Released: June 12, 2008
Global Economic Gloom - China and India Notable Exceptions
Chapter 2. Views of the U.S.
America’s image has improved over the last year in many countries included in the survey, with particularly strong increases in Tanzania, South Korea, and Indonesia. In most countries surveyed, however, views of the United States remain either mixed or negative. Among America’s traditional allies in Western Europe, the U.S. continues to receive largely negative reviews. And in predominantly Muslim countries, highly unfavorable opinions prevail.
The United States is named more often than any other country as the world’s dominant economic power, although in regions across the globe a substantial proportion of people believe a rising China has already assumed this role. As the survey reveals, being in the top economic spot entails some negative consequences – many blame the U.S. economy for economic problems in their own country.
But there are signs that in many countries people are optimistic about America’s future role on the world stage: In most countries, a majority or plurality of those surveyed think the next U.S. president will change the country’s foreign policy for the better. International views of the two leading presidential contenders are not equal however. In nearly every country surveyed, Barack Obama is viewed more favorably than John McCain.
Modest Gains in U.S. Favorability
Majorities say they have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the United States in only eight of the survey’s 23 countries. There have been some improvements, however, since last year – U.S. favorability is up significantly in ten of the 21 countries for which trends are available, while it has declined notably in just three.
There has been little change, however, in America’s image among Western Europeans. A slim majority of the British continues to hold a positive view of the U.S., while only 42% in France give the U.S. favorable marks. Views are even more negative in Spain (33% favorable) and Germany (31%).
By contrast, assessments of the U.S. have grown somewhat more positive over the last year in both of the Eastern European countries included in the survey. Polish public opinion is more favorable to the U.S. now (68%) than at any time since the 2002 Pew poll, when roughly eight-in-ten Poles (79%) had a positive view. And a slight improvement is also seen in Russia, where U.S. favorability now stands at 46%, up from 41% last year.
Although it is no longer in single digits, U.S. favorability in Turkey remains low – only 12% of Turks have a positive opinion, the lowest rating for the U.S. on the survey. Attitudes toward the U.S. also remain grim in Egypt (22% favorable) and Jordan (19%). About half of those surveyed in Lebanon (51%) hold a favorable view, although there are significant differences among the country’s three major religious groups (see below).
Opinions are mixed in the Asian/Pacific region. America’s image has improved significantly in both South Korea (58% favorable in 2007, 70% in 2008) and India (59% in 2007, 66% in 2008). The opposite is true, however, in Japan, where ratings have turned more negative over the last year (61% favorable in 2007, 50% in 2008). Fewer than half of Australians (46%) now have a positive opinion, down from 59% the last time Pew surveyed Australia in 2003. The U.S. receives less-positive reviews in China, Indonesia, and Pakistan, although views of America have improved in all three countries since last year. And in China, after falling by 13 percentage points between 2006 and 2007, U.S. favorability has bounced back by seven points over the last year (from 34% to 41%). Also, the percentage of Indonesians with a favorable view of the U.S. has risen by eight points (from 29% to 37%), while Pakistan recorded a more modest four-point gain.
In all three Latin American nations included in the study, fewer than half of those surveyed give the U.S. a positive rating. Views have grown more negative in Mexico over the last year (56% favorable in 2007, 47% in 2008). On the other hand, there has been a slight upturn in America’s image in Argentina, though even with this improvement, only 22% see the U.S. in a favorable light.
In recent years, Pew Global Attitudes surveys have found that the U.S. is relatively popular in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and this year’s results again suggest this is true. At least six-in-ten Tanzanians, Nigerians, and South Africans express a positive opinion. At 65%, U.S. favorability is up 19 percentage points in Tanzania since last year, the largest gain among the 21 countries for which trend data are available. In Nigeria, opinions have become slightly less positive, with U.S. favorability dropping from 70% to 64%.
