September 14, 2009

U.S. Image Improved in Canada

But Many Differ With Obama on Afghanistan

by Richard Wike, Associate Director, Pew Global Attitudes Project

As in much of the world, America’s image has bounced back in Canada over the last year. Positive ratings for the United States have become more common, and President Barack Obama receives considerably higher marks than George W. Bush did when he was in the White House. Even so, as Obama prepares to meet with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, many Canadians say that the U.S. economy is having a negative impact on their country, and many disagree with Obama on one of his top foreign policy priorities: the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. Image Up in Canada

During the years of the Bush presidency, America’s image never grew quite as negative in Canada as it did in much of Western Europe, but it nonetheless declined substantially. In 2002, 72% of Canadians expressed a positive opinion of the U.S.; by 2007 only 55% held this view.

However, the most recent Pew Global Attitudes survey, conducted in May and June of this year, finds that 68% of Canadians now have a favorable view of the U.S., while just 28% express an unfavorable opinion.

Ratings for the U.S. are slightly less positive among younger Canadians — 58% of those ages 18-29 have a positive view, compared with 69% of 30-49 year-olds and 70% of those ages 50 and older. Residents of Quebec (56% favorable) and British Columbia (57%) also tend to give slightly less positive ratings than those from other regions.

Obviously, much of the change in Canada and elsewhere is tied to the new American administration. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) Canadians say they have confidence in Barack Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs. More than three-quarters (78%) say they generally approve of his international policies. Attitudes toward former President George W. Bush were quite different — in 2007, only 28% had confidence in Bush to do the right thing.

Concerns About Afghanistan, America’s Economic Impact

While Obama and his overall foreign policy are very popular, his approach to Afghanistan, where nearly 3,000 Canadian troops are currently deployed, is not. Half of Canadians say U.S. and NATO forces should withdraw as soon as possible, while just 43% believe troops should remain until the situation has stabilized. And most (55%) say they disapprove of Obama’s decision earlier this year to send additional troops to Afghanistan; only 42% approve.

Canadians are somewhat less likely than publics in some other key NATO allies to say troops should stay in Afghanistan — 50% in France, 48% in Germany and 46% in Britain think troops should stay in Afghanistan until it is more stable. When the poll was conducted in May and June, 57% of Americans wanted troops to remain, although a recent ABC News poll, conducted Aug. 13-17, suggests American support for the war is declining.

There are clear differences on this issue among supporters of the two major Canadian political parties. A majority (56%) of those who identify with Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party say the U.S. and NATO should keep troops in Afghanistan, compared with just 44% of those who identify with the opposition Liberal Party.

There is also a sizeable gender gap on this question, with men (49%) more likely than women (38%) to think troops should remain.

Another challenge for Obama and American policy toward Canada is the way Canadians currently assess the economic influence of their neighbor to the south. Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) say that right now the U.S. economy is having a negative impact on Canada’s economy. Of the 24 nations outside of the U.S. included in the Pew Global Attitudes survey, Canadians are the most likely to say the U.S. economy has had a negative impact on their country. Only 12% of Canadians think the U.S. is having a positive influence.

Many Canadians also believe the U.S. is in relative economic decline. Indeed, they are about as likely to identify China as the world’s leading economic power (37%) as they are to name the U.S. (35%). And just over half believe China either will replace (44%) or has already replaced (8%) the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower.