Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

How people in 14 countries view the state of the world in 2020

2020 has been a year unlike any in recent memory. And a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 14 countries over the summer – as the coronavirus outbreak spread around the globe – tells us much about people’s thoughts and concerns amid the pandemic. Here are some highlights from the survey, including how people see their own country’s response to the virus and how they view the economic and political implications of COVID-19.

The coronavirus has changed everyday life for many around the world. A median of 58% of adults across the surveyed countries say their life has changed a fair amount or a great deal due to the outbreak.

While many say their country’s coronavirus response has been good, publics are divided over COVID-19’s impact on national unity

In most countries, people give their governments high marks when it comes to responding to the virus. A median of 73% across the surveyed nations say their country has done a good job, with people in Denmark, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and South Korea especially positive. However, fewer than half of adults in the United States (47%) and United Kingdom (46%) say the same.

There is less consensus on whether the pandemic has brought people together or created divisions. A median of only 46% say their country is now more united than before the outbreak. This includes only 18% of Americans, by far the lowest share in any surveyed country.

People in other countries see the U.S. response to the pandemic negatively. A 13-country median of just 15% say the U.S. has done a good job of dealing with the outbreak. By contrast, half or more of adults in nearly all 13 countries rate the World Health Organization and European Union favorably on their coronavirus response. Relatively few think China has handled the pandemic well, although it still receives considerably better reviews than the U.S. in most countries.

In all other countries surveyed, people rank the U.S. coronavirus response lowest

In the U.S., views of China have continued to sour amid the pandemic. Around eight-in-ten Americans (78%) say the Chinese government’s initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan is at least a fair amount to blame for the global spread of the virus. Half of Americans say the U.S. should hold China accountable for its role in the outbreak, even if it means worsening bilateral relations.

A clear majority of Americans (73%) also say the U.S. should try to promote human rights in China, at the expense of bilateral economic relations. The same percentage (73%) holds an unfavorable view of China, a 15-year high.

Many people believe the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak could have been mitigated in their country with more international cooperation. A median of 59% across the surveyed countries say this, including a 58% majority in the U.S.

However, nearly eight-in-ten in Denmark (78%) express skepticism that more international cooperation would have led to fewer coronavirus cases in their country. Clear majorities in Australia (59%) and Germany (56%) say the same. In these same countries, roughly nine-in-ten or more say their own government handled the coronavirus outbreak well.

Prevailing view is that greater international cooperation would have reduced COVID-19’s impact

People in most surveyed nations embrace cooperation with other countries when dealing with major international issues. A median of 58% say their country should take other countries’ interests into account when dealing with major international issues, even if it means making compromises. Majorities hold this view in 10 of 14 countries polled.

There is widespread willingness to cooperate with other countries, even if it means compromising

Views are more divided in Italy and Denmark. And in Australia and Japan, half of adults or more say their nation should follow its own interests, even when other countries strongly disagree.

These findings are in line with a pre-coronavirus Pew Research Center survey conducted in 12 of the same 14 countries in 2019. That survey showed robust public support for the idea of nations cooperating, rather than competing, on the world stage.

A median of 81% across 12 countries supported nation-states acting as members of a global community that works together to solve problems, while 17% said countries should act as independent nations that compete with others and pursue their own interests, the 2019 survey found.

Despite the pandemic, many Europeans see global climate change as the greatest threat to their country. This is the case in countries including France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The spread of infectious disease is the top concern in South Korea, Japan, the U.S. and the UK. And in two countries, Australia and Denmark, cyberattacks from abroad are seen as the greatest threat. People in the surveyed countries are less concerned with the threat of global poverty, conflicts between nations or ethnic groups, or mass migration.

Majorities most consistently cite climate change, spread of infectious diseases as threats to their country; relatively few mention large-scale migration

The share of people with a positive view of the economy has fallen sharply over the past year in all countries surveyed in 2019 and 2020. And in most countries surveyed both this year and during the last major economic downturn, views of current economic conditions are at or below where they were at the start of the Great Recession.  

Relatively few people in the surveyed countries believe things will get better in the next year. A median of 46% expect economic conditions to worsen in their country over the next 12 months, while 35% think the economic situation in their country will improve and 19% think it will stay the same.

In many countries, economic attitudes have declined more between 2019 and 2020 than at the start of the global financial crisis
South Korea, Japan see U.S. as world’s leading economic power; Europeans say it’s China

People in many nations name China, not the U.S., as the world’s leading economic power. A median of 48% across the surveyed countries say this, while 34% say the U.S. is the global economic leader.

South Korea and Japan – the two nations geographically closest to China among those surveyed – are the only countries where the U.S. is the most common choice for the leading economic power.

Overall, ratings have not changed significantly in most countries since 2019, despite drastic economic challenges spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Views of the U.S. have declined in many countries over the past year. Positive views of the U.S. are at or near an all-time low in most countries for which trends are available. Three exceptions are South Korea, Italy and Spain, where people viewed the U.S. more negatively in 2003 – before the start of the Iraq War – than they currently do.

Men, those on the ideological right and European supporters of right-wing populist parties tend to have more favorable views of the U.S. than other people surveyed. (Those on the right generally viewed the U.S. more favorably than those on the left even during President Barack Obama’s tenure.)

In many countries, favorable views of U.S. are at 20-year lows
Trump less trusted than leaders of Germany, France, UK, Russia and China

President Donald Trump is generally seen more negatively than other major world leaders, with a median of 83% expressing no confidence in him on world affairs.

Out of the six leaders included in the survey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives the highest marks, followed by French President Emmanuel Macron. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gets mixed reviews, while ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are overwhelmingly negative.

The leader with the most negative ratings, however, is Trump. Only 16% across the surveyed nations express confidence in him as he seeks reelection.