America’s global image plummeted following the election of President Donald Trump, amid widespread opposition to his administration’s policies and a widely shared lack of confidence in his leadership. Now, as the second anniversary of Trump’s election approaches, a new 25-nation Pew Research Center survey finds that Trump’s international image remains poor, while ratings for the United States are much lower than during Barack Obama’s presidency.
The poll also finds that international publics express significant concerns about America’s role in world affairs. Large majorities say the U.S. doesn’t take into account the interests of countries like theirs when making foreign policy decisions. Many believe the U.S. is doing less to help solve major global challenges than it used to. And there are signs that American soft power is waning as well, including the fact that, while the U.S. maintains its reputation for respecting individual liberty, fewer believe this than a decade ago.
Even though America’s image has declined since Trump’s election, on balance the U.S. still receives positive marks – across the 25 nations polled, a median of 50% have a favorable opinion of the U.S., while 43% offer an unfavorable rating. However, a median of only 27% say they have confidence in President Trump to do the right thing in world affairs; 70% lack confidence in him.
Frustrations with the U.S. in the Trump era are particularly common among some of America’s closest allies and partners. In Germany, where just 10% have confidence in Trump, three-in-four people say the U.S. is doing less these days to address global problems, and the share of the public who believe the U.S. respects personal freedoms is down 35 percentage points since 2008. In France, only 9% have confidence in Trump, while 81% think the U.S. doesn’t consider the interests of countries like France when making foreign policy decisions.
Critical views are also widespread among America’s closest neighbors. Only 25% of Canadians rate Trump positively, more than six-in-ten (63%) say the U.S. is doing less than in the past to address global problems, and 82% think the U.S. ignores Canada’s interests when making policy. Meanwhile, Trump’s lowest ratings on the survey are found in Mexico, where just 6% express confidence in his leadership.
One exception to this pattern is Israel. After a year in which the Trump administration generated international controversy by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his positive rating jumped to 69%, up from 56% in 2017.
Around the world, publics are divided about the direction of American power: Across the 25 nations surveyed, a median of 31% say the U.S. plays a more important role in the world today than it did ten years ago; 25% say it plays a less important role; and 35% believe the U.S. is as important as it was a decade ago.
In contrast, views about Chinese power are clear: A median of 70% say China’s role on the world stage has grown over the past 10 years. Still, by a slim margin, more people name the U.S. as the world’s leading economic power (a median of 39% say the U.S., 34% say China).
And despite the unease many feel about the U.S. at the moment, the idea of a U.S.-led world order is still attractive to most. When asked which would be better for the world, having China or the U.S. as the top global power, people in nearly every country tend to select the U.S., and this is particularly common among some of China’s Asia-Pacific neighbors, such as Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Australia.
These are among the major findings from a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 26,112 respondents in 25 countries from May 20 to Aug. 12, 2018. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 use additional data from a Pew Research Center survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted from May 14 to June 15, 2018.
U.S. receives some of its most negative ratings in Europe
Although perceptions of the U.S. are on balance positive, they vary considerably among the nations surveyed. Ten of the 25 countries in this year’s survey are European Union member states, and across these EU nations a median of just 43% offer a favorable opinion of the U.S. Meanwhile, majorities in four of the five Asia-Pacific nations polled give the U.S. a positive rating, including 83% in the Philippines, one of the highest ratings in the survey. The U.S. also gets high marks in South Korea, where 80% have a positive view of the U.S. and confidence in President Trump has increased over the past year from 17% to 44%.
As has largely been the case since Pew Research Center’s first Global Attitudes survey in 2002, attitudes toward the U.S. in sub-Saharan Africa are largely positive, with Kenyans, Nigerians and South Africans expressing mostly favorable opinions in this year’s poll. The three Latin American nations polled offer differing views about the U.S., with Brazilians voicing mostly favorable reviews, while Argentines and Mexicans are mostly negative. And the two Middle Eastern nations in the study – Israel and Tunisia – offer strikingly different assessments.
The country giving the U.S. its lowest rating in the survey, and the place where the biggest drop in U.S. favorability has taken place over the past year, is Russia. Just 26% of Russians have a favorable opinion of the U.S., compared with 41% in 2017. A 55% majority of Russians say relations have gotten worse in the past year, and the share of the public with a positive view of Trump has dropped from 53% to 19%.
Good reviews for Merkel and Macron, poor marks for Xi, Putin, Trump
The survey examined attitudes toward five world leaders, and overall Donald Trump receives the most negative ratings among the five. A median of 70% across the 25 nations polled lack confidence in the American leader. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping also receive mostly negative reviews.
In contrast, opinions about German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are generally positive. Both leaders are mostly popular in the EU, although there are regional divides within Europe, with Merkel and Macron receiving favorable ratings in the Northern European nations surveyed and less stellar reviews in Eastern and Southern Europe.
