October 7, 2008

Trickle-Down Global Economics

World Already Saw U.S. Influence as Negative

by Richard Wike, Associate Director and Erin Carriere-Kretschmer, Senior Researcher, Pew Global Attitudes Project

Around the globe, people are anxiously following the U.S. financial crisis as it evolves into a worldwide meltdown. People nearly everywhere realize that what happens in the American economy can have a big impact on them. But even before this fall’s financial crisis, a 24-nation Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted in March-April 20081 found that many in other countries already felt the U.S. economy was having a negative impact on their own country’s economy. The survey also found that publics around the world were giving their national economies increasingly negative ratings. With the U.S. receiving at least some of the blame for the world’s increasingly dour economic outlook, this adds yet another challenge for America’s global image.

U.S. Economic Influence Judged Widespread and Negative

In recent weeks, many countries have had tangible reason to deplore America’s economic influence. But publics worldwide were already well aware that U.S. economic conditions have an impact on their own economies. Most — including the United States itself — viewed that influence in a negative light. In spring of 2008, majorities in 21 of 23 countries surveyed outside of the U.S. said that what happens in the American economy affects economic conditions in their own country. More than 80% took this view in nine countries: Japan, South Korea, Australia, Britain, Germany, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and France.

Interestingly, the only two countries in which less than a majority said the U.S. has a significant impact were China and Pakistan. Slightly less than half in China (46%) held this view, as did just 41% of Pakistanis (35% of Pakistanis do not offer an opinion).

In regions throughout the world, people who believe the U.S. economy influences their own economy tend to say it is a negative rather than a positive influence. Majorities or pluralities in 14 of the 23 non-U.S. publics surveyed considered U.S. economic influence to be negative. Seventy percent or more of those polled expressed this view in Britain (72%), Germany (72%), Australia (71%), Turkey (70%) and France (70%).

In six nations, 10% or fewer believed the U.S. economy positively affects their economy. Positive assessments were especially rare in several nations where anti-American sentiments have run high in recent years, such as Turkey (only 4% saw the impact as good), Argentina (4%), and Pakistan (6%).

In no country did a majority say the U.S. economy is having a positive effect, although Nigerians, Indians and South Africans were more likely to characterize it as a positive effect than a negative one.

Overwhelmingly, Americans agreed with the rest of the world on this issue — 61% said the U.S. economy is having a negative impact, while just 20% said it is positive.

A New Source of Anti-Americanism?

Widespread opposition to U.S. foreign policy has largely driven the rise in negative views about the U.S. over the course of this decade, but it is clear that America’s role in the global economic downturn may also pose a new challenge to the country’s image.

Even prior to the current crisis, many around the world were critical of America’s role in the global economy. In a 47-nation survey by Pew in 2007,2 at least half of those surveyed in 32 nations said that U.S. policies contribute to the gap between rich and poor countries.

Writing in the Washington Post, author David Rothkopf notes the widespread perception that the U.S. contributes to global inequality, and finds the seeds of a “new anti-Americanism” in the current financial crisis: “An important dimension of this new anti-Americanism relates to Washington’s role as the architect, champion and primary beneficiary of a global system that was widely seen to benefit the few at the expense of the many.”

Still, major elements of that global system remain quite popular throughout most of the world. Pew polling has consistently found widespread support for free markets, multinational corporations, and international trade. Even in many countries where attitudes toward the U.S. have turned sharply negative in recent years, American ideas about economics are widely embraced. Nearly everywhere, people are worried about the global economy, but whether the current downturn will result in greater doubts about these key features of globalization — or in greater anti-Americanism — remains to be seen.