Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Global Unease With Major World Powers

Chapter 1. Views of the U.S. and American Foreign Policy

Over the last five years, America’s image has plummeted throughout much of the world, including sharp drops in favorability among traditional allies in Western Europe, as well as substantial declines in Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

In the past year alone, positive views of the U.S. have declined in Pakistan, China, Egypt, and Germany. However, opinions of the United States vary widely, and there continue to be regions where views of America are still decidedly positive.

U.S. Remains Popular in Africa

Notably, the U.S. continues to be extremely popular throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. Over three-quarters of those surveyed in Ivory Coast, Kenya, Ghana, Mali, and Ethiopia say they have a very or somewhat favorable impression of the U.S. Tanzania is the only African country included in the study in which fewer than half (46%) have a positive opinion of the United States.

Nearly nine-in-ten in Ivory Coast (88%) and Kenya (87%) express positive opinions of the U.S. – the highest among 47 countries surveyed, including the U.S. itself (80%). Favorable ratings for the U.S. in Kenya have risen seven points since 2002, while U.S. ratings in Ivory Coast are about the same as they were five years ago (85%). Still, even in Africa, America’s image has suffered in a few nations over the past five years, dropping 10 points in Uganda, nine points in South Africa, and seven points in Tanzania.

In Africa’s two most populous countries, Nigeria and Ethiopia, attitudes toward the U.S. are sharply divided along religious lines, with Christians much more likely than Muslims to take a positive view. In Ethiopia, Christians give the U.S. a nearly unanimous positive rating (93% favorable), while Muslims are evenly divided (48% favorable, 49% unfavorable). The pattern in Nigeria is almost identical – 94% of Nigeria’s Christians express a positive opinion of the United States, while Muslims are divided (49% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

However, divisions along religious lines are less pronounced in Tanzania, another African country with a sizable population of both Christians and Muslims. Tanzanian Christians (50%) are only slightly more likely than Muslims (42%) to have a favorable opinion of the U.S.

Less Support for the U.S. in Latin America

The image of the United States has eroded since 2002 in all six Latin American countries for which trends are available. The decline has been especially steep in Venezuela (26 points), Argentina (18 points), and Bolivia (15 points). Nonetheless, majorities in four of the seven Latin American nations included in the survey – including Venezuela (56%) – have a positive opinion of the U.S.

Both Brazilians (44% favorable, 51% unfavorable) and Bolivians (42% favorable, 52% unfavorable) are somewhat more likely to have a negative opinion of the U.S. than a positive one. Five years ago, majorities in both nations felt favorably toward the U.S. Meanwhile, negative views of the U.S. in Argentina, which were clearly evident five years ago, have only intensified. Indeed, the balance of opinion toward the U.S. among Argentines (16% favorable, 72% unfavorable) is worse than in any country surveyed outside the Middle East.

Still Unpopular in the Middle East

The U.S. continues to be widely unpopular in the Middle East. More than three-in-four Palestinians, Turks, Egyptians, and Jordanians express unfavorable opinions of the U.S. In fact, the United States receives a lower favorable rating (9%) in Turkey – a NATO ally – than in any country surveyed. This is down from a 30% favorable rating in 2002, and down even more dramatically from a 1999/2000 State Department poll that found a slim majority of Turks (52%) with a positive view of the U.S.

America’s image has also suffered in Kuwait, although it is still less negative there than in some neighboring countries. In 2003 – when U.S. favorability dropped in countries throughout the Middle East and elsewhere – Kuwaitis maintained a strongly positive view of the U.S., with 63% holding a favorable opinion. Today, however, Kuwaitis are evenly divided: 46% express a favorable view of the U.S. and 46% an unfavorable one.

One country in the region where attitudes toward the U.S. have actually improved is Lebanon. Five years ago, 36% of Lebanese had a positive view of the U.S., and this number fell to 27% in 2003. Since then it has risen to 42% in 2005, and to 47% this year. However, opinions vary considerably among Lebanon’s diverse religious communities.

