But many raise concerns about health of U.S. political system
The election of Joe Biden as president has led to a dramatic shift in America’s international image. Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, publics around the world held the United States in low regard, with most opposed to his foreign policies. This was especially true among key American allies and partners. Now, a new Pew Research Center survey of 16 publics finds a significant uptick in ratings for the U.S., with strong support for Biden and several of his major policy initiatives.
This analysis focuses on public opinion of the United States in 16 advanced economies in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Views of the U.S. and its president are examined in the context of long-term trend data. The report also explores how people view President Joe Biden’s proposed policies and characteristics.
For this report, we use data from nationally representative surveys of 16,254 adults from March 12 to May 26, 2021. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
This study was conducted in places where nationally representative telephone surveys are feasible. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, face-to-face interviewing is not currently possible in many parts of the world.
In each of the 16 publics surveyed, more than six-in-ten say they have confidence in Biden to do the right thing in world affairs. Looking at 12 nations surveyed both this year and in 2020, a median of 75% express confidence in Biden, compared with 17% for Trump last year.
During the past two decades, presidential transitions have had a major impact on overall attitudes toward the U.S. When Barack Obama took office in 2009, ratings improved in many nations compared with where they had been during George W. Bush’s administration, and when Trump entered the White House in 2017, ratings declined sharply. This year, U.S. favorability is up again: Whereas a median of just 34% across 12 nations had a favorable overall opinion of the U.S. last year, a median of 62% now hold this view.
In France, for example, just 31% expressed a positive opinion of the U.S. last year, matching the poor ratings from March 2003, at the height of U.S.-France tensions over the Iraq War. This year, 65% see the U.S. positively, approaching the high ratings that characterized the Obama era. Improvements of 25 percentage points or more are also found in Germany, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada.
Still, attitudes toward the U.S. vary considerably across the publics surveyed. For instance, only about half in Singapore and Australia have a favorable opinion of the U.S., and just 42% of New Zealanders hold this view. And while 61% see the U.S. favorably in Taiwan, this is actually down slightly from 68% in a 2019 poll.
In most countries polled, people make a stark distinction between Biden and Trump as world leaders. Nearly eight-in-ten Germans (78%) have confidence in Biden to do the right thing in world affairs; a year ago, just 10% said this about Trump. Similar differences are found in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, and in all nations where a trend is available from 2020 there is a difference of at least 40 percentage points.
As is the case with views of the United States as a whole, confidence in U.S. presidents has shifted dramatically over the past two decades, especially in Western Europe. In Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and France – four nations Pew Research Center has surveyed consistently – ratings for Bush and Trump were similarly low during their presidencies, while this year confidence in Biden is fairly similar to the ratings Obama received while in office.
Biden’s high ratings are tied in part to positive assessments of his personal characteristics, and here again the contrast with Trump is stark. Looking at 12 countries polled during the first year of both their presidencies, a median of 77% describe Biden as well-qualified to be president, compared with 16% who felt this way about Trump. Few think of Biden as arrogant or dangerous, while large majorities applied those terms to Trump. Assessments of the two leaders are more similar when it comes to being a strong leader, although even on this measure, Biden gets much more positive reviews than his predecessor.
High levels of confidence in Biden are also tied to favorable views of his policies, several of which have emphasized multilateralism and reversed Trump administration decisions. The current survey examines attitudes toward four of the Biden administration’s key policies and finds widespread support for all four.
A median of 89% across the 16 publics surveyed approve of the U.S. rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), which the U.S. withdrew from during Trump’s presidency. A median of 85% also support the U.S. rejoining the Paris climate agreement. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement was met with widespread criticism, and it was overwhelmingly unpopular in the surveys the Center conducted during his presidency. For example, in 2019 just 8% in France approved of Trump’s plans to withdraw support for international climate change agreements, compared with 91% who now back Biden’s reentry into the agreement.
Support for the Biden administration’s proposal to organize a summit of democracies from around the world is also widespread, with a median of 85% saying they approve. There is only slightly less support (a median of 76%) for Biden’s plan to allow more refugees into the U.S. (Biden campaigned on allowing more refugees into the country, briefly reversed his initial goal to raise the refugee cap from levels set by the Trump administration, and then walked back the reversal amid criticism.)
