U.S. Image Plummets Internationally As Most Say Country Has Handled Coronavirus Badly

Since Donald Trump took office as president, the image of the United States has suffered across many regions of the globe. As a new 13-nation Pew Research Center survey illustrates, America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among many key allies and partners. In several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.

For instance, just 41% in the United Kingdom express a favorable opinion of the U.S., the lowest percentage registered in any Pew Research Center survey there. In France, only 31% see the U.S. positively, matching the grim ratings from March 2003, at the height of U.S.-France tensions over the Iraq War. Germans give the U.S. particularly low marks on the survey: 26% rate the U.S. favorably, similar to the 25% in the same March 2003 poll.

Part of the decline over the past year is linked to how the U.S. had handled the coronavirus pandemic. Across the 13 nations surveyed, a median of just 15% say the U.S. has done a good job of dealing with the outbreak. In contrast, most say the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Union have done a good job, and in nearly all nations people give their own country positive marks for dealing with the crisis (the U.S. and UK are notable exceptions). Relatively few think China has handled the pandemic well, although it still receives considerably better reviews than the U.S. response.

Ratings for U.S. President Donald Trump have been low in these nations throughout his presidency, and that trend continues this year. Trump’s most negative assessment is in Belgium, where only 9% say they have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs. His highest rating is in Japan; still, just one-quarter of Japanese express confidence in Trump.

Attitudes toward Trump have consistently been much more negative than those toward his predecessor, Barack Obama, especially in Western Europe. In the UK, Spain, France and Germany, ratings for Trump are similar to those received by George W. Bush near the end of his presidency.

The publics surveyed also see Trump more negatively than other world leaders. Among the six leaders included on the survey, Angela Merkel receives the highest marks: A median of 76% across the nations polled have confidence in the German chancellor. French President Emmanuel Macron also gets largely favorable reviews. Ratings for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are roughly split. Ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are overwhelmingly negative, although not as negative as those for Trump.

Views of Trump are more positive among Europeans who have favorable views of right-wing populist parties, though confidence is still relatively low among all groups. For instance, supporters of Spain’s Vox party are particularly likely to view Trump in a positive light: 45% are confident in his ability to handle international affairs, compared with only 7% among Spaniards who do not support Vox.

Ratings of America’s response to the coronavirus outbreak are also related to support for right-wing populist parties and political ideology within several countries. While ratings are low among both groups, those on the political right are more likely than those on the left to think the U.S. has done a good job handling the outbreak.

Thus far, the pandemic and resulting global recession have not had a major impact on perceptions about the global economic balance of power among the nations surveyed. Majorities or pluralities in these countries have named China as the world’s leading economic power in recent years, and that remains true in 2020. The exceptions are South Korea and Japan, where people see the U.S. as the world’s top economy.

These are among the major findings from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 13,273 respondents in 13 countries – not including the U.S. – from June 10 to Aug. 3, 2020.

Views of the U.S. generally shift in tandem with confidence in the American president. Favorable views of the U.S. dropped sharply in 2017 during President Trump’s first year in office and have decreased further in every country surveyed in both years except Spain. A larger share of Spaniards view the U.S. positively in 2020 (40%) than in 2017 (31%), though fewer hold this view now than during Obama’s presidency.

Positive views of the U.S. are at or near an all-time low in most countries for which trends are available. However, Spain and Italy had less positive views of the U.S. before the start of the Iraq War in March 2003 than they currently do. Favorable opinions were also lower in South Korea in the same year.

In every country surveyed, men have a more positive assessment of the U.S. than women. The gender gap is largest in Denmark, where 42% of men rate the U.S. favorably, compared with 26% of women. There is a similarly large gap in Spain (48% of men vs. 33% of women) while the magnitude of the gender difference is roughly 10 percentage points in the other countries polled.

In all European countries surveyed, views of the U.S. are significantly more favorable among those who support their country’s right-wing populist parties. For example, 73% of people with a favorable view of Spain’s Vox have a positive opinion of the U.S., compared with only 29% of those who view Vox unfavorably.

Consistent with the right-wing populist party findings, people who place themselves on the right of the ideological spectrum in general have a more positive view of the U.S. than people on the ideological left. This ideological divide is particularly large in Spain and South Korea, where there is a roughly 30 percentage point difference between the two groups.

This pattern mirrors the findings of previous surveys, where those on the right have generally viewed the U.S. more favorably than those on the left, even during President Obama’s tenure. In 2019, U.S. favorability ratings increased in some countries, driven in part by large jumps in ratings among those on the ideological right.

Overwhelming majorities rate America’s response to coronavirus outbreak as bad

Overall, few assess the American response to the coronavirus outbreak positively. In no country surveyed do more than a fifth think the U.S. has done at least a somewhat good job dealing with the virus, and a median of only 15% across the 13 countries polled consider the country’s handling of the virus to be effective.

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, very few polled in Canada, Europe or the Asia-Pacific have confidence in Donald Trump to do the right thing regarding international affairs. Across the 13 countries surveyed, a median of 16% have confidence in the American president. Just one-in-five or fewer in Canada and Western Europe trust the president to do what is right. In Belgium, Denmark, Germany and France, roughly one-in-ten have confidence in Trump.

The countries surveyed with the highest confidence in Trump are both in the Asia-Pacific region, and ratings in these countries are still very low. Roughly one-quarter of people in Australia and Japan believe the president will do the right thing in international affairs. In previous years, confidence in Trump has been relatively higher in some countries such as India, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria and the Philippines, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, interviewing is not currently possible in countries such as these where we typically conduct face-to-face interviews.

There has been some variability in Trump’s confidence ratings over the last few years, but overall, current ratings are consistent with those at the start of his presidency in 2017. Italy (9 percentage point decrease) and Australia (-6 points) are the only countries where confidence in Trump has decreased since he first took office. In contrast, Spaniards have more confidence in Trump now (16%) than they did four years ago, when they had one of the lowest levels of confidence measured (7%).

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