Christians tend to be strongly pro-American (82% favorable), and most of the improvement in America’s image over the last few years has taken place in the Christian community (44% favorable in 2002, 48% in 2003, 72% in 2005, and 82% this year). Meanwhile, there are sharp differences within the Muslim community, which is split between Shia and Sunni sects. Lebanese Shia hold strongly negative views of the U.S., with nine-in-ten (92%) saying they have an unfavorable opinion. Lebanese Sunnis, on the other hand, are divided, with 52% voicing a positive view of the U.S. and 47% giving a negative assessment. Sunnis in Lebanon are less likely to hold negative views of the U.S. than are Sunnis in Jordan and Egypt.

America’s closest ally in the region, Israel, continues to have overwhelmingly favorable views of the U.S. Nearly eight-in-ten Israelis (78%) give the U.S. a positive rating, which is the same percentage expressing a positive view in 2003.

U.S. Image Declines in the West

Public opinion about the U.S. is far more negative today in Western Europe and Canada than it was at the beginning of this decade. Data from U.S. State Department surveys show that in 1999/2000 solid majorities in Canada, Britain, France, and Germany had a favorable view of the U.S., along with 50% in Spain. However, in 2003 and 2004, following the start of the Iraq war, views turned more negative. This year America’s image shows further signs of erosion, reaching new lows in Great Britain (51%) and Germany (30%). Favorable views of the U.S. are up this year in Spain, although Spanish opinion remains quite negative; only 34% have a favorable view of the U.S., compared with 60% who have an unfavorable opinion.

Less Enthusiasm for the U.S. in “New Europe”

America’s image also has slipped in Eastern Europe, and to some extent attitudes toward the U.S. in New Europe are beginning to resemble those found in Old Europe. Five years ago, strong majorities in Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia gave the U.S. favorable marks, but views have grown more negative in these four countries, all of which have joined the EU in the last five years.

Favorable views of the U.S. also are down in Russia and Ukraine. In 2002, six-in-ten Russians (61%) had a positive opinion of the U.S., compared with only 41% today. In Ukraine, a slender majority (54%) retains a positive view of the U.S., but this is down considerably from 2002, when fully eight-in-ten Ukrainians had a favorable impression.

Asia: U.S. Image Up in South Korea

In just the last year, attitudes towards the U.S. have grown more negative in two large and strategically important Asian nations, China and Pakistan. In 2006, the Chinese were slightly more likely to have a favorable opinion of the U.S. (47%) than an unfavorable opinion (43%). This year the balance has shifted; just 34% of Chinese have a positive view of the U.S., while 57% give it a negative rating.

Public sentiment toward the U.S. has long been quite negative in Pakistan, though it had edged upward from a low of 10% favorable in 2002 to 27% a year ago. But in the current survey, just 15% of Pakistanis express a favorable opinion of the U.S., while roughly two-thirds (68%) express an unfavorable opinion.

In addition to Pakistan, the U.S. is unpopular in two other largely Muslim nations in Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Views of the United States have fluctuated in Indonesia in recent years: Positive opinions fell dramatically between 2002 and 2003 (from 61% to 15%), before recovering to 38% in 2005 after the U.S. mounted a large-scale assistance effort for Indonesia following its December 2004 tsunami. Today, U.S. favorability in Indonesia stands at 29%, roughly double its 2003 low, but far below its pre-Iraq war level.

In neighboring Malaysia, only 27% have a favorable view of the U.S.; opinions differ widely among people of different faiths in this religiously diverse society. Among Malaysia’s Buddhists, 53% have a favorable opinion of the United States, compared with just 10% among the country’s Muslims. (Malaysia also has sizable minorities of Hindus and Christians but there are too few in our sample to analyze separately.) In predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, however, the U.S. receives relatively positive reviews – 53% report a favorable opinion.

The U.S. remains generally popular in India, Japan, and South Korea. In each of these countries roughly six-in-ten people have a favorable opinion of America. And in South Korea, U.S. favorability has risen 12 percentage points since a low point in 2003, when only 46% gave favorable marks. Opinions are similarly positive among both South Korean Christians (62%) and Buddhists (59%).

