June 27, 2007

Global Unease With Major World Powers

Rising Environmental Concern in 47-Nation Survey

Summary of Findings

FigureA 47-nation survey finds global public opinion increasingly wary of the world’s dominant nations and disapproving of their leaders. Anti-Americanism is extensive, as it has been for the past five years. At the same time, the image of China has slipped significantly among the publics of other major nations. Opinion about Russia is mixed, but confidence in its president, Vladimir Putin, has declined sharply. In fact, the Russian leader’s negatives have soared to the point that they mirror the nearly worldwide lack of confidence in George W. Bush.

FigureGlobal distrust of American leadership is reflected in increasing disapproval of the cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy. Not only is there worldwide support for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but there also is considerable opposition to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Western European publics are at best divided about keeping troops there. In nearly every predominantly Muslim country, overwhelming majorities want U.S. and NATO troops withdrawn from Afghanistan as soon as possible. In addition, global support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism ebbs ever lower. And the United States is the nation blamed most often for hurting the world’s environment, at a time of rising global concern about environmental issues.

FigureAt the same time, China’s expanding economic and military power is triggering considerable anxiety. Large majorities in many countries think that China’s growing military might is a bad thing, and the publics of many advanced nations are increasingly concerned about the impact of China’s economic power on their own countries.

Russia and its president also are unpopular in many countries of the world. But criticisms of that nation and its leader are sharpest in Western Europe where many citizens worry about overdependence on the Russian energy supply. For instance, despite sharp declines in favorable views of the U.S. in France and Germany since 2002, Russia’s image in those countries is no better.

There is little evidence that discontent with the major nations of the world and their leaders is resulting in greater confidence in those who have challenged the global status quo. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inspires little public confidence, even in Latin America, and huge majorities in most countries also say they have little or no confidence in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to do the right thing regarding world affairs. There also is broad opposition to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Citizens all around the world voice substantial concern about the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. This includes the Muslim publics of neighboring nations such as Kuwait and Turkey.

The Pew survey finds a general increase in the percentage of people citing pollution and environmental problems as a top global threat. Worries have risen sharply in Latin America and Europe, as well as in Japan and India. Many people blame the United States — and to a lesser extent China — for these problems and look to Washington to do something about them.

As was the case in Pew’s first major global survey in 2002, global concerns vary significantly by region of the world. The spread of nuclear weapons is a growing worry in the Middle East — it is named as a top global danger in that region, along with religious and ethnic hatreds.

AIDS and other infectious diseases continue to be viewed as the dominant threat in Africa and a major concern in Latin America. Yet the polling also finds that African publics are increasingly concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor. In addition, the belief that economic inequality represents a major global danger has become much more prevalent in South Korea and Russia.

In the face of strong criticisms of its foreign policy, the U.S. is cited in many countries about as often as the U.N. as the entity that should be responsible for dealing with the problems that confront the world. This is particularly the case among people who are most concerned about the spread of nuclear weapons. But when it comes to AIDS and the gap between rich and poor, many who see these as important threats look to their own countries to provide solutions.

Most people in the survey, conducted in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, have a favorable view of the United Nations. Negative views of the U.N. are most prevalent in the Middle East. Large majorities in both the Palestinian territories (69%) and Israel (58%) express unfavorable opinions of the world body. U.S. opinion of the U.N. remains mixed — 48% have a favorable view, 39% unfavorable. For the most part, global opinion of the European Union parallels opinion of the U.N.; in the U.S. roughly twice as many have a positive view of the EU than a negative one (47% vs. 22%), although many Americans offer no opinion (30%).

Anti-Americanism: Deeper But Not Wider

FigureIn the current poll, majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the U.S. Since 2002, however, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.

The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan. Currently, just 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S. — down from 42% as recently as two years ago — and favorable ratings inch ever lower in Great Britain and Canada.

For all of the bad news, however, the global survey of 47 nations, conducted throughout the world, reveals a more complex picture of opinions of the United States.

First, the U.S. image remains positive in Africa. In several African countries, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, it is overwhelmingly positive. In addition, majorities in two of America’s most important Asian trading partners — India and Japan — continue to express favorable opinions of the United States. And the U.S. image has improved dramatically in South Korea since 2003 (from 46% to 58% favorable).

While opinion of the U.S. has slipped in Latin America over the past five years, majorities in such countries as Mexico, Peru and even Venezuela still say they have a positive opinion of their large neighbor to the north. Similarly, “new Europe” likes America better than “old Europe,” although the U.S. image is not nearly as strong in Eastern Europe as it was five years ago.

And while negative views of the U.S. continue to prevail in much of the Muslim world, anger is not as universal today as it was in the spring of 2003 after the start of the war in Iraq. At that time, just 1% of Jordanians — and less than 1% in the Palestinian territories — gave a favorable rating to the United States, compared with 20% and 13%, respectively, today. And while still far from positive, America’s image has recovered substantially in Lebanon as well.

However, opinions of the American people have declined over the past five years in 23 of 33 countries where trends are available. In Indonesia and Turkey, where favorable views of the U.S. have declined markedly over the past five years, opinions of Americans have fallen sharply as well. In Indonesia, positive opinions of Americans have fallen from 65% in 2002 to 42%; in Turkey, favorable opinions have declined 19 points.

