America's global image is in tatters
President-elect Biden declared during the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday that "the world is watching." Indeed, the world was watching long before that.
Why it matters: Biden has made restoring America's global image, leadership and alliances the cornerstone of his foreign policy agenda. That was a tall order even before audiences around the world watched a mob forcefully disrupt America's democratic process.
By the numbers: A Pew survey conducted in July — in the midst of the pandemic, racial justice protests and the U.S. election campaign — found that across 13 allied countries, a median of just 34% said they viewed the U.S. positively.
- In nearly every country, those numbers had fallen precipitously from 2019, when majorities in most of the countries viewed Trump negatively, but not America itself.
- In Japan, 68% of respondents viewed the U.S. favorably as of 2019, a number that had held fairly steady for a decade. This year, it fell to 41%. The falls were nearly as sharp in countries like South Korea (77% to 59%) and Australia (50% to 33%).
- Back in 2015, a median of 68% in Pew's poll viewed the U.S. favorably.
Breaking it down: Those numbers aren't just a reflection of antipathy to Trump, though his global favorability ratings are strikingly low (19% in the U.K., for example).
- Majorities in most countries believe the U.S. had done a "very bad" job handling the pandemic. A median of just 15% across the 13 countries felt the U.S. response was "somewhat" or "very" good.
- Another Pew poll found a sharp decline in the belief that the U.S. "respects the personal freedoms of its people."
- Meanwhile, a Gallup poll of 135 countries conducted in late 2019/early 2020 (before the pandemic) found virtually identical rates of approval for U.S. (median of 33%), Chinese (32%) and Russian (30%) global leadership.
Flashback: The Pew and Gallup polls both go back far enough to highlight another time when global views of the U.S. plummeted dramatically: in 2003, following the invasion of Iraq.
- In several allied countries, views of U.S. leadership were equivalent to or lower then than they are today.
- Those ratings remained relatively low throughout Bush's tenure and then shot upward amid global enthusiasm around the election of Barack Obama.
What to watch: Now another president is taking office promising to restore America's standing.
- Biden is unlikely to be greeted with the immediate surge of pro-U.S. sentiment that surrounded President Obama.
- For the time being, global attention is focused far more closely on the president who is leaving than the man who is about to replace him.