July 2, 2008

U.S. Traveler Advisory

Where in the World Is the Welcome Mat Still Out?

by D’Vera Cohn, Senior Writer, Pew Research Center

The would-be American traveler abroad has many uncertainties to juggle: How much will the dollar be worth? Where will fuel prices go? Will airport security lines get any worse?

One question, though, can be answered with data from the recent Pew Global Attitudes survey: Where are we, as Americans, most likely to be welcomed? Where do they like us?

As it turns out, the countries that Americans most like to go to are, for the most part, countries that like Americans. The 2008 Pew Global Attitudes survey polled residents of 24 countries including the United States on a range of attitudes in the period between March 27 and April 21. In 14 foreign countries, a majority of respondents have a favorable view of Americans. (The United States itself, on the other hand, is well-regarded, on balance, in only nine foreign countries.)

How well do these results match up with the places that Americans like to go? The U.S. Commerce Department provides information on the most-visited nations, based on a survey of airlines. (The latest statistics, released June 30, are for 2007.1) Comparing that list with the 2007 and 2008 Global Attitudes surveys reveals that in six of their 10 most popular foreign destinations Americans are well-liked. Opinion is mixed or negative in three nations, and ratings are not available for one country.

Among Americans’ top 10 travel destinations, the nation in which they are most liked is Great Britain, where 70% of residents say they have a good opinion of their U.S. counterparts. Opinions of Americans also are high in France (64%), Germany (55%) and Japan (65%), which also rank among the top 10 nations visited by U.S. residents.

Two other most-visited nations, Canada and Italy, were not surveyed this year, but have a history of positive attitudes toward Americans. In the 2007 Global Attitudes survey, most respondents in both nations expressed favorable attitudes about Americans — 76% in Canada and 62% in Italy.

But opinion of Americans is mixed or negative in three other nations they visit often, Mexico, China and Spain.

The top-ranked travel destination for U.S. residents is Mexico, where 46% of the 2008 Global Attitudes survey respondents give Americans low ratings compared with 44% give high ratings. The rest didn’t answer or didn’t have an opinion.

China was the ninth most popular country for Americans to see in 2007, but is expected to see a big bump in tourism this year because of the Summer Olympic Games. There, the tilt is somewhat more negative: Half of Chinese respondents (50%) voice an unfavorable view of Americans, while only 38% voice a positive opinion.2

In Spain, four-in-ten people (39%) voice an unfavorable view of Americans. That is about the same as the share (41%) with a favorable attitude toward Americans.

The other top destination for Americans in 2007 was Jamaica, which ranked eighth in travel popularity but was not included in the Global Attitudes survey.

Where Else Do They Like Americans?

For U.S. residents looking for a hospitable place to go, the 2008 Global Attitudes survey finds nine additional countries where most people say their opinion of Americans is very favorable or somewhat favorable.

The warmest opinions come from South Koreans, 77% of whom say they have a positive view of Americans. (The survey was taken before the recent uproar in that country over imports of U.S. beef.)

People in Lebanon also give a shout-out to U.S. residents; 74% say their opinion is favorable. Opinions vary, though, among the nation’s religious groups: 88% of Christians and 80% of Sunni Muslims have a favorable view of Americans. Among Shia Muslims, only 43% like Americans. But that is a higher share of Shia than those who said they have a favorable opinion of the United States as a country; none say they do.

In Poland, 70% give a thumbs-up to Americans. Americans also are well-regarded in Australia, where 66% voice positive views of them. The same is true in India, where 63% do. Majorities in three African nations also look with favor upon the American people. They include Tanzania, where 69% like Americans; South Africa, where 64% do; and Nigeria, where 62% do.

The pro-Americans vote is smaller, but still in the majority, in Russia (57%) and in Brazil (51%).

Where Don’t They Like Americans?

There are some places in the world where Americans cannot count on a friendly face. In addition to China, Americans are unpopular on balance in five of the 23 foreign nations included in the 2008 Global Attitudes survey. In a sixth country, Indonesia, opinion of them is mixed: 44% of respondents say they do not like Americans, and 45% do.

The least favorable rating for Americans comes from Turkey, where a paltry 13% voice a positive opinion of them. In Pakistan, only 20% hold favorable views. About a third of respondents in Jordan (36%) and Egypt (31%) like Americans. Only a quarter (24%) of people in Argentina do.

How Have Favorable Ratings Changed?

In general, Americans’ popularity is rising, though it still is lower in some countries than it had been in 2002.

Notable gains were made from 2007 to 2008 in Tanzania, where Americans’ popularity grew by 17 percentage points, as well as in Poland (7 percentage points). In South Korea, favorable attitudes toward Americans also rose by 7 percentage points, although the 2008 survey was taken before the recent anti-U.S. beef imports demonstrations. Favorable views rose somewhat as well in Brazil (6 percentage points), India (5 percentage points) and Lebanon (5 percentage points).

Favorable opinions of Americans, on the other hand, dropped notably in Japan (by 10 percentage points) and Mexico (down 8). German views of Americans also are worsening. In 2007, 63% of Germans said they had a favorable opinion of Americans; this year, 55% do. Opinion of Americans also deteriorated somewhat in Spain, down 5 percentage points.

One final observation: Americans also were asked in the 2008 survey for their opinion of Americans. Half (50%) have a very favorable view, according to the survey, and 38% have a somewhat favorable opinion. But 9% of Americans — one in 11 people — say they have only a somewhat or very unfavorable view of the American people.

So U.S. residents planning a trip within their own country should keep in mind that even Americans are not completely sold on themselves.

  1. U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, 2007 United States Resident Travel Abroad.
  2. The Commerce Department List treats Hong Kong as a separate destination from mainland China and Hong Kong was not included in the Global Attitudes surveys.