International Image of U.S. Hits Historic Lows Over Coronavirus Response

The decline of the United States’ image abroad since Donald Trump took office as president has been routinely charted, with residents in countries saying America today doesn’t look like the country they watched from afar while growing up.

But now the view of the U.S. from abroad has hit a new low in certain parts of the world, in part due to views of Trump, but also because of how the country has managed the coronavirus pandemic and the growing social unrest over racial inequality.

Just 1 in 6 people polled said they have confidence in Trump and roughly one-third of respondents said they have a favorable view of the U.S., according to the findings in a 13-country survey released on Tuesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

“Both of those numbers are much lower than we would have seen during the (President Barack) Obama years when he and the U.S. got much higher numbers,” said Richard Wike, director of Pew’s global attitudes research.

The findings are based on surveys of 13,273 adults in 13 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The telephone polling was conducted from June 10 to Aug. 3.

The survey results are especially noteworthy because of the low opinions given by people in countries closely allied with the U.S. In the U.K., America’s most important ally, just 41% of people polled say they have a favorable view of the U.S., the lowest figure in any survey that Pew has conducted there.

In France, only 31% of polled adults express a favorable view of America and in Germany the figure is just 26% — similar ratings found in the two countries in March 2003, when European public opinion sharply opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Among some of the survey’s notable findings:

— In Canada, just 35% said they view America positively, an all-time low in Pew polling.

— Across the 13 countries, a median of 15% say the U.S. has done a good job of managing the coronavirus outbreak. In contrast, a majority of respondents say the World Health Organization and the European Union have done a good job.

— Concern in the 13 countries about racial injustice align with a broader pattern of declining belief that the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens.

— Few said China has handled the pandemic well, although that country — where the coronavirus originated — received better reviews than the U.S.

— Majorities or pluralities in the 13 countries named China as the world’s leading economic power, extending a trend of recent years. A median of 34% across the 13 countries believe the U.S. is the world’s leading economic power, while almost half (48%) say the same of China.

[MORE: America Appears Unrecognizable to Its Allies]

Views of Trump Pull Down Opinion of the U.S.

The most negative assessment of Trump came from Belgium, where only 9% of survey respondents said they have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs. Trump’s highest approval rating came from Japan — a strong ally of the U.S. — but even there only 25% of respondents said they have confidence in the American president.

In France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., Trump’s ratings are similar to George W. Bush at the end of his presidency. But Wike, speaking online to an international audience, noted a difference in the low public opinion marks given to the Bush-era America to today’s views of the U.S. during the Trump presidency. During the Bush years, the U.S. was unpopular abroad because the country was seen as a “hyper-power,” Wike said — a country throwing its weight around on the global stage in an unconstrained manner.

“What people see right now that they don’t like is the U.S. withdrawing from international leadership or pulling back from things like the Iran nuclear deal or the Paris climate accords and trade deals.”

[MORE: U.S. Declines in Annual Quality of Life Report]

The U.S. governmnt’s performance during a year of a historic global health crisis has also influenced public opinion abroad, Wike added. “In years past we’ve seen that people really admire the United States for science and technology, and they see this issue (the pandemic) come along and maybe people have thought the U.S. isn’t dealing so well with this big public health challenge.”

People surveyed abroad also have less confidence in Trump than the leaders in France, Germany, the U.K., Russia and China. German Chancellor Angela Merkel received the highest level of support, with 76% of respondents expressing confidence in the German leader as she approaches the end of her tenure in office. French President Emmanuel Macron also receives favorable reviews, with 64% of respondents expressing confidence in him doing the right thing in world affairs. Opinion is nearly evenly divided over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

By contrast, only 16% of people in the 13 countries expressed confidence in Trump, lower than Russian President Vladimir Putin (23%) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (19%).

Despite the low confidence ratings in the U.S., people in the 13 countries “haven’t given up on the United States,” Wike said, adding that public opinion abroad desires a U.S. engaged with the rest of the world.

“What we’ve seen is that basically when the U.S. withdraws from international commitments, that’s something that’s often frowned upon by foreign publics. And also when the U.S. builds walls between itself and the rest of the world, whether that’s a literal wall on the border with Mexico, or maybe a figurative wall. Those kinds of things are also driving these negative views we’ve seen over the last couple of years.”

More from U.S. News

Amid a Pandemic and Social Unrest, America Appears Unrecognizable to Its Allies

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