June 13, 2006

America’s Image Slips, But Allies Share U.S. Concerns Over Iran, Hamas

I. America’s Image and U.S. Foreign Policy

With America’s image declining in many parts of the world, favorability ratings for the United States continue to trail those of other major countries. In Europe, as well as predominantly Muslim countries, the U.S. is generally less popular than Germany, France, Japan, and China. However, the U.S. fares somewhat better in Asia; in fact, Indians rate the U.S. higher than Germany, France, or China and only slightly below Japan. However, America’s favorability rating has dropped 15 points in India since last year.

Meanwhile, Japan and China, two neighboring Asian rivals with long histories of conflict, hold very negative opinions of one another. Slightly more than a quarter of Japanese (28%) have a positive opinion of China, and even fewer Chinese (21%) have a favorable view of Japan. On the other hand, traditional European rivals Germany and France rate one another quite positively; in fact, both rate the other country more favorably than their own.

In Western Europe, attitudes toward America remain considerably more negative than they were in 2002, prior to the Iraq war.1 However, in a reversal of recent patterns, this year young people in France and Germany are more likely to have a favorable opinion of the U.S. than are their older counterparts. Over the last year, positive assessments of the U.S. have increased among French and German 18-34 year-olds, while declining among those age 35 and older.

Nigerians Split Over U.S.

In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims hold starkly different opinions of the U.S., and America’s relatively high overall rating – 62% favorable – masks deep divisions between the country’s two main religious groups. Roughly nine-in-ten (89%) Nigerian Christians have a favorable view of the U.S., compared with only 32% of Nigerian Muslims.

This gap has grown slightly since 2003, when America’s favorability was 85% among Christians and 38% among Muslims. Christians and Muslims have quite different views of other countries as well, but these two groups are especially polarized over the U.S., with Christians holding a more positive view of the U.S. than of other countries and Muslims having a more negative view of America than of other countries.

France’s Image Slips

Turmoil in France over the last year – riots by immigrants and others last fall, as well as protests in February through April of this year over an attempt to change French labor law – appears to have taken a toll on France’s image. In every country where trends are available – with one exception – the image of France has declined significantly since 2005, including double digit falls in Indonesia (from 68% to 52% favorable), Turkey (from 30% to 18%), and Great Britain (from 71% to 59%).

The lone exception is the U.S., where 52% now have a favorable impression of France, still below the pre-Iraq War level of 79% in February 2002, but up from 46% last year. France is considerably more popular now among Americans than in May 2003, when only 29% gave France a favorable grade.

Americans More Favorable

The improved attitudes in the U.S. toward France are part of a broader trend – the American public’s feelings about other major countries are also more positive than in 2005. Germany, China, and Japan also receive more positive assessments from the American people.

A narrow majority of Americans (52%) now have a favorable opinion of China, up from 43% last year. And the already strong favorability rating for Germany has also improved, jumping from 60% in 2005 to 66% this year. Japan’s rating has also grown from 63% to 66%; however, this is not a statistically significant change.

Views of the American People

Opinions of the American people have declined, in some cases substantially, since 2002. Nonetheless, publics around the world continue to have a more positive opinion of the American people than they do of the United States. In seven of the 14 foreign countries surveyed, at least half of respondents have a favorable impression of Americans; in contrast, four countries give the U.S. positive marks. Americans remain relatively popular in Britain, France, and Germany; however in Spain, the image of Americans has plummeted, dropping from 55% favorable last year to 37% this year. On this issue, the Spanish public is now more similar to Muslim countries than to its Western European neighbors.

Although Americans are still unpopular in the five predominantly Muslim countries, there have been slight, but significant, improvements in Jordan and Pakistan. These are balanced, however, by declines among Indonesians and Turks. In Turkey – a longstanding NATO ally – fewer than one-in-five (17%) have a favorable opinion of Americans.