Views in Muslim World Not Uniform

Examining the views of Muslim respondents from different regions highlights the diversity of opinion regarding the U.S. in the Muslim world. Opinions of the U.S. remain overwhelming negative among Middle Eastern and Asian Muslims, although as noted above, there are exceptions in Bangladesh and Kuwait, and among Sunni Muslims in Lebanon.

However, African Muslims tend to express more positive views, particularly in Mali and Senegal. In Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, Muslims are roughly divided between those with a favorable and an unfavorable view of the U.S.

In much of the Muslim world and elsewhere, positive attitudes toward the U.S. declined between 2002 and 2003, coinciding with the buildup to and beginning of the Iraq war. While America’s image has not returned to pre-war levels in most countries where trends are available, it has actually risen among Muslims in several countries since its 2003 nadir – rising 19 percentage points in Jordan, 18 points in Lebanon, 13 points in the Palestinian territories, and 11 points in Nigeria.

Familiarity Breeds Favorability

While most respondents to the survey have never traveled to the U.S., in some countries a significant number of people have visited the country, including 50% of the British, 38% of Israelis, 36% of Swedes, 32% of the Japanese, and 23% of Germans, as well as a large portion of respondents from neighboring Canada (90%) and a substantial number from Mexico (25%). Consistently, those individuals who have traveled to the U.S. have more favorable views of the country than those who have not. For example, Swedes who have never visited the U.S. tend to view the country negatively (39% favorable, 54% unfavorable), while those who have traveled to the U.S. see it more positively (57% favorable, 40% unfavorable).

The image of America also tends to be more positive among those who have friends or relatives in the U.S. whom they regularly call, write to, or visit. In the 32 countries where there are a sufficient number of cases to analyze, people with friends or relatives in the U.S. are generally more likely to have a favorable opinion of the country than those who do not have personal connections in the U.S. For instance, in Bolivia positive ratings of America are more common among those who have friends or relatives in the U.S. (50% favorable, 41% unfavorable) than among those with no such personal connections (38% favorable, 55% unfavorable).

Americans More Popular Than Their Country

Overall, the image of the American people has declined since 2002, and the drop has been especially steep in some countries, notably the predominantly Muslim nations of Indonesia (down from 65% in 2002 to 42% in 2007), Jordan (54% in 2002; 36% now), and Turkey (32% in 2002; 13% now). Consistent with their low rating for the U.S. as a country, the Turks are less likely than any other public included in the survey to give Americans a positive assessment.

Nonetheless, as previous Pew surveys have shown, attitudes toward Americans are often more positive than attitudes toward their country. This distinction is particularly evident in Western nations. For example, while only 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S., 63% have a favorable opinion of Americans. Similarly, only 46% of Swedes give a positive rating to the U.S. as a country, but 73% have a favorable impression of the American people. And while only slim majorities in Canada and Great Britain express a favorable opinion of the U.S., views of Americans are overwhelmingly positive.

This pattern also is evident in some Middle Eastern countries. The Lebanese are significantly more likely to express a favorable view of Americans (69%) than of the U.S. (47%), as are Kuwaitis (Americans – 62% favorable; U.S. – 46% favorable), and Jordanians (Americans – 36% favorable; U.S. – 20% favorable).

In both Latin America and Africa, however, there is generally no gap between how America and its people are viewed. For example, in Mexico about the same number rate the U.S. (56%) and Americans (52%) favorably, and the same is true in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Peru. Venezuelans give Americans higher ratings (64% favorable) than they give the U.S. (56% favorable), although both the people and the country are relatively popular. In Argentina, there is a 10-point gap between ratings of Americans (26% favorable) and of the U.S. (16% favorable).

Perceptions of Unilateralism

The current survey reveals extensive criticism of American foreign policy, including the widespread belief that the U.S. acts unilaterally in the international arena. Majorities in 30 of 46 nations say that when making foreign policy decisions the U.S. does not take into account the interests of countries like theirs.