Biden has also made clear that he plans to strengthen America’s commitment to the NATO alliance. As the current poll shows, NATO is viewed positively by the member states included in the survey. (See “NATO continues to be seen in a favorable light by people in member states” for more.)
Although Biden’s more multilateral approach to foreign policy is welcomed, there is still a widespread perception that the U.S. mainly looks after its own interests in world affairs. More than half in most of the publics surveyed say the U.S. does not take their interests into account when it is making foreign policy decisions, although fewer feel this way in Japan, Greece and Germany.
Doubts about the U.S. considering the interests of other countries predate the Trump administration, and this has been the prevailing view – even among close U.S. allies – since the Center began asking the question in 2002.
Despite widely reported bilateral and multilateral tensions between the U.S. and many of its major allies and partners over the last four years, relatively few people describe the U.S. as an “unreliable partner.” But neither do they express great confidence in the U.S. as an ally. Across the 16 publics polled, a median of 56% say the U.S. is somewhat reliable, while just 11% describe America as very reliable.
In addition to the concerns some have about how America engages with other nations, there are also concerns about domestic politics in the U.S. The 16 publics surveyed are divided in their views about how well the U.S. political system is functioning, with a median of only 5o% saying it is working well.
And few believe American democracy, at least in its current state, serves as a good model for other nations. A median of just 17% say democracy in the U.S. is a good example for others to follow, while 57% say it used to be a good example but has not been in recent years. Another 23% do not believe it has ever been a good example.
One of the reasons for the low ratings the U.S. received in 2020 was the widespread perception that it was handling the global pandemic poorly. In the current poll, the U.S. gets significantly more positive marks for how it is handling COVID-19, but most still say the U.S. has done a bad job of dealing with the outbreak (for more, see “Global views of how U.S. has handled pandemic have improved, but few say it’s done a good job”).
In his first overseas trip as president, Biden is preparing to attend the G7 summit in the UK and the NATO summit in Brussels. Once there, he will meet with two other leaders widely trusted for their handling of world affairs.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel actually receives slightly higher ratings than Biden: A median of 77% across the 16 publics surveyed express confidence in Merkel’s international leadership. A smaller median of 63% voice confidence in French President Emmanuel Macron.
Relatively few trust Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing in world affairs, while Chinese President Xi Jinping has the lowest ratings on the survey.
These are among the major findings from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 16,254 respondents in 16 publics – not including the U.S. – from March 12 to May 26, 2021. The survey also finds that views toward the U.S. and President Biden often differ by ideology and age.
Spotlight: How views of the U.S. vary with political ideology and age
In many of the publics surveyed, ideological orientation plays a role in how people view the U.S. and American democracy.
- People who place themselves on the right of the political spectrum are more likely to have a positive view of the U.S. in nearly every country where ideology is measured. And this general pattern has not changed much over time, with those on the right holding a more favorable view of the U.S. during the Trump and Obama administrations as well.
- In 11 countries, people on the right are more likely than those on the left to say democracy in the U.S. is a good example for other countries to follow. And in a similar set of countries, they are also more likely to think the U.S. political system works well.
- Overall, majorities on the left, center and right of the political spectrum approve of the policies included in the survey. However, Biden’s decision to allow more refugees into the U.S. is decidedly more popular among people on the left. In about half the countries, those on the left are also more likely to approve of the U.S. rejoining the World Health Organization.
In general, favorable views of the U.S. do not vary based on age in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region. But age is a factor when it comes to confidence in the U.S. president and other world leaders.
- Across most places surveyed, adults ages 65 and older are significantly more likely than those ages 18 to 29 to have confidence in Biden to do the right things in world affairs. Trust in Biden is so high overall, however, that at least half in all age groups hold this view.
- Older adults also have more confidence in Merkel in half of the surveyed areas. Trust in Putin shows the opposite pattern, with younger adults more likely to have confidence in the Russian president in most of the publics surveyed.
- Adults under 30 also deviate from older adults in their views of American democracy. In about half of the publics surveyed, younger adults are more likely to think democracy in the U.S. has never been a good model for other countries to follow.