Perceptions of the American people have grown more negative in Nigeria since 2003, however almost all of the decline has taken place among the country’s Muslim population – in 2003 48% of Muslims had a favorable impression of Americans; three years later only 23% view Americans favorably. Meanwhile, Nigerian Christians continue to hold Americans in extraordinarily high regard (88% favorable in 2003, 86% favorable today).

Americans are relatively well-liked in the three Asian countries we surveyed, with 82% of Japanese giving the American people favorable marks, up from 73% in 2002. Americans remain popular in India (67% favorable), and in China the favorability rating for Americans has increased six points to 49%.

Bush Even Less Popular in Europe

While the past year has been a difficult one for President Bush domestically, his troubles are also reflected in international public opinion. Confidence in Bush to do the right thing in world affairs has dropped in seven of the 11 countries where trend data from 2005 is available. Opinion of Bush has continued to decline in European countries, while Muslims publics remain strongly opposed to the American president. At 3%, Turkey now registers the lowest level of confidence in President Bush. The country with the largest drop in confidence for Bush over the last year, however, is the U.S.; 62% had a lot or some confidence in Bush last year, compared to 50% this year.

Bush receives relatively low marks compared to the other European leaders tested on the survey – Great Britain’s Tony Blair, France’s Jacque Chirac, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin – although there are some exceptions. For example, Bush is the highest rated leader in India and Nigeria. In the latter, Bush’s popularity is overwhelmingly driven by the country’s Christian population (82% a lot or some confidence among Christians, 19% among Muslims).

Tony Blair remains extremely popular among the American people, as two-in-three have confidence that he will do the right thing in world affairs. Despite being a left-of-center political figure in Britain, Blair is especially popular among Republicans (88% a lot or some confidence), although majorities of Democrats (55%) and independents (63%) also have confidence in the British prime minister. However, Americans place little trust in either Chirac or Putin.

Meanwhile, despite two trips to the U.S. since her election as Germany’s first female chancellor, a plurality (39%) of Americans declined to offer an opinion of Merkel. Among Germans, however, she is extremely popular – 77% of Germans have confidence in her ability to handle international affairs.

Waning Support for the War on Terrorism

Nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, international support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism continues to wane. Outside of the U.S. only two countries – India and Russia – register majority support for the war on terror, and it remains particularly unpopular in predominantly Muslim countries, although support has risen eight points since last year among Pakistanis, whose government is a key partner in efforts to combat Al Qaeda.

Among several of America’s traditional allies, support has fallen steeply since 2002, and it has virtually collapsed in two countries, Spain and Japan. In the former, the percentage who favor U.S. efforts against terrorism now stands at 19%, down from 63% in 2003, while among Japanese it has tumbled from 61% in 2002 to 26% today.

Ongoing Concerns About Iraq

As was true last year, publics from a variety of regions believe the war in Iraq has generated more instability in the world. In ten of fifteen countries, a majority say the war has made the world more dangerous.

The French public is the most likely to believe this, followed by Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the only country in which a majority – although a narrow one (51%) – believes the war has made the world a safer place, although pluralities in India and Nigeria also think the war has made the world safer.

International opinion on the future of Iraq is generally gloomy. Majorities in most countries surveyed believe that efforts to establish a stable democratic government in Iraq will ultimately fail. Pessimism is strongest in Spain, Turkey, Germany, Jordan, and Egypt – in all five countries, more than six-in-ten respondents believe efforts to establish democracy will definitely or probably fail.

However, a narrow majority in Great Britain, the country with the second largest military contingent in Iraq, believe these efforts will ultimately succeed. Even greater numbers of Indians and Nigerians believe democracy will be established in Iraq.

American public opinion also tends to be somewhat optimistic about the future of Iraq, with 54% saying efforts to establish a stable democratic government will be successful, up from 49% in March of this year, but down from 60% in July 2005. Views on this issue are driven at least in part by party affiliation – 76% of Republicans believe the war will end in success, compared with only 39% of Democrats and 52% of independents.

  1. No pre-Iraq war data is available from Spain.