The impression that the U.S. acts without considering the views of others is especially prevalent in Europe. Solid majorities in every Western and Eastern European country surveyed say that the U.S. gives little or no consideration to the interests of countries like theirs when making foreign policy decisions. In France and Sweden, roughly nine-in-ten express this opinion – more than in any other surveyed country (89% France, 90% Sweden).

The French have long been skeptical about America’s willingness to consider the interests of other nations. Adherence to this view has risen sharply in both Great Britain and Germany. Since 2002, the share of the British public saying the U.S. acts unilaterally has increased from 52% to 74%, and in Germany from 44% to 71%.

Outside of Israel, where just 24% suggest the U.S. acts unilaterally, Middle Easterners overwhelmingly believe the U.S. ignores their interests. Even in Lebanon, where 47% view America favorably, roughly two-thirds (65%) say that the U.S. considers interests of the country not too much or not at all. And the numbers expressing this belief are considerably larger among other publics in the Middle East, including the Turks (75%) and the Palestinians (82%).

Meanwhile, in Kuwait, which was liberated by American forces in the first Iraq war in 1991, 64% now say the U.S. pays little or no attention to the interests of countries like theirs, compared with 35% in 2003.

The belief that American foreign policy follows a unilateralist course is common in much of Asia as well. Despite their positive overall assessments of the U.S., most Japanese and South Koreans do not believe American policymakers think about countries like theirs when setting the course for foreign policy.

By contrast, majorities in seven of the ten African nations surveyed believe U.S. foreign policy does take into account the interests of countries like theirs. Only in Ethiopia and Senegal do slim majorities believe the U.S. ignores countries like theirs when making policy. In Latin America, the picture is mixed, with Argentines overwhelmingly saying the U.S. ignores their interests, while almost two-thirds of Venezuelans say American foreign policy does incorporate their concerns.

Americans were asked whether their country takes other countries’ interests into account when making international policy decisions. A majority (59%) believes that U.S. foreign policy does take into account the interests of other nations, but this is down from 75% in 2002 and 67% as recently as two years ago. Republicans (74% great deal/fair amount) are much more likely than independents (58%) or Democrats (50%) to think U.S. policymakers incorporate the interests of other countries.

Negative Views of War on Terrorism

Over the last five years, Pew Global Attitudes surveys have tracked waning international support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and this year’s survey highlights the full extent of this decline. In 30 of 34 countries where trends are available (including the U.S.), support for America’s anti-terrorism efforts has dropped since our 2002 poll, which was conducted just months after the Sept. 11 attacks. The falloff has been especially steep in Europe, with decreases of at least 25 percentage points in Ukraine, France, Great Britain, Poland, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic. But support has also weakened in the Western Hemisphere, with sharp drops in Venezuela and Canada. Even in the U.S., the percent who favor the war on terrorism has fallen 19 points, from 89% to 70%.

Currently, support for the U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism is at or above 50% in only 16 of 47 countries. And in several countries that have experienced terrorist attacks in recent years, such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Spain, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, majorities say they oppose America’s war on terrorism.

In some religiously diverse countries, opinions on this issue differ among religious communities. In Ethiopia, Christians (82% favor) are nearly four times as likely as Muslims (21%) to back American anti-terrorism efforts. The gap is less pronounced, but still substantial, in Tanzania, where 48% of Christians favor and 28% of Muslims oppose these efforts. In Lebanon, Shia Muslims almost unanimously oppose the American-led war on terror (91%), compared with a bare majority of Sunnis (53%). Lebanese Christians are evenly divided between those who favor (50%) the American anti-terrorism campaign and those who oppose it (48%).

U.S. Support for Israel

Throughout the Muslim countries of the Middle East, overwhelming majorities believe American policy in the region favors Israel too much, including more than eight-in-ten respondents in Jordan (91%), the Palestinian territories (90%), Lebanon (89%), Kuwait (86%), Egypt (86%), and Morocco (81%). This belief is widespread in other predominantly Muslim countries as well, such as Indonesia (69%), Bangladesh (55%), and Malaysia (55%). It is not, however, limited to Muslim countries, as illustrated by the solid majorities in France (62%) and Germany (57%) who say U.S. policies favor Israel too much.

