New Leadership Brings a Brighter Outlook for U.S.-German Relations, Surveys Show

A newly released study shows residents in both the United States and Germany say relations between the two allies are improving as 2021 has witnessed sweeping changes in the national leadership of both countries.

The survey released on Monday and conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and Körber-Stiftung, a German nonprofit organization for political dialogue, shows 71% of Germans said the relationship between the two allies is in good shape, more than triple the percentage of Germans polled in 2020. In the U.S., 85% of Americans surveyed said their country’s relationship with Germany is good, a 17-percentage point increase from 2017.

The surveys were conducted in September in both countries and polled 1,008 Germans and 1,162 people in the U.S.

The study found that the large change in public opinion produced a reconsideration of alliances; the U.S. replaced France as Germans’ top political ally. Americans, in contrast, continue to say the United Kingdom is their country’s most important ally.

More than three-quarters of respondents in each country expressed support for military involvement in foreign conflicts to maintain the security of their country or their allies.

Joe Biden took office as U.S. president in January after defeating incumbent Donald Trump in the November 2020 general elections. During Trump’s tenure in the White House, his “America first” approach to foreign policy led him to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords and pull America out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Global surveys routinely showed that during Trump’s time in office the world’s trust of the U.S. as a reliable partner sank. As Biden prepared to enter office at the beginning of this year, global polls showed a cautious but hopeful view of the U.S. returning to its traditional role as a global leader.

In Germany, meanwhile, national elections in September ushered in historic changes as the ruling coalitions led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Party lost to the Social Democrats. Merkel’s nearly 16 years in office as chancellor comes to an end as the Social Democrats are negotiating with smaller parties and hope to form a government in December.

However, in spite of the increased goodwill between the U.S. and Germany, citizens of the two countries seem to see a different world moving forward.

Where 40% of Americans surveyed said they expect a return to the pre-Trump and -pandemic global status quo — with a further 28% forecasting a more national focus — only 26% of Germans predict a stay of preexisting conditions compared to 50% envisioning more global cooperation. Furthermore, despite July’s launch of the U.S.-Germany Climate and Energy Partnership and America’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement, Germans remain skeptical of America’s dedication to combating climate change. Only 41% see them as a partner in the fight against rising global temperatures.

The findings of the report reflect a larger improvement of America’s global standing this year. Among other findings in the study of American and German opinions:

— Americans and Germans view the rise of technological innovations as an opportunity to advance democracy across the globe at 57% and 51%, respectively, though the number differs across older age groups and political parties.

— Americans are far more concerned with China (61%) and Russia (54%) as major threats to their way of life, compared to 26% and 16% of Germans, respectively.

— Despite the overall strength in their current ties, Germans are less confident in the U.S. regarding the issues of coronavirus (only 35%), protecting the environment (41%), and dealing with China (41%). Conversely, more than three-fourths of Americans indicate confidence in Germany as partners concerning most issues with the exception of China (59%) and Afghanistan (58%).

A separate but related study taken in the spring of this year reported a comparable upward trend in perceptions of the U.S. The Pew Research Center found that confidence in America’s capability handling international affairs had reached 75% amongst respondents from 12 different countries — up from 17% at the end of the Trump presidency.

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