No Difference a Year Makes

One year on from the NSA surveillance revelations, guess what: the world shrugged. People still, more or less, like America.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A country’s brand is a valued commodity, especially when that nation is the world’s largest economic and strategic power. And, despite the declinists, America’s image remains strong in much of the world, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Despite anger with Washington over U.S. spying on foreign leaders and foreign nationals, widespread opposition to U.S. drone strikes, disagreements about what to do in the Middle East, and other recurring tensions, majorities in 30 of 43 countries express a favorable opinion of the United States. And, 0verall, attitudes toward the United States are largely unchanged from 2013. This suggests that despite a perception at home that U.S. influence abroad is waning, there is little evidence of that erosion overseas.

For nearly a decade and a half, the U.S. global image has been on a roller-coaster ride. At the beginning of the century, America was seen favorably by majorities in most of the countries where comparable public opinion data are available. Over the next few years, however, the bottom fell out of U.S. approval numbers, thanks in part to opposition to the American invasion of Iraq. It rallied in some nations, even soaring by the end of the decade (thanks to the election of Barack Obama), at least in Europe and parts of Asia and Latin America. But after slipping a little bit again, Brand America has stabilized in 2014.

There is no evidence of any rise in anti-Americanism in most of Western Europe, which was home to great animosity toward Washington in the middle of the last decade. Half or more of the publics in six of seven European nations, including 78 percent of Italians, 75 percent of the French, and 73 percent of Poles, voice positive views of Uncle Sam.

Only in Germany, where U.S. favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the image of the United States slipped significantly in Europe, likely the result of the U.S. National Security Agency’s eavesdropping on German communications, including those of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, roughly half of Germans (51 percent) still see America in a sympathetic light.

Further to the east there’s more love lost: Roughly seven in 10 (71 percent) Russians hold an unfavorable opinion of the United States. About half (51 percent) the Russian public expressed a positive view of Washington in 2013. Today, only 23 percent hold a favorable opinion, a drop of 28 percentage points. Russians’ sentiments toward the United States have been up and down in the last few years (57 percent positive as recently as 2010), but the current numbers are not surprising given the growing Moscow-Washington tension over Crimea, Ukraine, and U.S. economic sanctions against some leading Russians.

Southern Europe also sees pockets of anti-American sentiment. More than six in 10 Greeks express a negative view of the United States (63 percent unfavorable versus 34 percent favorable). Greeks have been quite down on America the last three years, at a time of growing frustration over their economic situation.

In Asia, things are rosier; majorities in eight of 11 nations express a positive opinion of the United States. This includes roughly nine in 10 Filipinos (92 percent), eight in 10 South Koreans (82 percent), and three quarters of Bangladeshis (76 percent) and Vietnamese (76 percent). Even half of the Chinese surveyed give America a thumbs-up. Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid from Washington, the Pakistanis are strongly anti-American, with just 14 percent expressing a favorable assessment of the United States, compared with 59 percent unfavorable.

In eight of nine Latin American countries, majorities see the United States in a favorable light. Salvadorans (80 percent) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72 percent) and Nicaraguans (71 percent). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas in recent years, 62 percent of Venezuelans still have a favorable opinion of the United States.

But less than four in 10 Argentines (36 percent) are positively disposed toward Washington. This animosity is long-standing. In the seven surveys that the Pew Research Center has conducted in Argentina since 2002, never more than about four in 10 Argentines have expressed favorable sentiment toward the United States.

Africans voice particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80 percent), Ghanaians (77 percent), Tanzanians (75 percent), and Senegalese (74 percent).

The Middle East is the sole region where anti-Americanism is both deep and widespread. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians and Jordanians and 73 percent of Turks voice a negative opinion of the United States. Only 10 percent of Egyptians, 12 percent of Jordanians, and 19 percent of Turks have a favorable view. The Tunisians are divided: 42 percent positive, 47 percent negative. Israelis (84 percent) comprise the only public in the region that holds a favorable opinion of America.

Overall, the global public’s view of the United States is largely unchanged from 2013. The median favorable assessment in 2014 is 62 percent, compared with 63 percent in 2013, in the 35 countries surveyed in both years.

Anti-Americanism is still alive and well in the Middle East and Russia. And German disappointment toward Washington is rising. But, for the most part, America’s image abroad remains strong. Americans may think that the United States has less power and influence overseas than it did a decade ago, but most foreign publics don’t agree.

Bruce Stokes is an associate fellow at Chatham House and a nonresident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Twitter: @bruceestokes

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