December 4, 2017

How Americans and Germans view their countries’ relationship

The relationship between the United States and Germany has been a cornerstone of the liberal international order for decades. From the Marshall Plan to early entry into NATO to German reunification and the post-Cold War era, the two countries have been engaged together in major historical events while facing many of the same challenges to both security and prosperity.

Despite this shared history, the future of U.S.-German relations is unclear. People in the two countries differ in their views of the bilateral relationship, according to parallel surveys fielded in the U.S. by Pew Research Center and in Germany by Körber-Stiftung. For example, while many Americans say European allies like Germany should spend more on defense, most Germans are opposed to growing their country’s defense budget. (The results of the surveys will be among the topics of discussion at Tuesday’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum.)

Here are six key findings from the surveys:

1Americans and Germans have quite different opinions about whether the current relationship between the two countries is good or bad. Almost seven-in-ten Americans (68%) say relations between the U.S. and Germany are good, while only 22% say they are bad.

Meanwhile, a majority of Germans (56%) say that relations with the U.S. are at least somewhat bad, with only 42% saying they are positive.

2Americans and Germans differ when people in each country are asked which nations are their first and second most important partners. Combining both first and second mentions, Americans name Great Britain more than any other country (31%), followed by China (24%), Germany (12%), Israel (12%) and Canada (10%).

In Germany, France gathers the most votes as either first or second most important partner (63%), followed by the U.S. (43%). Lagging far behind in the eyes of Germans are Russia (11%), China (7%) and Great Britain (6%).

Of note, 17% of Germans point to the U.S. as their country’s first most important foreign policy partner, while only 5% of Americans do the same when it comes to Germany.

3People in the two countries have different views about what the levels of national defense spending should be in Europe. A plurality of Americans (45%) say European allies should increase their defense spending, while 32% of Germans say the same about their own defense budget. In contrast, roughly half of Germans (51%) say Germany should maintain its current military budget, and 13% want to spend less on their nation’s defense.

4Americans and Germans have different views about what the most important aspect of the U.S.-German relationship is. Roughly a third of Americans say the most important aspects of the relationship – from a list of three options – are security and defense ties (34%) and economic and trade ties (33%). About one-in-five (21%) name shared democratic values as the pre-eminent aspect of the relationship.

Most Germans, by contrast, say economic connections are the most critical (45%), with about a third saying democratic values are the keystone of the transatlantic relationship (35%). Only 16% of Germans cite defense ties.

5Americans are more likely than their German counterparts to say other countries do too little in global affairs. Roughly two-thirds of Americans say China (66%) and Russia (65%) do too little to help solve global problems. About half say the same about the United Nations, and 45% of Americans hold this view about the European Union. However, Americans are split on whether Germany is doing too little (39%) or the right amount (40%).

Germans, on the other hand, have more mixed views. While pluralities in Germany say the UN, Russia and China are doing too little, 46% say the EU is doing enough. And nearly half say that NATO is doing the right amount to help solve the world’s problems, roughly the same share of Americans (48%) who say the Atlantic defense organization is not doing enough.

Germans are divided on whether the U.S. is doing too little (39%) or too much (39%) to help solve global problems.

6Increased cooperation with other countries is generally supported in both nations. In a Körber-Stiftung-sponsored survey fielded in Germany just before federal elections, people were asked whether Germany should cooperate more or less with various powers also included in Pew Research Center’s survey. Majorities said their country should cooperate more with each of these powers, but there were large variations in the strength of the responses. For example, nine-in-ten in Germany said the country should cooperate more with France. But only 56% of Germans wanted to cooperate more with the U.S., while about a third would cooperate less (34%).

When the Center asked the same question of Americans in October, majorities in the U.S. also said their country should cooperate more with Great Britain, France, Germany and China. But only 43% of people in the U.S. say their country should cooperate more with Russia, while 44% would cooperate less with the Kremlin. This is in stark contrast to opinion in Germany, where 78% want to cooperate more with Moscow.

Note: See full U.S. topline results and methodology here (PDF).

Topics: Europe, International Threats and Allies, Western Europe, International Governments and Institutions, North America, Global Balance of Power

  1. Photo of Jacob Poushter

    is a senior researcher focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.