While opinions of Americans have fallen in most Western European countries, they remain generally positive. In every Western European country surveyed, far more people express positive opinions of Americans than they do of the U.S.; in Germany, for instance, 63% say they have a positive opinion of Americans compared with just 30% who rate the U.S. positively.

In fact, in many countries, the American people get better ratings than does the U.S. generally. Latin America is a consistent exception to this rule. In this region, Americans get about the same ratings as their country; either both are mostly favorable, as in Venezuela and Peru, or both are quite low, as in Argentina.

Opinions that Influence America’s Image

This is by far the largest global survey Pew has conducted since 2002. As such, it provides a broad perspective on anti-Americanism, documenting the nature and breadth of negative perceptions of the U.S.

Among key U.S. allies in Western Europe, the view that the U.S. acts unilaterally is an opinion that has tracked closely with America’s overall image over the past five years. Ironically, the belief that the United States does not take into account the interests of other countries in formulating its foreign policy is extensive among the publics of several close U.S. allies. No fewer than 89% of the French, 83% of Canadians and 74% of the British express this opinion.

FigureU.S. policies also are widely viewed as increasing the gap between rich nations and poor nations. This is even the case in several countries where the U.S. is generally well regarded. In addition, this is one of the few criticisms of the U.S. that is widely shared around the world and with which a plurality of Americans (38%) agree.

Critiques of the U.S. are not confined to its policies, however. In much of the world there is broad and deepening dislike of American values and a global backlash against the spread of American ideas and customs. Majorities or pluralities in most countries surveyed say they dislike American ideas about democracy — and this sentiment has increased in most regions since 2002. However, sizable majorities in most African nations — as well as in Israel, South Korea and Japan — continue to express positive views of the U.S. approach to democracy. In addition, a small plurality in China says they like rather than dislike American ideas about democracy (48% to 36%).

Public rejection of American democracy in most countries may in part reflect opinions about the way in which the United States has implemented its pro-democracy agenda, as well as America’s democratic values. Majorities in 43 of 47 countries surveyed — including 63% in the United States — say that the U.S. promotes democracy mostly where it serves its interests, rather than promoting it wherever it can.

FigureThe poll also finds negative attitudes toward American ways of doing business. Dislike of the U.S. approach has deepened. However, Muslim countries in the Middle East are a notable exception, despite their generally poor opinion of the U.S. As many as 71% of Kuwaitis, 63% of Lebanese, and even 40% of Palestinians say they like the American way of doing business. But the greatest admirers of the American approach to business continue to be in Africa, where huge majorities in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria endorse it.

While many around the world fault American ideals, there is still considerable admiration for U.S. technology and a strong appetite for its cultural exports. In 42 of 46 foreign countries surveyed, majorities say they admire U.S. technological and scientific advances. In Russia, however, a majority (53%) says nyet to American scientific achievements. Similarly, in most parts of the world, majorities report liking American music, movies and television. However, there is greater dissent with regard to these pop culture exports; majorities in several predominantly Muslim countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, say they dislike American music, movies and television. Indians and Russians also express negative views of U.S. cultural exports.

Despite near universal admiration for U.S. technology and a strong appetite for its cultural exports in most parts of the world, large proportions in most countries think it is bad that American ideas and customs are spreading to their countries. The percentage expressing disapproval has increased in many countries since 2002 — including Great Britain (by 17 percentage points), Germany (14 points) and Canada (13 points). Israel, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are the only countries (aside from the U.S.) in which majorities say they like the spread of American customs.

FigureAs noted, however, the U.S. is not alone in drawing the increasing ire of people in other countries. The poll also finds flagging views of China, an emerging superpower. Favorable views of China have fallen in Western Europe — particularly in Spain, Germany and France. And while China’s image is generally positive in Asia, it has grown somewhat more negative in India and much more negative in Japan, where unfavorable opinions of China now outnumber positive ones by more than two-to-one (67%-29%).

Opinion of China’s growing economic power is decidedly negative in Western Europe, where nearly two- thirds of Italians and the French believe this trend is bad for their country. Only in Sweden is there a positive view of this development. The polling also finds concern about China’s economic clout in Mexico, Czech Republic, South Korea and India. In sharp contrast, the publics of the African nations surveyed give thumbs up to China’s economic power.

Majorities or pluralities in the 10 African countries surveyed believe that China has at least a fair amount of influence on their countries. Most people in the African countries surveyed also say that the U.S. has considerable influence; however, U.S. influence is rivaled or exceeded by China’s in a number of African countries, including Mali and Ivory Coast.

Similarly, many people in Latin America believe that China is having an important influence on their countries. While China’s perceived impact in this region is not as great as that of the U.S., majorities in Venezuela and Chile, and half of Mexicans, say China’s influence is growing. In general, Africans are more positive than Latin Americans about the growing influence of both China and the U.S. on their countries. But in both regions, somewhat greater percentages say China’s influence is a good thing than say that about U.S. influence.

Additional Findings

 

Cite this publication: “Global Unease With Major World Powers.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 27, 2007) http://www.pewglobal.org/2007/06/27/global-unease-with-major-world-powers/, accessed on July 23, 2014.