Favorable views of the U.S. have rebounded
In every place surveyed except New Zealand, around half or more have a favorable opinion of the U.S. Ratings are highest in South Korea, where 77% have positive views of the U.S., and around two-thirds or more in Japan, France and the UK say the same.
These broadly positive views reflect a sharp uptick since last summer, when ratings of the U.S. were at or near historic lows in most countries. For example, in Belgium, where only a quarter had favorable views of the U.S. last year, a 56% majority say the same today.
In France, the UK and Germany, positive views have increased even since this past November and December. Surveys in these three countries found tepid views of the U.S. last December – after major media outlets had called the election for now-President Joe Biden but before his inauguration and the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of Trump’s supporters. Evaluations ranged from 40% favorable in Germany to 51% in the UK. Today, positive views have increased by double digits in all three countries, with around six-in-ten or more in each of these countries now saying they view the U.S. favorably.
In many places, favorable views of the U.S. have now rebounded to roughly the same levels that were seen toward the end of President Obama’s second term. Take France as an example: The share who have positive views of the U.S. has more than doubled since last year, from 31% – a record low – to 65%, which is comparable to the 63% who had favorable views of the U.S. at the end of the Obama administration.
Views of American democracy and foreign policy both factor into how people feel about the U.S. For example, those who think the U.S. political system is working well and those who think American democracy is a good example for other countries to follow are much more likely to have favorable views of the U.S. Similarly, those who think the U.S. is a reliable partner and who think the U.S. takes other countries’ interests into account also have more positive views of the superpower. And people who believe the U.S. is doing a good job of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to express a positive view of the country.
Some concerns about functioning of U.S. democracy
Majorities in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands are skeptical of how the U.S. political system functions. On the flip side, majorities in South Korea, Greece, Italy, Japan, Taiwan and Spain express at least some confidence in the American system of government.
However, even among publics where majorities think the U.S. political system works at least somewhat well, this confidence is lukewarm: At most, about a fifth say the American political system functions very well. In most places surveyed, the share who say this is smaller than one-in-ten.
While attitudes are mixed about how well the U.S. political system functions, publics in the advanced economies surveyed are largely skeptical that democracy in the U.S. is a good example for other countries to follow. Across all publics surveyed, no more than about three-in-ten say the U.S. is currently setting a good example of democratic values.
Rather, majorities or pluralities say American democracy used to be a good example but has not been in recent years, and up to about a quarter reject the idea that the U.S. has ever been a good model of democracy.
Only about a third say the U.S. considers their interests in foreign policy
Despite the sharp uptick in favorable views of the U.S. and its president in 2021, most people surveyed continue to say the U.S. doesn’t take into account the interests of publics like theirs when making international policy decisions. Across the 16 publics, a median of 67% say the U.S. does not take their interests into account too much or at all, while only 34% say Washington considers their interests a great deal or fair amount.
Across the European countries surveyed, there is a fair amount of variation in this assessment. As few as 16% in Sweden say the U.S. considers Sweden’s interests when making foreign policy, but roughly half or more in Greece and Germany do. In Germany, this represents a 32 percentage point increase since 2018, when this question was last asked. Despite this uptick, replicated across many of the European nations surveyed in both years, majorities in the region say the U.S. does not consider their interests when making foreign policy decisions.
Asian-Pacific publics also tend to say Washington discounts their interests, including 85% among New Zealanders. Around seven-in-ten in Australia and South Korea, as well as 54% in Singapore, concur that the U.S. does not consider their interests when making foreign policy.
In Taiwan, which has a complicated unofficial relationship with the U.S., 51% say the U.S. does not consider their interests, while 44% say it does. Among Japanese adults, opinions are almost equally divided between people who say the U.S. takes their views into account when making foreign policy and those that say the U.S. does not. (During the survey fielding, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the U.S., attending what was Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since he became president.)
There have been significant increases in the shares saying the U.S. considers their interests when making foreign policy since the question was last asked during the Trump presidency. In addition to the jump in Germany, there have been double-digit increases in such sentiment in Greece, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, France, the UK and Spain. In Greece and Canada, this is the highest such reading in a Pew Research Center survey, even compared with the Obama era.
Still, the predominant sentiment, going back to 2002 when the question was first asked, is that the U.S. does not consider the interests of countries like theirs. The election of Joe Biden has not fundamentally changed that.