Differing Views in the Muslim World
Overall, the U.S. evokes negative reactions among the Muslim publics included in the study. Tanzania’s Muslim population is the only one in which a majority rates the U.S. favorably – 56% hold a positive view, up from 41% in 2007. The trend has moved in the opposite direction, however, in Nigeria, where roughly half of Muslims had a positive view of the U.S. in 2007, compared with 39% this year. Nigeria’s Christians are much more favorably disposed toward the U.S. (89% favorable).
In the Middle East and Asia, Muslim views tend to be negative, although Lebanese Sunnis are a clear exception – 62% see the U.S. favorably, up from 52% in 2007. Sunnis in Lebanon are almost as positive as the country’s Christian population (76% favorable). The story among Lebanese Shia, however, is quite different – 98% have a negative view. Indeed, not one Shia respondent in the Lebanese sample expresses a favorable opinion of the United States.
American People More Popular Than U.S.
The American people continue to be viewed more positively than their country. Majorities in 14 of 23 countries have a favorable opinion of Americans, including at least 70% of those surveyed in South Korea, Lebanon, Poland and Britain.
In many countries, there are significant gaps between the favorability rating for Americans and the rating for the United States, with the American people receiving much more positive reviews. This is especially true in Western Europe. For example, while only 31% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S., 55% have a favorable opinion of Americans. Similarly, just 42% in France take a positive view of the U.S., but nearly two-thirds (64%) see the American people in a favorable light.
But this gap is present outside of Europe as well. Australians have a much more positive view of the American people (66%) than of the country (46%). And in Lebanon there is a 23-point gap between ratings of Americans (74%) and the U.S. (51%). The difference is particularly striking among Lebanese Shia – while no Shia respondents express a favorable opinion of the U.S., 43% say they have a positive view of Americans.
The gap is not present everywhere, however. In the Latin American and African countries in the survey, ratings for Americans and the U.S. tend to track each other very closely. The same is true in India, China and Turkey.
Generally, the trend on views of the American people resembles the trend on attitudes toward the U.S. Over the last year, there have been notable improvements in the image of Americans in Tanzania (+17 percentage points), Poland (+7), and South Korea (+7), and significant declines in Japan (-10) and Mexico (-8). And even though Germans continue to have a much more positive view of the American people than of the U.S., their view of Americans has soured somewhat since 2007 (-8).
America’s Economic Power
Despite the recent slowdown in the U.S. economy, the United States is most commonly identified as the world’s leading economic power in 22 of the 24 countries surveyed. This is a common perception both in countries where the U.S. is relatively popular, such as South Korea, India, and Tanzania, and in places where the U.S. is generally unpopular, including Turkey, Pakistan, and Argentina.
However, in only 12 countries does a majority take this view. Even among Americans, only 46% say their country is the world’s dominant economic power; roughly one-in-four (26%) name China and substantial minorities name either Japan (10%) or the European Union (10%).
Similarly, fewer than half in Britain (44%), France (44%), and Spain (42%) see the U.S. as the world’s leading economy. In Germany, the U.S. actually comes in third place – more Germans rate the EU (31%) or China (30%) as the top economic power.
Russians are among the least likely to name the United States (32%), while they are more likely than any other public to name Japan (25%). Only 6% of Japanese think their country is the world’s leading economic power.
By a slim margin, Australians name China as the world’s leading economy (40%, compared with 37% for the U.S.). For the most part, the Chinese themselves do not place their country in the top spot – 48% name the U.S., 21% say China, and 9% say it is the EU.
American economic power is widely acknowledged in the Latin American and African nations included in the survey. Majorities in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Tanzania and Nigeria, as well as 49% of South Africans, identify the U.S. as the world’s economic leader.
A Partner to Some, an Enemy to Others
The way in which people characterize their country’s relationship with the United States varies considerably across regions and even within regions. Despite tensions in recent years between the U.S. and its Western European allies, majorities in three of the four countries from the region think of the U.S. as a partner of their country. The exception is Spain, where only 31% believe the U.S. is a partner, 20% consider it an enemy, and 45% say it is neither.