Even in Israel, a slim 42% plurality says America is too supportive of their country, while 13% say the U.S. favors the Palestinians too much and 37% say U.S. policies are fair. About a third of Americans (34%) see U.S. policy in the region as fair, 27% say it favors Israel, and 8% say it favors the Palestinians. With few exceptions, only a handful of respondents in the 37 countries where this question was asked see American policy as overly supportive of the Palestinians (it was not asked in sub-Saharan Africa).

Many Want Forces Out of Iraq, Afghanistan

Opposition to American military operations in Iraq is widespread, with at least half of those surveyed in 43 of 47 countries saying the U.S. should remove its troops from Iraq as soon as possible. This sentiment is shared by most Americans – 56% say it is time for troops to leave Iraq. And despite concerns among some that the withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to greater regional instability, majorities in three countries bordering Iraq – Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait – say troops should be removed.

While U.S. and NATO-led efforts in Afghanistan have generally received more diplomatic support than have coalition efforts in Iraq, this survey finds a great deal of skepticism about military operations in Afghanistan as well. In 32 of 47 countries, majorities want troops out as soon as possible. Among the 12 NATO members included in the survey, however, opinion is more divided – majorities in seven of these countries say troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Slightly more than four-in-ten Americans (42%) want troops out of Afghanistan, while half (50%) believe they should stay. Opinions about Afghanistan and Iraq break sharply along partisan lines, with Republicans significantly more likely than Democrats to say troops should remain in both countries, with independents occupying a middle position.

Less Enthusiasm for American-Style Democracy

In nearly all countries where trends are available, people are less inclined to say they like American ideas about democracy than they were in 2002, and in many countries the declines are quite large, including a 27-point drop in Venezuela, a 25-point drop in Turkey, and a 23-point decline in Indonesia. One exception to the pattern is Jordan, where the number saying they like American ideas about democracy has risen from 29% in 2002 to 42% in the current survey.

Among Americans, enthusiasm for promoting democracy has waned; in 2002, 70% said they believed the U.S. should be promoting democracy around the world, compared with 60% today. Republicans (74%) are significantly more likely than independents (59%) or Democrats (54%) to say U.S. foreign policy should feature democracy promotion.

Much of the skepticism regarding American ideas about democracy may be tied to the perception that U.S. foreign policy is inconsistent in its democracy promotion efforts. Majorities or pluralities in nearly every country surveyed say the U.S. promotes democracy where it serves its interests, rather than wherever it can. In the U.S., 63% say their country promotes democracy mostly when it serves the national interest. There are substantial partisan differences, with 46% of Republicans saying such a policy is mostly pursued when it serves the country’s interests, compared with 70% of Democrats.

U.S. Seen as Contributing to Global Inequality

Another major source of discontent with the U.S. is the perception that American policies increase the gap between rich and poor countries. In 32 of 47 countries, at least 50% of respondents believe that the U.S. contributes to the rich-poor divide. In places as diverse as the Palestinian territories (73%), France (73%), Germany (72%), Spain (72%), Kuwait (72%), Argentina (71%), and South Korea (70%) at least seven-in-ten respondents agree with this assessment of U.S. policy. Even in the U.S., nearly four-in-ten (38%) think their country adds to global inequality. Kenya is the only country in which a majority (55%) says that U.S. policies lessen the gap between rich and poor countries.

Divided Over American Business

Opinions about American ways of doing business vary substantially among regions and sometimes within regions. American business practices are least popular in the advanced economies of Western Europe, where fewer than one-in-three respondents in all six nations say they like U.S.-style business. Meanwhile, American business receives its most favorable reviews in sub-Saharan Africa – more than seven-in-ten have a positive opinion of U.S. business practices in Kenya (79%), Ivory Coast (78%), Nigeria (78%), and Ghana (74%).

