Jul 27, 2020 - World

The U.S. has an international image problem

Data: Gallup; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: Gallup; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

America has an image problem. A Gallup poll of 135 countries finds virtually equivalent rates of approval for U.S. (median of 33%), Chinese (32%) and Russian (30%) global leadership.

Breaking it down: The U.S. approval rate is down from 48% in 2016, and it slides even lower among democratic allies like Canada (20%) and Germany (12%). Any significant improvements, the report notes, have tended to come in "some of the world's least democratic societies."

  • Approval of German leadership, meanwhile, has jumped to 44%, though Germany plays a more limited global role than the U.S. or China.

In Europe, approval of U.S. leadership has fallen by nearly half since President Trump took office, though it remains higher than at the end of George W. Bush's tenure (18%).

  • By the numbers: Germany (56% approval), U.S. (24%), China (23%), Russia (19%).
  • The big picture: The U.S. sits at or below 30% in 30 of 39 countries, including allies like the U.K. (25%) and many NATO countries that are deeply reliant on America's military strength.
  • Highest: Kosovo (82%) and Albania (67%), both Balkan countries that have benefitted from U.S. support, followed by two countries — Poland (59%) and Hungary (47%) — that have clashed with Brussels over rising authoritarianism but have been embraced by Trump.
  • Lowest: Iceland (9%), Austria (11%), Sweden (12%) and, unsurprisingly, Russia (11%).

In the Americas, approval of U.S. leadership plummeted from 49% to 24% in Trump's first year in office, but it has ticked upward since.

  • By the numbers: Germany (35% approval), U.S. (34%), China (32%), Russia (28%)
  • The big picture: America's neighbors — Canada (22%) and Mexico (17%) — view its leadership very unfavorably. Colombia (41%), Venezuela (39%) and Brazil (38%) are more favorable.
  • Support is low in two relatively wealthy South American countries — Chile (16%), Uruguay (19%) — and highest in the Dominican Republic (56%) and El Salvador (44%).

In Asia, particularly in the Middle East, views of U.S. leadership have long been mixed, though disapproval (39%) has now surpassed China's level (37%).

  • By the numbers: Germany (39% approval), U.S. (32%), China (31%), Russia (30%).
  • The big picture: Approval of U.S. leadership is worryingly low in Afghanistan (17%), almost nonexistent in Iran (6%), Yemen (10%), and the Palestinian territories (10%), and sky-high in Israel (64%).
  • Highest: Israel, Turkmenistan (62%), Mongolia (62%), Philippines (58%), Nepal (54%), Myanmar (53%).
  • Other notables: Australia (23%), India (34%), Indonesia (21%), Iraq (27%), Japan (34%), Pakistan (27%), Turkey (12%).
  • In Hong Kong (31%) and Taiwan (40%), two territories looking to the U.S. for protection from China, more respondents disapprove than approve of the state of American leadership.

African countries tend to welcome engagement from both the U.S. and China, though approval of U.S. leadership sloped down dramatically during Obama's tenure, from 85% in 2009 to 53% by 2016.

  • By the numbers: U.S. (52% approval), China (51%), Germany (46%), Russia (40%).
  • The big picture: U.S. leadership is very unpopular in Libya (20%), where America intervened militarily in 2011, but not in the Sahel — Niger (65%), Mali (64%) — where the U.S. is involved in counterterror operations.
  • Approval tends to be high in sub-Saharan Africa and lower in North Africa.

Worth noting: Some of the numbers are skewed by very high "don't know/refuse" rates, which were above 40% in countries ranging from Bulgaria to Panama to Vietnam to Botswana. Laos was an outlier, with 86% "don't know."

  • Those rates were typically under 20% in Western Europe and the Americas.
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