About half (48%) of Poles think of the U.S. as a partner, very few see it as an enemy (7%), and 39% say it is neither. Russians however, are divided on this question – 29% say partner, 34% enemy and 32% neither.
Majorities in all three African countries included in the survey (Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa) consider the U.S. a partner, as do most of those surveyed in Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Elsewhere in Asia, four-in-ten Indians regard the U.S. as a partner, compared with just 13% of Chinese. About one-third of Chinese (34%) say the U.S. is an enemy.
Relatively few respondents in the three Arab nations included in the study see the U.S. as a partner. At the same time, less than 40% in all three countries consider the U.S. an enemy. Indeed, Argentines are more likely to see the U.S. as an enemy than are the three Arab publics. However, the most negative views of the U.S. on this question are found in Turkey (70% enemy) and Pakistan (60%).
U.S. Influence Strong, But Often Harmful
Throughout the nations included in this survey, people believe the U.S. has an impact on the way things are going in their own countries. In all 23 countries outside the U.S., at least half of those surveyed say the U.S. is having either a great deal or a fair amount of influence. And more than 80% take this view in a diverse set of countries: South Korea, Japan, Lebanon, Jordan, Britain, Germany, Egypt, Australia, France and Mexico.
The Chinese are the least likely to believe the U.S. has an impact on their country – just 50% say it has a great deal or fair amount of influence. Russians (59%), Pakistanis (59%) and Tanzanians (55%) also are less likely than others to see American influence.
For the most part, America’s influence is seen as a negative force. Turkey, Jordan, Argentina and Britain have the most negative views of American influence. In all four nations, more than half of those surveyed believe U.S influence has a detrimental effect. But large numbers regard America’s influence as harmful elsewhere as well, including at least 40% of those surveyed in Pakistan, Mexico, Lebanon, Egypt, Germany, Australia, and Japan.
America’s influence is more welcome in Nigeria and South Africa, where more than four-in-ten see American influence as a good thing. Similarly, Tanzanians and Indians take a relatively favorable attitude toward U.S. influence in their country.
Most See U.S. Hurting Their Economy
Across regions, most people see a connection between the American economy and their country’s economic situation. In 21 of 23 nations, majorities say what happens in the U.S. economy has a great deal or fair amount of influence on economic conditions in their country. Interestingly, one exception is China. Despite increasing economic ties in recent years between the U.S. and this growing Asian power, only 46% of Chinese think the American economy has a serious impact on their country.
In nine countries, more than 80% think the U.S. economy has a great deal or fair amount of influence. This is an especially common view in Japan (95%), South Korea (94%), Australia (91%), Britain (90%) and Germany (90%).
While America’s economic reach is pervasive, it also is regarded as pernicious. In Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Japan and Australia, majorities of those surveyed say that the U.S. economy is currently having a negative effect on their economies. In no country does a majority say the U.S. economy is having a positive effect, although Nigerians, Indians and South Africans are more likely to characterize it as a positive effect than as a negative one. The Chinese are divided on this issue – 19% of those surveyed believe it has a positive effect, while another 18% say it is negative.
Americans generally recognize their country’s economic influence and they also largely agree with much of the world on the nature of this influence: Overwhelmingly, they say the U.S. economy is currently having a negative impact on other countries. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (88%) think that what happens in the U.S. economy affects economic conditions in the rest of the world a great deal or a fair amount (55% great deal, 33% fair amount). About six-in-ten Americans (61%) believe that right now the U.S. economy is having a negative impact, while just 20% believe it is positive.
Few Predict Success in Iraq
Previous Pew surveys have shown that much of the decline in America’s image around the world over the last several years has been driven by opposition to U.S. foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq. The current poll indicates that optimism about the future of Iraq is scant. Moreover, many publics are less optimistic now than they were two years ago.