European attitudes toward Trump are strikingly negative, especially when compared with the ratings his predecessor received while in office. Looking at four European nations Pew Research Center has surveyed consistently since 2003 reveals a clear pattern regarding perceptions of American presidents. George W. Bush, whose foreign policies were broadly unpopular in Europe, got low ratings during his presidency, while the opposite was true for Barack Obama, who enjoyed strong approval in these four nations during his time in office. Following the 2016 election, confidence in the president plunged, with Trump’s ratings resembling what Bush received near the end of his second term (although Trump’s numbers are up slightly in the United Kingdom this year).
In several European nations, Trump receives higher ratings from supporters of right-wing populist parties. For example, among people in the UK who have a favorable view of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), 53% express confidence in Trump, compared with only 21% among those with an unfavorable view of UKIP. Similar divides exist among supporters and detractors of right-wing populist parties in Sweden, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. However, it is worth noting that, other than in the UK, there is no European country in which more than half of right-wing populist party supporters say they have confidence in Trump.
Few think the U.S. takes their interests into account
A common criticism about American foreign policy over the past decade and a half has been that the U.S. only looks after its own interests in world affairs, ignoring the interests of other nations. As Pew Research Center surveys showed, this belief was especially prevalent during George W. Bush’s presidency, when many around the world thought the U.S. was pursuing unilateralist, and unpopular, policies. Strong opposition to the Iraq War and other elements of Bush’s foreign policy led to rising complaints about the U.S. acting alone and ignoring the interests and concerns of other nations.
Opinions shifted following Barack Obama’s election, with more people saying the U.S. considers their country’s interest, although even during the Obama years the prevailing global sentiment was that the U.S. doesn’t necessarily consider other countries. Now, the Trump presidency has brought an increase in the number of people in many nations saying the U.S. essentially doesn’t listen to countries like theirs when making foreign policy.
This pattern is especially pronounced among some of America’s top allies and partners. For instance, while the share of the French public who believe the U.S. considers their national interest has not been very high at any point over the past decade and a half, it reached a low point near the end of Bush’s second term (11% in 2007), rose somewhat during Obama’s presidency (35% in 2013) and has declined once more under Trump. Today, just 18% in France say the U.S. considers the interests of countries like theirs when making policy.
America’s reputation as a defender of individual liberty has generally been strong in Pew Research Center surveys since we first started asking about it in 2008. The prevailing view among the publics surveyed has typically been that the U.S. government respects the personal liberties of its people, and that is true again in this year’s poll. However, this opinion has become less common over time, and the decline has been particularly sharp among key U.S. partners in Europe, North America and Asia.
The decline began during the Obama administration following revelations about the National Security Agency’s electronic eavesdropping on communications around the world, and it has continued during the first two years of the Trump presidency. The drop is especially prominent in Western Europe, where the share of the public saying Washington respects personal freedom has declined sharply since 2013.
The same pattern is found among several other U.S. allies as well, including Canada, where the percentage saying the U.S. respects individual freedom has dropped from 75% to 38% since 2013, and Australia, where it has gone from 72% to 45%.
Respondents to the survey were read a list of seven major nations, and for each one, were asked whether they think it is playing a more important, less important, or as important of a role in the world compared with 10 years ago. Among the seven countries tested, China stands apart: A median of 70% across the nations polled say Beijing plays a more important role today than a decade ago. Half or more in 23 of 25 countries express this view.
Many also say this about Russia. A median of 41% believe Moscow’s role on the world stage has grown over the past decade, and majorities hold this view in Greece, Israel, Tunisia and Russia itself. Overall, people are split on whether Germany’s role is greater than it was 10 years ago or about the same, but many in Europe see Germany’s role as more influential. On the other hand, Europeans are particularly likely to think the UK is less important now.
There is no real consensus in views of America’s prominence in world affairs. A median of 35% believe it is as important as it was 10 years ago, while 31% say it is more important and 25% say less. Japan is the only country with a majority saying that Washington plays a less important role. Meanwhile, Israelis, Nigerians and Kenyans are particularly likely to think the U.S. is more important than it used to be.Most still want U.S., not China, as top power
In addition to being asked about whether major powers are rising, falling or staying about the same, respondents were asked the following question about whether they would prefer the U.S. or China to be the top global power: “Thinking about the future, if you had to choose, which of the following scenarios would be better for the world: the U.S. is the world’s leading power or China is the world’s leading power?” Results show that the U.S. is overwhelmingly the top choice.
The U.S. is named more often than China in every country surveyed except three: Argentina, Tunisia and Russia, although in many nations significant numbers volunteer that it would be good for the world if both or neither were the leading power.
Some of America’s allies in Asia and elsewhere are particularly likely to prefer a future in which the U.S. is the top global power. Two-thirds or more hold this opinion in Japan, the Philippines, Sweden, South Korea, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.