May 16, 2019 - World

Admiration in China for American democracy

Most people in China would like to see their country's political system become more like America's over the next 2 decades. Japanese and Germans, not so much.

Data: Eurasia Group Foundation; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The big picture: Opinions of the U.S. have fallen dramatically around the world, due in large part to suspicion of the man in the Oval Office. But the Eurasia Group Foundation probed a deeper question: Do countries still see American democracy as a model? The answers were wide-ranging, and surprising.

The view from China:

  • Most Chinese respondents have either a somewhat (41%) or very (17%) positive view of the U.S. Far fewer feel very (9%) or somewhat (8%) unfavorable.
  • When it comes to American democracy, though, just 1% are very favorable and 5% very unfavorable. Most are in the middle — either somewhat favorable (42%) or neutral (40%).
  • However, 70% of respondents believe the U.S. should “focus on the flaws in its own political system instead of focusing on the political systems of other countries." Most also want a "less assertive" U.S. foreign policy.

Between the lines: At a time when Washington and Beijing are gearing up for a new Cold War, it's counterintuitive to find that most Chinese actually feel the U.S. political and economic systems set “a positive example for the world.”

  • But, but, but: When given a choice of 15 countries and asked which has the best political system, Chinese respondents rank the U.S. second. Far out ahead is China itself.

Germans have strikingly negative views of the U.S., and while that trend is driven in part by antipathy toward Trump, it seems to go deeper.

  • Just 19% say the U.S. has made the world a better place over the past 20 years, and only 23% think U.S. democracy is a good example for the world.

In India, meanwhile, overwhelming majorities have favorable views of the U.S. (76%) and U.S. democracy (86%).

  • Nigerians, Poles and Brazilians all have similarly pro-U.S. views.
  • For Egyptians, the picture is mixed — the U.S. political system is viewed more favorably than America itself.

Japan might be the most remarkable of all. Only 2% have highly favorable views of the U.S. or U.S. democracy, and just 2% want the Japanese political system to become much more like America's.

  • On all of those questions, the most popular response was "neutral."
  • As to America's global influence over the past 20 years, Japanese respondents were about evenly divided over whether it's been positive, negative or made “little or no difference.”
  • "This is notable considering that, since the end of World War II, the United States has been the primary guarantor of Japanese security and that the two countries remain close allies today," report author Mark Hannah writes.

The bottom line: Across the 8 countries, the most-cited reasons for unfavorable views of the U.S. were opposition to Trump, U.S. interventions abroad and America's economic inequality.

  • People who had visited the U.S., knew people living there, or consumed American news and popular culture were far more likely to view the U.S. favorably. That underlines the importance of "attraction" rather than "promotion" in spreading democracy, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer writes.
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