Most say that the U.S. is a somewhat reliable partner
Across the 16 publics surveyed, majorities or pluralities say the U.S. is a somewhat reliable partner. But in no public surveyed do more than two-in-ten say that the U.S. is a very reliable partner.
At the same time, fewer than four-in ten say the U.S. is a not too reliable partner, and in no public do more than one-in-seven say that the U.S. is a not at all reliable partner.
The sentiment that the U.S. is a very or somewhat reliable partner is highest in the Netherlands (80%), Australia (75%) and Japan (75%). But 44% in Taiwan and 43% in Greece say the U.S. is not too or not at all reliable.
Nearly all say relations with U.S. will stay the same or get better over the next few years
When asked whether relations with the U.S. will get better, worse or stay the same over the next few years, a median of 57% across the 16 publics say they will stay the same. While a continuation of current relations with the U.S. is the most common response, a median of 39% say relations will get better and only 5% say they will get worse.
The only place where a majority thinks relations with the U.S. will get better is Germany (60% say this), where attitudes about the transatlantic alliance have become increasingly pessimistic in recent years. Half of Canadians also say relations with their southern neighbor will get better over the next few years.
In 2017, when this question was asked specifically about then-newly elected President Trump and his effect on bilateral relations, the most common answer was also that they would remain the same. But back then, few said that relations with the U.S. would improve under Trump, and significant portions of the population thought they would deteriorate, including 56% in Germany who said this.
High confidence in Biden across Europe, Asia-Pacific
In the first year of his presidency, Biden enjoys positive ratings from majorities in each of the publics surveyed. Overall, a median of 74% have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs.
Confidence is particularly high in the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Canada, where about eight-in-ten or more trust Biden when it comes to international affairs. He receives his lowest ratings in Greece, South Korea and Taiwan, though more than six-in-ten in each trust his handling of world affairs.
Widespread confidence in Biden contrasts starkly with views of his predecessor. Trust in the U.S. president was historically low in most countries surveyed during Trump’s presidency. In many cases, however, the share who have confidence in Biden is not as high as the share who had confidence in Obama at the start or end of his presidency.
Germany is a good example of this pattern. In 2020, only 10% of Germans had confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs (matching a previous all-time low earlier in Trump’s presidency). Once Biden took office, confidence in the U.S. president increased by 68 percentage points in Germany, but it is still lower there than the all-time high of 93% in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. A similar trend can be seen in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
However, in Greece, confidence in the U.S. president is the highest it has been since Pew Research Center first asked this question there. A much higher share of Greeks have confidence in Biden compared with Obama in 2016 and earlier. Notably, Biden has shared a positive relationship with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Greeks are more than twice as likely now to say the U.S. takes their country’s interests into account when making policy decisions (53%) than they were when Obama was president (20% in 2013).
Biden more trusted than Putin and Xi, less trusted than Merkel
Publics express much more confidence in Biden than in Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping. Biden also fares well in comparison with French President Emmanuel Macron, but his ratings tend to trail those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A median of 77% have confidence in Merkel to do the right thing in world affairs. She receives somewhat higher ratings in the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, France, New Zealand and Australia than in her home country, though a large majority of Germans still express confidence in the chancellor. Of the 16 publics surveyed, Greece is the only one where fewer than half hold this view. Faith in Merkel has also increased since the summer of 2020 in six of the 12 countries where data is available for both years.
A median of 63% have confidence in Macron when it comes to his handling of world affairs. Roughly eight-in-ten or more hold this view in Greece and Sweden. As with Merkel, Macron’s ratings in his home country are positive, but more subdued than in other publics; 53% of people in France trust the French president to do what is right in international affairs.
Medians of only around one-in-five express confidence in Putin or Xi. Singapore and Greece are the only countries where more than half trust either president; 55% in both Greece and Singapore say they have confidence in Putin, and 70% in Singapore say the same of Xi.
Ratings for the Chinese president have been consistently low in many countries, particularly across the Western European nations surveyed, since this question was first asked in 2014. Opinion of Putin in these countries extends back even further and shows a similarly negative pattern there.
