By Max Fisher
One of the most common answers I hear when I ask foreigners what they think about the U.S. is some variation of this: “You Americans are all so obsessed with how you’re perceived overseas.” In that spirit, even if it means reinforcing a stereotype, I’ve mapped some new data on global opinion of the United States, as part of a series of posts on Pew’s fascinating and just-out “global attitudes” study.
The map at the top of the post shows positive and negative opinions of the U.S. across the world. The poll works just like a presidential poll: Pew called people up and asked them if they had a favorable opinion of the U.S. or an unfavorable opinion (there was also a choice for no answer). Countries with a more favorable opinion are in blue (the darker the blue, the more favorable); red shows more unfavorable attitudes. A quick note about the data: most of it is from 2012, but I also pulled the 2011 numbers for Kenya, Ukraine, Indonesia and Lithuania; as well as the 2010 numbers for Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea; these countries were not included in the most recent survey.
My first impression is that nobody polarizes public opinion like Uncle Sam. Pew asked for respondents to give their impressions of several different countries (more on this in later posts), and the U.S. seemed to draw by far the strongest responses. It’s not really surprising that people have strong opinions about America, but it is a reminder of how closely we’re watched around the world and of the strong feelings that the American model and American foreign policy elicit.
The harshest views of America are in, no surprises, the Middle East and South Asia. Egyptians, Jordanians, Turks and Pakistanis all seem to see the United States in an overwhelmingly unfavorable light. As Turkey’s economy grows, its foreign policy becomes more assertive and democratization gives the Turkish people a stronger role in government, the negative view of the U.S. there could become more important for the world.
Still, it’s important not to make the mistake of confusing these four anti-American countries, which have their own reasons for disliking the U.S. (drones in Pakistan, perceived support for Hosni Mubarak in Egypt), with the entire Middle East or “Muslim world.” Indonesia and India, which have two of the largest Muslim populations in the world, both returned mildly positive views of America. Views vary even in the Arab Middle East; Tunisians and Lebanese seemed ambivalent, reporting roughly equivalent favorable and unfavorable numbers. And Nigerians, half of whom are Muslim, positively beam pro-Americanism: They report a more favorable view of the U.S. than Americans themselves do.
So who seems to like America? It’s a long list – longer than you might expect. To give a comparative sense, recent polls find that Americans give President Obama 59 percent “favorable” and 40 percent “unfavorable” ratings. And he just won reelection, so we can say those are pretty good numbers. America scores similar favorability ratings in a few countries we might assume, wrongly, don’t like us so much: Mexico, despite U.S. immigration policies targeting Mexicans, and Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has pushed some populist anti-Americanism. We are also moderately liked in the post-Soviet state of Ukraine, in Brazil and in the United Kingdom. I thought we’d be more popular in the U.K., where politicians make a big deal out of the “special relationship” with Washington. It’s possible that there’s still some sense that once-great Britain is being led around by its former colony (I’ve heard some Brits worry about becoming the “51st state”), as well as lingering resentment over the view that the U.K. was pulled into the Iraq War.
The U.S. is most popular in continental Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the northeast Asian countries of South Korea and Japan. Those latter two are interesting cases: Both are pro-American democracies still defended by a large U.S. military presence. But that military presence forcibly occupied Japan only two generations ago (though it helped to build democracy there), and in South Korea it propped up a long-running dictatorship; Japanese and Koreans occasionally protest the American bases.