Majorities in only three countries – Nigeria (61%), India (56%) and Tanzania (54%) – think efforts to establish a stable democratic Iraqi government will succeed. In seven of the 15 nations for which trends from 2006 are available, significantly fewer people now believe these efforts will succeed. The number of people who think they will succeed has increased in four countries, and there is basically no change in four.
Americans have become much more pessimistic about the situation in Iraq over the last two years. Whereas in 2006 a 54% majority thought efforts there would ultimately succeed, now only 40% hold this view. There continue to be sharp partisan differences over Iraq. About six-in-ten (61%) Republicans expect there will be a successful outcome, compared with only 38% of independents and 30% of Democrats.
Optimism about Iraq has waned in Great Britain (-12 percentage points), France (-10), and Germany (-7), although in neighboring Spain, people are slightly more likely to think a stable democratic government will be established than they were two years ago. Still, just 25% of the Spanish public thinks these efforts will be successful.
It is noteworthy, however, that in both Arab countries where trends are available – Egypt and Jordan – people have become slightly more optimistic. Trend data are not available for Lebanon, but 45% currently think the attempt to create a stable democratic Iraqi government will succeed, making the Lebanese among the most optimistic publics surveyed on this question. There are differences among the countries’ religious groups, however – 64% of Christians think these efforts will succeed, while only 33% of Sunnis and 30% of Shia agree.
Most Want Withdrawal from Afghanistan
In 21 of 24 countries, a majority or plurality of those surveyed say the U.S. and NATO should remove their troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Public opinion leans toward keeping troops in Afghanistan until the situation there has stabilized in just three countries – the U.S., Britain, and Australia – all of which have military forces in the country.
Among Americans, the margin between those who want to keep troops in Afghanistan (50%) and those who favor withdrawal (44%) is slim, and is basically unchanged from 2007, when 50% wanted to keep troops there and 42% favored removing them. There is a significant partisan gap on this issue: Republicans overwhelmingly want to keep a military presence in Afghanistan (75% keep troops there, 21% remove troops), Democrats generally favor withdrawal (35% keep, 59% remove), and independents are evenly divided on this issue (47% keep, 47% remove).
The British public also slightly favors keeping U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. This is not true, however, in any other NATO country included in survey, aside from the U.S. Narrow majorities in Spain, France, and Germany back withdrawal, as do large majorities in Turkey and Poland.
Australians are more likely than any other public to favor keeping forces in Afghanistan. Australia is not a member of NATO, but it has contributed to the military effort in Afghanistan and continues to maintain a military presence there.
Large majorities in all three Arab nations surveyed want U.S. and NATO troops removed. And in Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, 72% favor withdrawal.
The American Presidential Race
In several countries, there is considerable interest in the 2008 U.S. presidential race. In fact, the Japanese (83%) are slightly more likely than Americans (80%) to say they are following news about the race very or somewhat closely. While no other publics are nearly as attentive to the race as the Japanese or Americans, at least half of those surveyed in Germany (56%), Australia (52%), Jordan (50%) and Britain (50%) are following the election closely.
In much of the world, however, few are paying attention to the presidential contest at this point. In 12 of the countries included in the survey, one-third or less of the public is following the race closely. Only 17% of Chinese are monitoring the race. And despite the fact that one of the major presidential contenders, Barack Obama, spent several years of his childhood in Indonesia, only 15% of Indonesians are closely following the election. But no public is less interested than the Argentines – only 10% are paying close attention to the race.
The Next Administration’s Foreign Policy
Many of those who are following the U.S. presidential contest closely are optimistic about the next administration’s foreign policy. When asked whether next year, when there is a new U.S. president, American foreign policy will change for the better, change for the worse, or not change much at all, majorities or pluralities in 14 countries – including the United States itself – say it will change for the better.
This includes more than six-in-ten in the Western European nations of France (68% change for the better), Spain (67%) and Germany (64%), where opposition to U.S. foreign policy has been strong throughout much of the Bush presidency. But it also includes solid majorities in several countries where opposition to Bush’s foreign policy has been less pervasive, such as India (59%) and the African nations of Nigeria (67%), South Africa (66%), and Tanzania (65%).
