Our recent global survey on public opinion toward the U.S. and China shows that overall, America’s image remains more positive than China’s. While this is true on a range of measures, one of the most striking differences between the U.S. and China is how global publics perceive each government’s treatment of its own people.
When respondents are asked whether the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia and Iran respect the personal freedoms of their people, the U.S. government achieves the highest ratings, with a median of 70% across the 39 countries surveyed saying the American government respects the freedoms of its people. The government of China (36%) does not fare nearly as well. Meanwhile, the rulers of Saudi Arabia (18%) and Iran (11%) receive even poorer results.
While the results show that respect for human rights remains a strong selling point for America’s international reputation, it is important to note the survey was conducted prior to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Whether this will affect U.S. image in a detrimental way has yet to be seen. But for now, the perception that the U.S. respects the rights of its people, and that China does not, is an important aspect of each country’s respective image, influence around the world and “soft power” (such as America’s culture and ideas about democracy).