, with Jordan at just 21% favorable and Turkey and Pakistan at 23%. These ratings, while low, are better than they were at the start of the Iraq war. As in recent years, the U.S. draws only middling reviews from traditional allies in the West, with Canada at 59% favorable, Great Britain at 55%, the Netherlands at 45%, France at 43% and Germany and Spain each at 41%. It is considerably more popular in India (71%) and Poland (62%).

All four of the other leading nations draw strong marks from all of the Western and Asian countries in the survey, with favorability ratings typically above 60% and in some cases above 80%. One important exception – only 17% of Chinese respondents in the survey hold a favorable view of Japan, while fully 76% rate Japan unfavorably.

Muslim nations surveyed give lower marks to the world’s leading powers than do Western nations. This is especially true of Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan. Indonesia looks more favorably on the four leading nations than do other Muslim countries. So does Lebanon – though Lebanon’s favorability ratings of the leading nations are a good bit higher among the roughly 40% minority of the Lebanese population that is Christian than among the nearly 60% majority that is Muslim. For example, nearly three-quarters (72%) of Christians rate the U.S. favorably, while just 22% of Lebanese Muslims do so. Views of the U.S. are markedly more positive among Lebanese Christians than they were in 2003, while Muslim views have stayed negative.

Mixed Pattern in U.S. Favorability Ratings

The country-by-country favorability ratings of the U.S. have changed over the past year, but not in a pattern that suggests any strong regional trends.

The nations where the U.S. image has risen most sharply are India, where the 71% rating is up from 54% in the summer of 2002, and Indonesia, where the 38% rating is up from 15% in May of 2003 (but still down from 61% in the summer of 2002).

The nations where the U.S. image has slipped the most are Turkey, where the 23% favorability rating is down from 30% in March 2004 (but up from 15% in May of 2003), and Canada, where the 59% rating continues a decline from 63% in May 2003 and 72% in summer 2002.

Among traditional U.S. allies in Western Europe, there have been only modest changes in the past year. Favorability ratings have risen in France (to 43%, up from 37% in March 2004) and in Germany (to 41%, up from 38%), but have slipped a bit in Great Britain (to 55%, down from 58%).

Impact of Newsweek/Quran Story

The Pew survey was conducted from late April through late May, a period in which deadly riots broke out in Afghanistan in reaction to a story in Newsweek that alleged that a copy of the Quran had been flushed down a toilet at the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In Pakistan, there was a significant decline in the image of the U.S. after the Quran allegation became a major international story on May 11. Among those Pakistanis surveyed before May 11, the favorability rating of the U.S. was 30%. Among those interviewed on May 11 or later, the favorability rating fell to 16%.

However, the trend moved in the opposite direction in Jordan. Before May 11, just 9% of Jordanians had a favorable view of the U.S.; after May 11, that number rose to 26%. In the three other predominantly Muslim nations in this survey – Turkey, Indonesia and Lebanon – too few interviews were conducted after May 11 to provide a reliable basis for comparison.

Americans See U.S. as Unpopular

Americans harbor no illusions about the popularity of their country around the world. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say the U.S. is “generally disliked” by people in other countries; this is the most downbeat assessment of global popularity given by any national public in the survey.

In just two other countries – Turkey and Russia – does a majority of the public believe that their country is generally disliked by people in other countries, with 66% of Turks and 57% of Russians holding this view.

At the other end of the scale, Canadians believe by an overwhelming margin (94%) that their country is popular. Other national publics that believe their countries are popular around the world include Indonesia (86% say their country is generally liked), Jordan (84%), India (83%), the Netherlands (83%), Spain (80%), France (80%) and China (68%).