American business is also relatively popular in the Middle East, especially in Kuwait (71% like U.S. business practices), Israel (70%), and Lebanon (63%). Even among Jordanians (51%), Egyptians (48%), Moroccans (44%), and Palestinians (40%), favorable views of American business are far more common than positive views of the U.S. as a country or of the American people. In Turkey, however, the results once again highlight the extent of negative opinions about the U.S. among the Turkish public – only 6% say they like American ways of doing business, down 21 percentage points from 2002.

Assessments of the U.S. approach to business have also grown more negative in much of Latin America. Distaste for American-style business is up 20 percentage points in Venezuela since 2002, and 15 points in Mexico; it also has increased by 13 points in Argentina, where two-thirds of the public now says they do not care for American ideas about business. The only exception to this trend is Bolivia, where the number of people who dislike American ways of doing business has declined by a modest five points.

In the U.S., respondents were asked whether their country should be promoting American business practices around the world, and a majority (55%) says these approaches should be promoted, down somewhat from 63% five years ago and slightly less than the percentage (60%) who say the U.S. should be promoting democracy abroad.

High Regard for Technology, Pop Culture

While there are misgivings about U.S. policies in many countries, and reservations about American business practices in some, other aspects of America’s image still draw praise. For instance, American scientific and technological advances continue to be held in high esteem, even in many places where overall assessments of the U.S. are low. In Malaysia, for example, 83% admire U.S. science and technology; in Egypt, 69% do so; in Jordan, 68%; in the Palestinian territories, 67%; Germany, 65%; Morocco, 55%; and Argentina, 51%. In general, results for this question have changed little since 2002, although there have been significant changes in a few countries, especially Turkey (67% admire in 2002, 37% now) and Ukraine (69% admire in 2002, 46% now), where respect for U.S. scientific and technological advances has waned. As for Americans themselves, 88% are proud of their country’s technological and scientific advances.

In addition to America’s science and technology, its popular culture continues to receive favorable reviews from many parts of the globe. Majorities in most countries surveyed say they like American music, movies, and television. However, there are several notable exceptions: More than two-thirds of Bangladeshis (81%), Pakistanis (80%), Turks (68%), Palestinians (68%), and Indians (68%) say they do not like American music, movies, and television.

In some countries, different religious communities tend to have contrasting perspectives on American popular culture, and these differences often mirror broader divides in views of the U.S. In Lebanon, for example, Christians and Sunni Muslims overwhelmingly embrace American music, movies, and television, while the Shia community largely rejects these cultural exports. Among Ethiopians and Nigerians, Christians tend to like and Muslims tend to dislike American popular culture. In Malaysia, the minority Buddhist community has a more positive view than does the majority Muslim population.

Americans are divided in their views of popular culture from other countries – 45% say they like foreign music, movies, and television, while 44% say they do not care for these foreign imports.

Too Much America in Most Countries

While affection for American popular culture remains common in much of the world, so does concern over the spread of American ideas and customs. In 37 of 46 countries outside the U.S., at least 50% say it is bad that American ideas and customs are spreading to their societies. This anxiety about “Americanization” was widespread in 2002 as well, although in many countries concerns have further strengthened over the past five years. Worries have especially increased in Western and Eastern Europe, including nations such as Bulgaria, Britain, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Americans have a very different perspective on this issue; two-thirds (67%) say it is a good thing that their country’s ideas and customs are spreading around the world, although enthusiasm has waned since 2002 when 79% backed the diffusion of American ideas and customs.

Many Still Believe Better Lives Can Be Built in America

Despite the decline in America’s image over the last few years, many people throughout the world say people who move to the U.S. have a better life there than in the country from which they emigrated. Majorities or pluralities in 34 of 46 nations outside the U.S. say that people who move to the U.S. have a better life there. In no country does a majority say emigrants to the U.S. have a worse life. When asked whether people who come to the U.S. from other countries have a better life here, Americans overwhelmingly say yes: 82% believe immigrants enjoy a better life in America.

The perception that America provides good opportunities for emigrants is common even in countries where U.S. favorability is low or has dipped in recent years. In Morocco, for example, where only 15% current view the U.S. positively, just over half (52%) think Moroccans who have moved there have a better life.

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information