In five nations, however, the most common view is that the election of a new president will not bring much change to American foreign policy. This is especially true in Japan (67% not change that much), Turkey (43%), Russia (42%), South Korea (41%) and Mexico (40%).
In several countries, significant minorities worry that U.S. foreign policy will get worse with the election of a new president. A 37%-plurality takes this view in Egypt, and it also is a common concern in the other two Arab nations included in the study, Jordan (36%) and Lebanon (33%). On the other hand, only a very few Western Europeans think the next president will change American foreign policy for the worse – just 1% in France, Spain, and Germany, and 3% in Britain.
Rating the Presidential Contenders
At this point in the U.S. presidential race, public opinion in the countries surveyed is more favorable toward Democratic contender Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, than toward Arizona Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee. Among those individuals who are following the race at least somewhat closely, in 20 of 23 countries surveyed, the percentage of people having confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs is higher than the percentage expressing confidence in McCain. In three countries – including the U.S., as well as Jordan and Pakistan – the two candidates are essentially tied on this measure.
In 12 of these countries, majorities of those following the election say they have confidence in Obama, while majorities have little or no confidence in just five nations. On the other hand, majorities lack confidence in McCain in 10 countries, while a majority expresses confidence in the Arizona senator in only one country: the United States.
The gap between perceptions of Obama and McCain is particularly large in Western Europe. For example, in Spain confidence in Obama (72%) is more than three times higher than is confidence in McCain (19%). In both France and Germany, more than 80% voice confidence in Obama, while just one-in-three say the same about McCain.
Obama also is more warmly received in the Asian/Pacific region. Roughly eight-in-ten Australians (81%) and Japanese (77%) are confident in him, while just 40% in each country have confidence in McCain. And Obama also is much more popular among those who are following the race in his former boyhood home, Indonesia. Finally, Obama is more popular than McCain in a country from another part of the world where he has family ties: East Africa (his father was from Kenya). While 84% of Tanzanians believe he will do the right thing in international affairs, just half say this about his Republican rival.
The survey also measured international perceptions of Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Ratings for Sen. Clinton generally tend to be higher than those for McCain, but lower than those for Obama, although there are some notable exceptions. Clinton is rated higher than Obama in India (58% to 33%), South Africa (57% to 36%), and Mexico (36% to 30%). She receives lower ratings than either of her two Senate colleagues in Lebanon (34% for Obama, 25% for McCain, 16% for Clinton).
Negative Views of Bush Persist
As his second term as president nears its close, George W. Bush continues to receive mostly negative ratings. Majorities in only three countries – Tanzania, Nigeria, and India – say they have a lot or some confidence in Bush to do the right thing in world affairs.
Opinions of Bush are especially negative in Western Europe – more than eight-in-ten in Britain, Germany, France, and Spain lack confidence in the American president. He also is unpopular in the Middle East. Fully 89% of Jordanians and 86% of Egyptians have little or no confidence in him. He gets somewhat more positive marks in Lebanon, although this is largely due to his popularity among that country’s Christians, 60% of who express confidence in Bush. Just 23% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims are confident in Bush, while not a single Shia Muslim in the Lebanese sample voices confidence in the American leader.
Assessments of Bush have mostly held steady over the last year, although his ratings have become more positive in a few countries. Most notably, opinions of Bush have improved in Poland (+12 percentage points), as well as in Tanzania (+20), which the president visited on his trip to Africa in February.
Only 37% of Americans say they have confidence in President Bush, down from 45% in 2007, and down steeply from the first time the Global Attitudes Project asked this question in May 2003, when, just months after the invasion of Iraq, confidence in Bush stood at 78%. Unsurprisingly, there are large partisan differences in the U.S. More than three-in-four Republicans (76%) have a lot or some confidence in Bush, compared with just 30% of independents and even fewer Democrats (15%).