As a group, the Muslim countries surveyed spread out across the spectrum of self-assessed popularity, with Indonesians and Jordanians feeling extremely popular, while Pakistanis and Lebanese feel somewhat popular. In Lebanon, notably, Muslims are less certain of their popularity with only 44% saying they are liked by others, while two-thirds of Christians say so. Turks, however, feel unpopular.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When it comes to people’s attitudes toward their own countries, contrary to common belief that the French have an inordinately high opinion of themselves and their culture, France does not lead the self-popularity parade. That honor belongs to China, where 88% of Chinese report holding a favorable attitude toward their country. Second in line comes the U.S., where 83% of Americans hold their country in favorable regard. By comparison, the French favor France by a 74%-26% margin while the Germans take a positive, rather than negative, view of their country by only a modest 64%-34% margin. The German’s self-assessment, however, is weighed down by the downbeat outlook of residents of the former East Germany, a bare majority of whom (51%) look favorably on their now unified country, compared with 68% of West Germans.

Germany’s Popularity Paradox

Among Western European nations, Germany has by far the most tentative assessment of its global popularity. Only about half (51%) of Germans say their country is generally liked and nearly as many (43%) say it is generally disliked.

But it turns out that the Germans do not have an accurate fix on how the rest of the world sees them. They are much too self-deprecating. In fact, other Western European nations give Germany the highest global favorability ratings of any of the five leading nations (U.S., France, China, Japan and Germany) covered by the survey.

Particularly striking are the differences between the self-assessments and global assessments of neighbors Germany and France. Eight-in-ten French believe the world likes their country; while only about half of Germans think the world likes theirs. But Germany’s favorability ratings exceed those of France in 10 of the 16 survey countries. In fact, even the French give Germany a higher favorability rating (89%) than they give their own country (74%). The Germans, however, return the favor, giving France a 78% favorability rating, higher than the 64% they give their own country.

Growing Canadian Discontent with the U.S.

Among America’s traditional allies, the one whose opinion of this country and its foreign policy has declined most markedly in the past three years is Canada. In addition, Canadians have a generally more negative view of American character traits than do the publics of other traditional U.S. allies.

Since 2002, favorability ratings of the U.S. among Canadians have decreased from 72% to 59%. Over the same period positive opinions of Americans have declined comparably (from 78% to 66%). Canadian support for the U.S.-led war on terror has fallen by 23 percentage points in this period and the number of Canadians who believe that the U.S. takes Canadian interests into account when conducting foreign policy has also declined further, from 25% in 2002 to 19% currently.

Part of the reason may be the outcome of the 2004 presidential campaign. Three-quarters of Canadians – the second most of any public in this survey – say they have a less favorable view of the U.S. as a result of President Bush’s re-election.

Today just 41% of Canadians say the relationship between their country and the U.S. should remain as close as it has been in the past; this is down from the 54% who held that view in May 2003.

Asked to assess American character traits, Canadians led all the publics of traditional U.S. allies in describing Americans as violent and rude. Also, more than six-in-ten say Americans are greedy and just four-in-ten say Americans are honest. On the positive side, more than three-quarters say Americans are hardworking and inventive.

Sources of Anti-American Sentiment

Among the publics around the world, a low regard for President Bush is more heavily correlated with an unfavorability rating for the United States than is any other attitude or opinion tested in this survey, according to an analysis of the data.

There are a handful of exceptions to this finding. In Great Britain, Lebanon and Jordan, the perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally in the conduct of its foreign policy is roughly as important a driver of anti-Americanism as is a lack of confidence in Bush. In Lebanon, opposition to the U.S.-led war on terror also contributes significantly to the poor U.S. image there. But aside from those few instances, Bush’s low standing emerges in country after country as the leading link to anti-Americanism.

Moreover, when respondents in this survey who expressed an unfavorable opinion of the United States were asked directly whether the problem was more with President Bush or with America in general, they primarily placed the blame on the president.

Throughout Europe, those who say the problem is “mostly” Bush out-number those who say it is “a more general problem with America” by margins of about two-to-one. This ratio is especially lopsided in Spain, where 76% of those with a negative view of the U.S. blame Bush while just 14% blame America in general.

The two biggest exceptions to this pattern are Russia and Poland. Just 30% of Russians and 27% of Poles who have a negative opinion of the United States blame Bush, while 58% of Russians and 49% of Poles with a negative opinion say the problem is a more general one with America.

