After four years of decline during Donald Trump’s presidency, America’s reputation abroad is bouncing back.
That’s a major takeaway from a new Pew Research Center survey on international views toward the United States.
Those attitudes have “certainly rebounded since President Biden was elected,” said Richard Wike, director of global attitudes at the Pew Research Center, on Tuesday at a forum held by the University of Southern California’s Washington center. While concerns about American behavior remain, “there’s been a big shift in America’s global image in a positive direction.”
Pew surveys of 3,576 adults in 23 countries indicate 59 percent have a favorable opinion of the United States, while 30 percent don’t. Similarly, 54 percent have confidence in Biden, while 39 percent don’t. While Pew does not have directly comparable data for a global sweep of countries for the Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush presidencies, it does have confidence and popularity information by individual nations that show Biden’s ratings far above Trump’s.
Poland, “where positive views of the U.S. have increased substantially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” gave the United States the highest rating, with 93 percent favorable. Hungary was the only nation where fewer than half, 44 percent, viewed America positively.
The 23 countries surveyed skew toward wealthy, predominately White nations. Ten are in Europe, plus Canada and Australia are on the list. Meanwhile, Africa and Latin America are represented by three nations each. Asia has four.
“Next year, we plan to do somewhere between 35 and 40 countries,” Wike said, “with a much larger representation from Africa, from Latin America, Southeast Asia and different parts of the world.”
Despite the improved image, “typically,” the report said, “people do not think the U.S. considers their interests.”
America’s standing is recovering, but it still suffers from the lasting damage of the Trump years. That was demonstrated in recent Washington Post interviews with a 16-year-old student in Copenhagen and a 72-year-old retired social worker in Toulouse, France.
“I wanted to go to America when I was younger and I all my friends did, too,” said Sabrina M. Brauer-Christiansen, who is proud of her Danish and Kenyan ancestry.
But now, after the Trump administration, the police killing of George Floyd, and endless gun violence, her opinion of America is “mostly negative … a place I wouldn’t want to go.” When she thinks about the United States, “I can’t help but think of racism … and school shootings.”
Living in Denmark, “such a safe country and with such strict gun laws,” Sabrina said, “I can’t help but be scared of the United States.”
When Hélène Svahn was Sabrina’s age growing up in France, “traveling with Pan Am to USA was an ultimate dream,” she said, adding “I felt the death of President Kennedy as a personal loss.” But with Trump’s presidency, the United States became “a big disappointment.” His “America First” policy, she continued, “felt like an insult to the rest of the planet.”
While the attitudes like Sabrina’s and Svahn’s linger, Biden’s reputation prospers abroad simply, but not solely, because he is not Trump. Specific actions help. America’s international image improved with Biden’s foreign policies, including his reversal of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization. Asked for comment on Trump’s international image, his office did not respond.
“When an American administration follows a more multilateralist foreign policy,” Wike said, “that has a positive impact on how people see the U.S.”
Yet, that multilateralist foreign policy also has a downside. A massive 82 percent of those surveyed said Washington “does interfere in the affairs of other countries” and 50 percent said America “does not take into account the interests of countries like theirs.” Asked for comment on these points, the State Department did not respond.
Jon B. Alterman, a Center for Strategic and International Studies senior vice president, said the interference issue isn’t necessarily a problem for American foreign policy, but “it’s a bigger problem when half the public thinks the United States doesn’t take their country’s interests into account” and Washington “wants their government to do something.”
“They are keenly aware that the United States is the third-most-populous country in the world, the wealthiest, the most militarily powerful, as well as being the global cultural, intellectual and technological trendsetter,” he added. “The idea that a country with all those advantages would try to maximize what it got from other countries was chilling to many people. They were afraid of getting steamrolled.”
Large majorities, 61 percent to 74 percent, of respondents in several middle-income countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia, said American investment was beneficial. Argentina was the only nation on that subset of eight that disagreed, and strongly so with 56 percent saying U.S. investment was of little or no help. Sixty-one percent in the 23 countries said America does contribute to world peace and stability.
Not that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to care, but with Moscow’s war against Ukraine, his international favorable rating is a nearly invisible 11 percent, with 87 percent expressing no confidence in him.
One interesting tidbit is attitudes toward China are falling, and that reverberates to America’s favor. More people now consider the United States the top economic power.
“Increasingly,” Pew finds “a negative view people have about China in many parts of the world,” Wike said in a follow-up phone call. “In many parts of the world, this led to things that impact how they see the U.S. as well.”