Ratings for Trump remain poor
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.
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.
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.
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.
Country spotlights: Canada, Germany, South Korea
Findings from Canada, Germany and South Korea illustrate key patterns in how foreign publics view the U.S. and its president.
Canada: Favorable opinion of U.S. and confidence in its president at all-time low
Like all countries surveyed this year, Canada’s favorable rating of the U.S. dropped sharply in 2017 as confidence in the U.S. president plummeted. In the more than three years since Trump first took office, views have slowly shifted, but 2020 sees the lowest ratings for the U.S. in Canada since Pew Research Center began polling there almost two decades ago.
Only 35% of Canadians have a favorable view of their southern neighbor, and 20% trust Trump to do what is right regarding world affairs.
Germany: Deeply negative views of the U.S.
Germans give the U.S. some of its worst ratings in the survey. Only 26% have a positive view of America, while just 10% have confidence in Trump when it comes to his handling of world affairs. These opinions are in stark contrast to the very favorable assessments Germans had during Barack Obama’s presidency, but roughly on par with views at the end of George W. Bush’s tenure.
Across the European countries surveyed, support for right-wing populist parties is related to ratings of the U.S. In Germany, people who have a favorable view of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) are much more likely than those with an unfavorable view of the party to have a positive opinion of the U.S. (43% among party supporters vs. 22%) or to trust Trump’s approach to international affairs (34% vs. 5%). They are also more likely to believe that the U.S. has done a good job in response to the coronavirus outbreak (25% vs. 6%).
South Korea: A sharp drop in Trump confidence
South Korea has seen a steep decline in favorable views of the U.S. since last year, but it is the only country surveyed where a majority still holds a positive opinion. At the same time, trust in the U.S. president has dropped substantially.
South Koreans’ confidence in Trump more than doubled from 2017 to 2018 and remained at that level in 2019. That year, 78% of Koreans approved of Trump’s policy to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un about the country’s nuclear weapons program. Current ratings are back to their 2017 low: Only 17% believe Trump would do the right thing regarding world affairs.
Still, South Korea stands out for its people’s views of the U.S. as an economic leader. In nearly every other country surveyed, China is the most common choice as a global economic leader, but 77% of Koreans believe the U.S. holds this spot.
Majorities have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. in nearly every country surveyed
Pew Research Center surveys have found mixed or relatively negative views of the U.S. in Canada and Western Europe since 2017 and the beginning of the Trump administration. In the current survey, views of the U.S. have deteriorated further, with a median of only 34% across the 13 countries surveyed expressing a positive view.
Roughly one-third of Canadians (35%) view their neighbor to the south positively. A similar share across Europe holds this view (median of 33%), though favorable opinions range from a low of roughly a quarter in Belgium (24%) and Germany (26%) to a high of about four-in-ten or more in the UK (41%) and Italy (45%).
Many in Australia and Japan have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S., while South Korea stands out as the only country surveyed where a majority (59%) views the U.S. positively.
The current survey shows a substantial dip in ratings of the U.S. since 2019. Japan saw the largest drop, with only 41% expressing a positive view in 2020, compared with 68% in 2019. Every other country surveyed in both years saw a decrease of between 12 and 18 percentage points since the previous year.
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.
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.
While positive assessments of the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak are scarce overall, in some countries, they are in the single digits: Only 6% in South Korea, 7% in Denmark and 9% in Germany think the U.S. has dealt well with the virus. Spaniards hold the most positive assessments of the American response, but even there, only one-in-five think the U.S. has handled the outbreak well.
On the flip side, in every country surveyed, roughly eight-in-ten or more say the U.S. has handled the virus badly. And, in 11 of the 13 countries surveyed, half or more say the U.S. has done a very bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
These numbers are particularly low when compared to how publics think other countries and organizations have handled the outbreak. Consistently, the shares who think the U.S. has responded well to the virus are surpassed by those who think the same of China, the EU, the WHO and their own country. Only in Japan does the comparison between the U.S. and China coronavirus response come close: 15% think the U.S. has done a good job dealing with the outbreak and 16% think the same of China.
In most countries, at least half or more believe their country has done a good job dealing with the virus. However, the U.S. and UK are notable outliers, with 47% and 46% of people in each country, respectively, saying their nation has done at least a somewhat good job dealing with the outbreak.