Biden seen as well-qualified to be president
Reflecting high levels of confidence in the U.S. president, overwhelming majorities say Biden is well-qualified for the position, and many see him as a strong leader. Very few view Biden as either dangerous or arrogant. And in most cases, these views are in stark contrast to views of his predecessor.
A median of 77% think Biden is well-qualified for his role as president, ranging from 64% in Japan to 84% in Sweden. Among many of these same publics polled in 2017, only a third or fewer saw Trump as well-qualified.
The gap between perceptions of the two American presidents is especially wide in Sweden and Germany. Only 10% of Swedes thought Trump was well-qualified to be president during his first year in office. In the current survey, 84% see Biden as qualified, a 74 percentage point difference. Among Germans, 6% thought Trump was well-qualified, compared with eight-in-ten who say the same of Biden this year.
A difference of roughly 50 points or more on this question appears in nearly every country where data is available for both leaders.
Biden and Trump are viewed the most similarly when it comes to perceptions of them as strong leaders. In 2017, relatively large shares saw Trump as a strong leader, even in countries where few had confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs. In countries where data is available for both leaders, more people tend to see Biden as a strong leader, but in several countries, the difference is comparatively small.
Very few people across the publics surveyed think Biden could be described as dangerous (median of 14%) or arrogant (median of 13%). This is a striking difference from how Trump was viewed early in his presidency.
For example, there is an 83-point difference in the Netherlands between those who viewed Trump as arrogant (92%) and those who currently say the same about Biden (9%). Differences of roughly 80 points or more on this question can also be seen in France, Sweden, Spain, Germany and Canada.
Similarly, majorities in each country saw Trump as dangerous in 2017, while no more than 21% hold this view of Biden, resulting in differences of roughly 40 points or more in countries where data is available for both leaders.
Biden’s foreign policy agenda broadly popular across advanced economies
The Biden administration’s foreign policies included on the survey enjoy widespread popularity. Of the four policies tested, the United States’ reentry into the World Health Organization (WHO) garners the most approval, with a median of 89% saying they support the move. Support for this policy is most prevalent in Europe, where shares ranging from 86% to 94% approve of the U.S. returning to the organization. The move is also broadly popular in Canada and the Asia-Pacific.
Biden’s decision to recommit to the Paris climate agreement is also very well received. A median of 85% approve of the U.S. rejoining the accord. Across Europe, about nine-in-ten or more across six countries polled favor the move, with respondents in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK following closely behind. Shares of roughly eight-in-ten or greater are also supportive in Canada and the Asia-Pacific region.
Rejoining the accord represents a reversal from former President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, a move that was met with widespread disapproval when Pew Research Center asked about it in 2017.
In all countries the Center surveyed both this year and four years ago, Biden’s approach is considerably more popular than Trump’s. For instance, in Spain, only 8% approved of Trump withdrawing support for international climate agreements in 2017, while 93% approve of the U.S. rejoining the Paris agreement this year, an 85 percentage point difference. In every country, rejoining the agreement is met with approval from shares at least four times as large as the shares who supported leaving it.
In addition to Biden’s reversal of Trump-era withdrawals from international organizations and pacts, his plans for the U.S. to host a summit of democratic nations earns widespread approval. Across the 16 publics polled, a median of 85% express support for the convening, and in each, eight-in-ten or more say they favor the plan.
Attitudes toward this policy among several publics are divided by views of American democracy. Among most publics surveyed, those who think the U.S. is a good example of democracy for other countries to follow support the summit more than those who think the U.S. has never been a good example. For instance, in Sweden, 91% of those who think the U.S. is currently setting a good example of democratic values approve of the U.S. convening leaders from other democracies, compared with 71% of those who doubt the U.S. has ever set a good example of democracy, a 20-point difference.
Those who view the U.S. as a reliable partner are more likely to approve of the U.S. hosting a summit of democratic nations in 13 of the publics surveyed. For example, in Germany, 89% of those who think the U.S. is a reliable partner approve of this policy, whereas only 68% of those who view the U.S. as unreliable agree, a 21-point difference.
Approval of Biden’s plan to increase the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. is also widespread. A median of about three-quarters support the change, and nowhere do fewer than six-in-ten agree with the decision. This comes as Biden reversed his initial goal to raise the refugee cap in the U.S. from the levels set by the Trump administration, but then walked back the reversal amid criticism.