In China, a plurality of America’s critics blame both Bush and the U.S. more generally for their negative opinions.

Throughout most of Europe, the president’s standing may be low, but he is less of a lightning rod now than he was two years ago. For example, 63% of French and 65% of Germans with a poor opinion of the U.S. now blame Bush, down from 74% in both countries two years ago.

There has been a more dramatic shift of opinion, in the same direction, in Indonesia. Today just 43% of Indonesians with a negative opinion of the U.S. blame Bush, down from the 69% who blamed Bush two years ago.

Bush Less Popular than Other Western Leaders

Even so, Bush does not fare well in a popularity contest with two other long-time Western leaders. Measured against Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France, the American president comes in third.

In Europe, the percentages saying they have either a lot or some confidence in Bush range downward from 47% in Poland to 18% in Spain. Outside of the United States, the only country where a majority of the public expresses some or a great deal of confidence in Bush is India, where 54% feel this way. (The survey was unable to elicit answers to these and certain other questions in China.)

Bush gets his lowest vote of confidence in the Muslim world. Jordan casts a virtually unanimous vote against the U.S. president. The low-confidence vote is nearly as large in Turkey (83%) and Lebanon (76%). However, while nearly all Lebanese Muslims have no confidence in Bush, a majority (56%) of Lebanese Christians express confidence in the president.

France’s Chirac scores considerably better than Bush among Europeans, with a higher proportion of Germans (80%) saying they have some or a lot of confidence in Chirac than do the French themselves (65%). Other majority supporters of Chirac are the publics of Netherlands (67%), Canada (58%) and Russia (57%). In Lebanon, where French influence has traditionally been strong, three-quarters of the public express a lot or some confidence in him. Support for Chirac is nearly unanimous among Lebanese Christians, but six-in-ten Lebanese Muslims also express confidence in the French leader as does a majority (56%) in Jordan. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, however, Chirac does little better than Bush.

Britain’s Blair registers similar overall ratings to those of Chirac, though in a somewhat different geographical configuration. He leads the pack in North America and even tops Bush in the U.S., with 73% of Americans saying they have confidence in Blair, compared with 62% who say the same about Bush. Indeed, American approval exceeds the level accorded Blair by his own countrymen, 60% of whom place a lot or some confidence in their leader (most of the British survey was completed before the May 6 election in Great Britain).

Solid majorities in Canada (69%) and the Netherlands (65%) also express some measure of confidence in Blair, as do half or more of those in France, Germany and Poland as well as a 47% plurality among the Indian public. Blair’s ratings are just 28% in Spain, however. And in the Muslim world, he fares no better than Bush.

U.S. Still Land of Opportunity?

For much of its history, America has been considered a land of opportunity for immigrants from all over the world. But in this survey, when respondents were asked in an open-ended question to advise a young person where to move in order to lead a good life, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Germany were all more frequently recommended as first choices than was the United States.

Only in India is the United States seen as the world’s leading land of opportunity – 38% of Indians feel this way, the largest percentage of any public to agree on any single country as their top choice.

Australia is cited as the leading land of opportunity in four countries (Great Britain, Canada, Netherlands and Germany); Canada in three countries (U.S., France and China); Great Britain in two countries (Poland and Spain); and Germany in two countries (Russia and Turkey).

English-speaking countries generally dominate the ratings, but two Asian countries buck that trend, perhaps on the strength of a regional attraction to neighbors. China is the first choice among Pakistanis; Japan is the top choice of Indonesians.

Historic ties also appear to play a role in the rankings, with the Lebanese choosing France and the French choosing Canada. But in at least one case, the ratings seem to illustrate that the past is truly past. For their leading land of opportunity, Russians choose their former adversary, Germany. Consistent with current immigration patterns, Turks prefer Germany.

Although the U.S. is named as the top choice of just one country, it is the second or third choice of several others – Canada (second), Poland (second), China (where it is tied for second with Australia) and Germany (third).