Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Foreign policy scholars and American public agree that U.S. standing abroad is important

An overwhelming majority of Americans agree it is important that the United States is generally respected by other countries around the world, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in February. And a new parallel survey of international relations scholars finds that academics are in lockstep with the U.S. public on the importance of America’s image abroad.

International relations scholars and American public hold similar views on importance of U.S. global image

Overall, more than nine-in-ten IR scholars surveyed (95%) say it is very or somewhat important that the U.S. is respected by other countries around the world, including 56% who say it is very important, according to the online poll conducted in April and May by the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) Project at the College of William & Mary.

How we did this

This analysis focuses on differences in views between international relations scholars surveyed by the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) Project at the College of William & Mary and the general public surveyed by Pew Research Center. The post focuses on the relative importance of America’s standing abroad and whether the United States is more or less respected than in the past.

The TRIP project poll was conducted online from April 28-May 3, 2021, among 812 U.S.-based foreign policy scholars. More information on methodology for TRIP surveys and further findings can be found here, and further analysis of results can be found here. The TRIP project is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Pew Research Center data comes from a nationally representative survey of 2,596 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 1 to 7, 2021. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology. Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Similarly, 87% of U.S. adults surveyed say respect for the U.S. abroad is vital, including half who say it is very important. Only 5% and 13% of the IR scholars and American public, respectively, say this is not too or not at all important.

Among Americans overall, there are some demographic differences when it comes to the importance of U.S. respect abroad. While most Americans generally say it is important, only 29% of those ages 18 to 29 say it is very important, compared with 62% of those 65 and older. Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party are also slightly more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to say it is very important that the U.S. is respected abroad (54% vs. 46%).

Among the IR scholars surveyed, those who identify as Republican or independent are also slightly less likely than those who identify as Democratic to say it is very important that the U.S. garners respect abroad. Still, 92% of IR scholars who identify as Republican or independent see America’s international image as at least somewhat important, compared with 98% among IR scholars who identify as Democratic.

When it comes to how the U.S. is actually perceived internationally, IR scholars are negative in their assessments. A 58% majority believes the U.S. is less respected by other countries today compared with the past, while only 28% think the U.S. is more respected. An additional 14% think the nation’s standing with other countries has remained unchanged.

A growing share of international relations scholars say the U.S. is more respected abroad than in the past

This represents a departure from previous TRIP surveys, when views of America’s position were almost universally negative. Since the last time this question was asked in 2018, the share of IR scholars who say the U.S. is less respected than in the past has declined by 35 percentage points (from 93% to 58%). As negative assessments have waned, the view that the U.S. is commanding more respect has grown more common, increasing 26 points since 2018 (from 2% to 28%).

Partisan divides may account for the sunnier outlooks about America’s global image among IR scholars. Among the scholars surveyed this year, Democrats are 14 percentage points more likely than Republicans and independents to say America’s reputation is on the rise, while the latter group is more likely to say the U.S.’s standing has not changed. Notably, though, similar shares of Republicans, independents and Democrats all say the U.S. is less respected today than in the past.

Among the general public, partisans are generally more likely to think America’s global standing is improving – and less likely to think it is declining – when a president from their own party is in office.

The TRIP Project survey also finds that President Joe Biden’s policies and leadership skills are generally popular with foreign policy academics. Biden has made clear that strengthening America’s image abroad, especially among allies, is a key goal of his administration. And early data shows that views of the U.S. improved considerably in France, Germany and the United Kingdom following Biden’s election.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.