June 17, 2010

Obama More Popular Abroad Than At Home, Global Image of U.S. Continues to Benefit

Chapter 3. Economic Issues

In nearly all nations surveyed, people are unhappy with the direction of their country, disgruntled about the state of their nation’s economy and divided about the economic future. Most fault their government for the bad economic times and think it is doing a poor job coping with current troubles. There is, however, widespread support in most leading economies for more financial regulation. Europeans are divided over the impact of European economic integration. Yet faith in capitalism and globalization remains strong.

National Discontent Widespread

People around the world are largely dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country. But this bleak mood showed some signs of easing over the last year, with levels of dissatisfaction decreasing in ten countries, staying about the same in eight and increasing in only three.

In 19 of 22 countries surveyed majorities are unhappy with their nation’s direction. At least three-quarters of Lebanese (86%), Pakistanis (84%), Kenyans (82%), Mexicans (79%), Japanese (76%) and Spanish (76%) are discontented. Roughly six-in-ten Americans also are dissatisfied.

As might be expected, some of this discontent tracks national economic fortunes. Spanish dissatisfaction has risen 31 percentage points since spring 2007, before the economic crisis hit. Additionally, there has been a 22-point rise in unhappiness in Jordan and an 18-point increase in Egypt over that period. In that three-year time frame, Spain’s growth turned sharply negative and the Egyptian and Jordanian economies slowed dramatically. Similarly, strong majorities of the Japanese have been unhappy with their nation’s direction throughout the decade as their economy has struggled.

But dissatisfaction may reflect other concerns. For example, in France dissatisfaction is somewhat lower now than before the recession, even though the economy is underperforming.

Only the Chinese are clearly satisfied with the way things are going in their country; 87% express a positive opinion. Chinese contentment is unchanged from last year, but satisfaction has improved dramatically – 39 percentage points – since the first Pew Global Attitudes survey in 2002.

Economy Recovers But Not Enough

Economists report that the world is recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. But strong majorities in most nations still give their country’s current economic situation a thumbs down.

In most nations, the portion of the public that thinks their economy is doing well is only a fraction of what it was before the recession hit. In 2007, in the United States, 50% of the public thought the economy was doing well. In 2010, only 24% thinks so. Similarly, in France (13%) and Japan (12%), the portion of the public saying their economy is good is less than half the number who felt that way just three years ago.

And almost everywhere people remain fairly glum about economic conditions. Only about one-in-eight people in France, Spain, Japan and Lebanon believe economic conditions are good. And about one-in-five British, Egyptians, Pakistanis and South Koreans concur.

Nevertheless, in nearly half the countries surveyed people gave higher marks to their national economy in 2010 than in 2009.  And the number of people saying their economy was good grew sharply in some countries, by 24 percentage points in Poland and Kenya and 16 points in Germany. Only in four nations did the assessment of the national economy go down, most notably in India, by 16 points.

The Chinese are the most positive about their domestic economic situation, by far; about nine-in-ten Chinese say times are good. By comparison, in Brazil, where ratings of the national economy are the second-highest, 62% offer this positive assessment.

Unconvinced About the Future

Despite some improvement in their assessment of their current economic situation, publics remain unconvinced about the next 12 months. In most parts of the world, there has been almost no uptick in economic optimism in the last year. The exceptions are Kenya, where confidence is up 31 percentage points, Poland, where it is up 15 points, and Nigeria, where it is up 12 points.

The most hopeful about economic conditions improving over the next year are Chinese, Nigerians and Brazilians, at least three-quarters of whom are upbeat. And one-in-three Brazilians and Nigerians think their economy will improve a lot.

Pluralities in Britain, Germany and Spain also think economic conditions will get better. France is the lone exception among Western Europeans, where a plurality of the population actually expects the economy to worsen. This general European optimism is particularly notable because the survey was conducted in the last two weeks in April as the high profile public debate over the implications of the Greek economic crisis was building.

Yet, worldwide, majorities or pluralities in only 11 of 22 nations expect conditions to improve in the short run. The least optimistic are the Japanese and the Pakistanis; half of Pakistanis actually think their economy will worsen in the next 12 months. Pessimism is particularly pronounced in the Middle East as well, where about half of Lebanese, 38% of Egyptians and 35% of Jordanians foresee a bleak economic future.