Attitudes toward political parties also impact assessments of the U.S.’s handling of the virus. Those who hold favorable views of right-wing populist parties are more likely than those who hold unfavorable views to think the U.S. has dealt with the virus effectively. The differences between supporters and nonsupporters on this mark are sharp: Across all 11 right-wing parties surveyed, there are double-digit gaps in views of the American response to the outbreak.
Political ideology also influences how people assess the American response to the outbreak in roughly half of the countries surveyed. In Spain, Germany, Canada, Italy, the UK, France and Belgium, those who identify as being on the right of the ideological spectrum are significantly more likely than those on the left to positively assess the U.S.’s efforts to curtail the virus.
Few in Europe name the U.S. as the world’s leading economic power, but most in South Korea and Japan do
A median of 34% across the 13 countries surveyed believe the U.S. is the world’s leading economic power, while almost half (48%) say the same of China.
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. In Australia, Canada and the European countries surveyed, China is the top choice.
Overall, very few say the countries of the European Union are the world’s leading economic power, though 18% in Germany and 16% in Denmark hold this view.
Previous surveys have found that the U.S. tends to be the most common choice in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. But in Canada, Europe and parts of the Asia-Pacific, more have chosen China – consistent with the pattern of findings in the current survey. Overall, ratings have not changed significantly in most countries since 2019, despite the drastic economic challenges spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.
Confidence in President Trump is low, similar to his first year in office
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%).
Trust in the American president is low across most demographic groups, but men, people with less education and those on the right of the ideological spectrum tend to have more confidence in Trump’s handling of world affairs than their counterparts.
There is a significant gender gap in confidence in 10 of the 13 countries surveyed. This gap is largest in Japan, where 31% of men, compared with 19% of women, trust Trump. The educational divide is relatively small, but significant in seven countries. In Australia, the UK, Italy, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands and France, those with less than a secondary education have more confidence in Trump than those with more education.
Relative to the gender and educational differences, ideological differences are greater when evaluating confidence in Trump. The largest ideological divide is in Australia. Roughly four-in-ten Australians on the ideological right have confidence in Trump’s handling of global affairs, compared with only about one-in-ten of those on the left. A similar pattern can be seen in every country surveyed except France.
Mirroring the ideological divide, people who have a favorable opinion of right-wing populist parties in Europe also have more trust in the U.S. president than those with an unfavorable view of these parties. In Spain, supporters of the right-wing party Vox (45%) are more than six times as likely to express confidence in Trump as nonsupporters (7%). Backers of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) are almost seven times as likely non-backers to trust that Trump will do the right thing in world affairs (34% vs. 5%, respectively).
Confidence in world leaders
The survey also asked about confidence in five other world leaders: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump is the least trusted among these six leaders.
Xi also receives relatively negative ratings across the board. Confidence in the Chinese president is particularly low in Japan (9%), where people are more likely to trust Trump than Xi. About three-in-ten in the Netherlands trust Xi, the highest share among the countries surveyed. Confidence in Xi has also decreased since the previous year in 10 countries.
A median of 23% trust Putin’s approach to international affairs. Very few in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands hold this view, while Italians are the most likely among countries polled to have confidence in the Russian president.
People are roughly split in their views of Johnson; a 13-country median of 48% have confidence in the British leader when it comes to world affairs, while 46% do not. Britons are similarly divided in their opinions of their prime minister. Majorities in Sweden, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands express trust in Johnson, while very few in Spain and Italy agree.
Roughly half or more in 12 of the 13 countries surveyed expect Macron to do the right thing in international affairs. The exception is Italy, where just 35% voice confidence in the French president. In his own country, 52% express confidence in Macron.
Merkel is the most trusted world leader asked about in the survey and has held that spot since 2017, when Trump succeeded Obama as U.S. president. At least half in every country surveyed have confidence in the German leader when it comes to her handling of international affairs. Just under 90% in the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark express confidence in Merkel, slightly higher than the 81% of Germans who trust their leader to do the right thing.
As is the case for ratings for the U.S. president, people who support right-wing populist parties in Europe are more likely to express confidence in Putin and Johnson than people who do not support these parties. The opposite pattern is true for Merkel and Macron; backers of populist parties in Europe tend to have less confidence in the leaders of Germany and France.