As the Trump administration embarks on a new course in foreign policy within its first year in office, roughly two-thirds of Americans report believing that the United States is less respected by other countries than it has been in the past, according to a recent Pew Research Centre poll of US adults. The public has long held this view, including majorities when Barack Obama and George W. Bush held office.
Concern about the US image abroad may have some basis in fact. Results from the centre’s 37-nation spring survey within months of Donald Trump’s ascendancy found that, globally, a median of 49 per cent had a favourable opinion of the US, down from 64 per cent at the end of the Obama administration. Today’s resurgent doubts about the US can be traced, in part, to the lack of public confidence in Trump and popular opposition to his stand on issues like climate change, free trade and immigration. History suggests anti-Americanism can have consequences for US foreign policy objectives, though it’s too soon – yet – to judge the impact of souring views of Uncle Sam.
Across Europe there have been large shifts in public views of the US: favourable opinion is down 28 points in Spain, 26 points in the Netherlands and 22 points in Germany. Clear majorities in those nations now hold unfavourable views. And, despite the “special relationship” between the US and the United Kingdom, only 50 per cent of the British view the US favourably, down 11 points from 2016.
Latin Americans are lukewarm, at best, toward the US. About half of Colombians, Peruvians, Brazilians and Venezuelans express a positive attitude. Mexicans are unfavourable by more than two to one – 30 per cent positive, 65 per cent negative.
In the Middle East, around eight in 10 Israelis are positive toward the US. But they stand isolated in the region.
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The US remains popular in Asia, although there are signs of slippage. Support is up in Vietnam, 84 per cent, up 6 points, while positive but declining in the Philippines, 78 per cent, down 14 points, and South Korea, 75 per cent, down 9 points. A majority of Japanese, 57 per cent, are favourable towards the United States, but that support is down 15 points.
A notable exception to the near universal decline in US standing: Russia, where positive views are up 26 points since 2016 to 41 per cent today.
Since 2002, when Pew Research first asked about America’s image abroad, favourable opinion of the US has frequently tracked with confidence in the president. Views of Trump are significantly lower than those of Obama at the end of his term. A median of 22 per cent has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs, compared with a median of 64 per cent who expressed confidence in Obama. The decline is especially pronounced among the populations of some of America’s closest allies: Sweden, down 83 points; Germany, 75 points; France, 70 points; the UK, 57 points; and Japan, 54 points.
In only two countries does Trump get higher marks than Obama at the end of his tenure: Israel with 56 per cent confidence, up 7 points, and Russia with 53 per cent, up 42 points.
A possible new wave of anti-Americanism may have consequences on policies in the US and abroad, and the past suggests that foreign leaders and governments may add anti-Americanism to their political calculus. In 2003, when just 25 per cent of Germans had a favourable opinion of the US, then German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder refused to go along with the US-led invasion of Iraq after relying on anti-American sentiment in his successful 2002 re-election campaign. Similarly, the Turkish Parliament refused to allow American troops to invade Iraq from the north, a decision made as 12 per cent of Turks saw the US favourably.
Sometimes anti-Americanism backfires as political opportunity. In the 2017 German election, Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz attempted to use anti-Americanism to rally support for his party. In the end, Social Democrats fared worse than in any recent German election. Schultz may have misread public opinion. The Pew Research Centre finds that despite mistrust of Trump and falling opinion of the US, Europeans have not lost faith in the nation as an ally.
So history leaves open the question of how anti-Americanism may influence domestic and international politics. New answers may be on the horizon, however, with the image of the US widely suffering once again and confidence in the US president at or near historic lows in key countries. And the new administration is only a year old.
Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Centre. Copyright: YaleGlobal. Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online.