Blame and Responsibility

Most people blame their own government for their current economic problems, although the Europeans are most critical of the financial sector. Despite reason to believe that the recent economic crisis emanated from the United States, people in many parts of the world are more likely to hold themselves responsible than they are to point the finger at Uncle Sam.

In most of the countries surveyed in Asia, Africa and Latin America overwhelming majorities of those who think their economy is bad say their government is responsible. About nine-in-ten Indonesians, Kenyans, Nigerians, South Koreans, Pakistanis, Mexicans and Lebanese name the government as the principal or secondary culprit for their recent economic misfortunes.

In contrast, Europeans strongly blame banks and other financial institutions for their troubles, with Germans and British the most likely to blame those institutions.

In the wake of the financial crisis that triggered the global recession, relatively few in most of these countries blame the U.S. for the downturn. People in Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon and Nigeria, among others, are more likely to say the responsibility for their current economic problems lies with themselves and their fellow countrymen rather than with the United States.

Governments’ Poor Job

Whoever is accountable, half or more of the population in 16 of 22 countries surveyed thinks their government is doing a poor job dealing with the economy. This includes more than two-thirds of the people in Japan (84%), Korea (72%), Egypt (72%), Lebanon (71%), Spain (69%) and Argentina (68%). But only half of Americans (50%) express such dissatisfaction. And Americans are more likely to say their government is doing a good job than people in 14 of the 21 other nations polled.

Satisfaction with government’s management of the economy tracks a positive assessment of the current economy and high hopes for the future. The Chinese, Brazilians and Indians are all among the most upbeat about economic conditions, the most optimistic about the next 12 months and most likely to praise their public officials’ handling of the economy.

People in most major advanced economies would like their governments to do more, at least when it comes to regulating the financial sector. This is particularly the case in Western Europe, where overwhelming majorities – 91% in Germany, 85% in Britain, 78% in France and 72% in Spain – think it would be a good idea for the government to more strictly regulate the way large financial companies, such as banks, do business. A smaller portion of Americans (62%) agree. However, the Asians surveyed are not so sure more regulation is in order. Barely half of South Koreans (52%) and only a third of Japanese (34%) think tighter strictures are a good idea.

 

A Europe Divided

The economic crisis has affected attitudes in Europe, where Europeans are of two minds: They are supportive of the main institutions of a united Europe and skeptical about European economic integration.

European attitudes toward the EU remain largely positive. Strong majorities of Poles (81%), Spanish (77%), French (64%) and Germans (62%) and a plurality of the British (49%) see the EU in a favorable light, sentiment that is largely unchanged from 2009. And overall approval is stable even in France, where a quarter of the public thinks the European Union is the principal or secondary cause of France’s current economic problems.

And the financial market turbulence recently afflicting the euro has not undermined public support for the single European currency. Only about a third of French (34%), Germans (32%) and Spanish (30%) would like to return to their original national currencies.

But Europeans disagree over providing financial assistance to other EU members that face major financial problems (interviews were conducted prior to the May 9 EU decision to provide financial assistance to Greece). The British (61%) and Germans (56%) oppose such aid, while the French (53%) support it. As might be expected, those who view the EU favorably in all three nations overwhelmingly back assistance.

The bailout is clearly a partisan issue in Britain, less so in Germany and not nearly as politically divisive in France. A majority of British who identify themselves as on the left of the political spectrum support providing financial assistance to fellow EU countries in distress. Only a third of British conservatives agree. And in both Britain and Germany, it is the lukewarm backing for aid by moderates that undermines overall public support for such action.

However, with respect to Greece, the initial recipient of aid from other European Union governments, only in Germany is anti-bailout sentiment accompanied by a preponderance of negative views of that debt-strapped nation. A majority of Germans (52%) have an unfavorable view of Greece, while majorities of French (65%) and British (60%) and half the Spanish (50%) still hold favorable views.

