February 28, 2006

India: Pro-America, Pro-Bush

Looking for some good news amid the often dismal findings about America’s image abroad? Try India. Anti-Americanism has surged in much of the world since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, but India has bucked the trend. Among Indians, America’s image has actually improved in recent years.

Across a range of measures, Indian public opinion is consistently pro-American. The 2005 Pew Global Attitudes survey found that about seven-in-ten Indians (71%) have a favorable view of the United States. Of the 17 countries polled in the survey, only Americans themselves hold a more favorable view of their country. And while U.S. favorability ratings have plunged in many countries, Indians are significantly more positive about the United States now than they were in the summer of 2002, when 54% gave the U.S. favorable marks.

In the world’s largest democracy, moreover, President Bush, who is unpopular in many countries around the globe, is also widely admired. Just over half (54%) of Indians say they have a lot or some confidence that Bush will generally do the right thing in world affairs, a significantly higher percentage than in any other country except his own. Indeed, of the 16 countries surveyed on this question in 2005, India was the only one, aside from the United States, in which a majority expressed at least some confidence in the American president.

By contrast, the president is viewed much more negatively in Pakistan, the next stop on Bush’s South Asian trip. Just 10% of Pakistanis express a great deal or some confidence in Bush to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Morocco (9%), Turkey (8%), and Jordan (1%) were the only countries surveyed to voice less confidence in Bush than do the people of Pakistan.

Indians also have a strongly positive impression of the American people – 71% have a favorable opinion of Americans, up from 58% in 2002. Moreover, Indians tend to associate Americans with positive character traits, and generally do not associate Americans with negative characteristics. Eight-in-ten (81%) Indians consider Americans hardworking, and 86% – the highest percentage of any country surveyed, including the U.S. itself – say Americans are inventive. Fewer (58%) regard Americans as honest, but even among U.S. respondents, Americans receive mediocre marks for truthfulness (63%). Meanwhile, Indians are among the least likely to associate Americans with negative traits such as greed, violence, rudeness, and immorality.

And America remains a land of opportunity for many Indians. Asked where they would recommend that a young person move in order to lead a good life, a 38% plurality of Indians choose the United States. This finding may seem a weak endorsement, given America’s longstanding image as a hopeful new world for immigrants; however, in no other country does even a plurality recommend the U.S. to the hypothetical young person searching for a better life. In other countries, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and Germany are all more popular choices. After India, Poland has the second largest share of respondents recommending the United States – and only one-in-five Poles (19%) suggests America as a destination.

Favorable Views of U.S. Foreign Policy

In many countries, anti-Americanism is driven by disagreement with U.S. foreign policy. Perceptions of U.S. unilateralism, opposition to the war in Iraq, and reservations about the war on terrorism have fueled anti-American sentiments most dramatically in the Muslim world, although unpopular policies have hurt America’s image in other regions as well. Indians, however, largely approve of the way the U.S. conducts itself in the international arena. For example, Indians are less likely than others to believe the U.S. acts unilaterally on the world stage – 63% of Indians say the U.S. takes into account the interests of other countries when making foreign policy decisions.

Having suffered terrorist attacks in their own recent history, including a December 2001 assault on the Indian Parliament, Indians tend to support the war on terrorism. Just over half (52%) favor U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism, a level of support similar to many European countries, and significantly higher than in predominantly Muslim countries. As in many other countries, however, support for the campaign against terrorism has slipped among Indians since 2002, when, just months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, 65% backed U.S. policies.

On Iraq, India is the only country other than the U.S. in which a plurality (45%) believes the removal of Saddam from power has made the world a safer place, and Indians are even less likely than Americans to say the Iraq war made the world more dangerous. Indians, however, do not regret their country’s decision not to use force in Iraq – 75% say their government did the right thing in abstaining from the U.S.-led coalition.

But Indians Support Checks on U.S. Power

Despite their pro-American attitudes, Indians would like to see another power become as militarily strong as the United States. Indeed, Indians are among the most likely to favor another country or group of countries rising to the level of global superpower.

Still, there is less support among Indians for China becoming as militarily powerful as the United States. Indians are split over this issue, with 45% saying that if China became America’s military equal this would be a good thing and 45% saying this would be a bad development. Here, India occupies something of a middle ground between European countries, which generally oppose the potential military rise of China, and majority Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, and Turkey, which generally welcome the idea of a strong China that could rival U.S. military strength.

Indians, however, are more supportive of Chinese economic power – 53% believe China’s growing economy is a good thing for India. Income is related to views about Chinese military and economic power, as wealthier Indians are more worried about China becoming a military rival to the U.S. and more concerned about China as an economic threat to India.

About the Survey

In India, the survey was conducted May 1-29, 2005 among a probability sample of 2,042 respondents. The survey was conducted only in urban areas and is not representative of the entire country. Interviews were conducted in-person, in the appropriate local language (Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi), with adults ages 18 and older. The margin of sampling error for the results is plus or minus 2%. For full topline results for each country surveyed, see the Pew Global Attitudes report U.S. Image Up Slightly, But Still Negative: American Character Gets Mixed Reviews, released June 23, 2005.