August 9, 2017

Few see EU as world’s top economic power despite its relative might

The European Union ranks as the world’s second-largest economy by gross domestic product, but few people globally see it as an economic leader ahead of China or the United States, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Across the 38 nations in the survey, a median of just 9% view the countries of the EU as the world’s leading economic power. By comparison, 42% name the U.S. and 32% name China, while an additional 7% name Japan.

Even in the 10 EU countries included in the survey, a median of only 9% see the EU as the world’s top economy. By contrast, 42% name China and 38% name the U.S., with an additional 7% naming Japan. (Europe is the only region globally where more people today see China than the U.S. as the world’s leading economy.)

The comparatively low international rating of the EU’s economy comes despite its economic power – at least as measured by gross domestic product in purchasing power parity dollars (i.e., exchange rates adjusted for differences in the prices of goods and services across countries). By this measure, EU member countries collectively generated $20.3 trillion in GDP. The EU trails only China and ranks ahead of the U.S. and Japan. 

As recently as 2014, the EU outranked all other countries in terms of GDP, but even then, few people globally cited it as the world’s top economy, according to earlier Pew Research Center surveys.

The country most likely to name the EU as the world’s top economy in the new survey is Germany, itself the world’s fifth-largest economy by GDP. Still, only one-in-four Germans say the countries of the EU are the world’s leading economic power, compared with 41% who name China and 24% who name the U.S.

The only other European countries where one-in-ten people or more see the EU as the world’s top economy are the Netherlands (13%) and Poland (10%). Outside of Europe, other countries where at least one-in-ten name the EU include Jordan (15%), Tunisia (15%), Colombia (14%), Vietnam (14%), Canada (11%), Mexico (11%), Tanzania (11%) and South Africa (10%).

Only 3% of Italians see the EU as the top economy, while a slightly larger share (7%) name Japan and about four-in-ten each say the U.S. or China. And just 5% of Greeks cite the EU or Japan as the leading economy, while 39% name China and 44% say the U.S. No more than 5% of Italians or Greeks have ever named the EU as the world’s leading economy since the question was first asked in these nations in 2012.

Countries outside the EU where 5% of people or fewer say the EU is the leading economy include Nigeria (4%), Lebanon (3%), Senegal (3%), South Korea (3%) and India (2%).

While few Europeans see the EU as the world’s top economy, Americans are far more positive about the status of their own economy. About half of Americans (51%) say the U.S. is the world’s top economic power, even though the U.S. ranks below the EU when it comes to GDP. (On a per capita basis based on purchasing power parity dollars, however, the U.S. outranks the EU, as well as China and Japan.)

The Japanese, much like Europeans, tend not to see their own country as the world’s top economic power. Just 7% of Japanese say this, and Japan does in fact rank behind China, the EU and the U.S. in GDP.

Topics: Europe, Globalization and Trade, World Economies

  1. is an intern at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Dorothy Manevich

    is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.

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2 Comments

  1. James Linnane6 days ago

    Economic power includes more than just GDP. Trade is important. Much of EU trade is internal. China exports manufactures and imports raw materials. My impression is that China does not trade much in services. Then there is the question of clout. The EU has no military might, it has the US provide its military defense, even regionally. China is an important regional power not trusted by its neighbor. The US has defense treaties and bases all over the world. The EU has no diplomatic voice except on sufferance of its major members. The UK and France will not surrender their right to independent military and diplomatic power and Germany still has to atone for its history.

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  2. Packard Day1 week ago

    All that the EU lacks is unity. Unless and until the EU becomes more of an economic nation state (e.g. China, US, Russia, Australia) it will always be viewed like the stock market’s take on the BRIC (i.e. Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries. That is, a collection of mutually exclusive and oftentimes not particularly inextricably intertwined sovereign entities.

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