More broadly, despite generally positive support for the European Union, nearly two-thirds of the French (63%) and more than half the British (57%) think their economy has been weakened by European integration. Germans are evenly divided on the issue. A bare majority of Spanish say their economy has been strengthened. Only the Poles (68%) credit a united Europe with strengthening their economy.

Moreover, negative views about economic integration have grown over the years in Western Europe, by 23 percentage points in Spain, 19 points in France and 19 points in Britain since 1991. And, especially in Britain, sentiment on this issue divides along ideological lines. A slim majority (52%) of people on the left of the British political spectrum think European economic integration has strengthened their country, while only 28% of centrists and 33% of those on the right agree.

Markets and Globalization

Contrary to widespread fears that the global recession would undermine public support for free markets and globalization, backing remains strong. Majorities in 19 of the 22 nations surveyed think people are better off in a free market economy, even though some people are rich and some people are poor. The strongest support is in China (84%) and Nigeria (82%), where eight-in-ten people back capitalism. Only in Japan (55%) does a majority disagree that most people are better off in free markets. Overall, support for a market-based economy is up in nine nations and down in seven, with the largest improvement in Nigeria (16 percentage points) and the greatest erosion of support in Kenya (12 points).

Overwhelming majorities in most countries say growing world trade is good for their country. The weakest such backing is in Egypt and the U.S., where only about two-thirds of the public favors economic globalization. But support for trade among Americans of all political persuasions has increased since 2008. And, contrary to the widely held view that Republicans are free traders and Democrats are protectionists, 75% of self-identified Democrats say trade is good for the U.S., up four percentage points from 2009, compared with only 61% of Republicans and 63% of independents, whose support remained unchanged.

With trade held in a favorable light by a large portion of the global public, the intensity of such feelings may be a better indicator of sentiment. More than six-in-ten Pakistanis (63%), half of Turks and almost as many Indians (47%), Kenyans (46%) and Lebanese (46%) say trade is very good for their country. But Americans (17%) and Japanese (16%) are far less passionate.

In one sign of the adverse impact of the global recession on China’s exports and thus on people’s jobs, only one-in-five Chinese now think trade is very good for China, down from 38% in 2007, before the downturn in world trade.

Which Is the Leading Economic Power?

In the global marketplace, majorities or pluralities in 14 of 22 nations think the U.S. is the world’s leading economic power. This view is especially common among South Koreans (77%), Turks (69%), Kenyans (61%), and Indians (60%). The U.S. is named least often as the world’s leading economic power in Germany (18%). The greatest falloff over the last year has been in Jordan, where the percentage naming the U.S. declined from 49% to 30%, and in Japan where it dropped from 58% to 40%.

China is clearly on the rise. Majorities or pluralities in eight nations say China is the economic leader. In 2009, people in only two countries saw China in that role. Today, roughly half of Germans (51%), Jordanians (50%), Japanese (50%) and French (47%) and 44% of the British assign the top spot to China. Even in the U.S., about equal proportions of the public accord economic superpower status to America (38%) and China (41%).

Since 2009, in 13 of the 21 countries for which trends are available, the portion of the public that views China as the world’s leading economic power has grown, including increases of 29 percentage points in Japan, 23 points in Germany and 21 points in Jordan. China scored significant gains in all the nations surveyed in the European Union and in the Middle East, the two regions where people are most likely to accord China the leading economic role.

But opinions in Asia vary. The perception that China’s is the world’s economic leader is highest in Japan (50%). However, only one-in-ten Indians (11%), one-in-seven South Koreans (15%) and one-in-five Pakistanis (21%) and Indonesians (20%) agree that China is the world’s leading economic power. The Chinese themselves are actually slightly less likely to place their country in the top position today (36%) than they were a year ago (41%).

The European Union is almost nowhere seen as an equal to the U.S. or China, with perceptions of the EU’s leading role mostly in single digits. The lone exception is in India, which has an equally low regard for both China and the EU. In both the U.S. and China, only 6% see the EU as the global economic leader. European publics’ faith in the EU as an economic superpower has also been undermined. The portion of the German public that sees the Brussels-based institution as the world’s top economic power has dropped from 36% to 19% in just the last year.