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Public Diplomacy by the Numbers, 2012-2013

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Reports from multi-national opinion surveys on U.S. standing and related issues

Pew Global Attitudes Project: China Seen as Rising Power, but U.S. Viewed More Favorably. Released 18 July 2013

Publics around the world believe the global balance of power is shifting. China’s economic power is on the rise, and many think it will eventually supplant the United States as the world’s dominant superpower.

However, China’s increasing power has not led to more positive ratings for the People’s Republic. Overall, the U.S. enjoys a stronger global image than China. Across the nations surveyed, a median of 63% express a favorable opinion of the U.S., compared with 50% for China.

Globally, people are more likely to consider the U.S. a partner to their country than to see China in this way, although relatively few think of either nation as an enemy. America is also seen as somewhat more willing than China to consider other countries’ interests. Still, both of these world powers are widely viewed as acting unilaterally in international affairs.

And the military power of both nations worries many. China’s growing military strength is viewed with trepidation in neighboring Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes faces broad opposition – half or more in 31 of 39 countries disapprove of U.S. drone attacks against extremist groups.


Results for the survey are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The results are based on national samples of 37,653 respondents from 2 March to 1 May 2013 in 39 countries including the U.S. Results for India were not reported due to concerns about the survey’s administration in the field.

Gallup: U.S.-Global Leadership Project. U.S. Leadership Earning Lower Marks Worldwide. Released 13 March 2013

The image of U.S. leadership worldwide was weaker during President Barack Obama’s fourth year in office than at any point during his first administration. Median approval of U.S. leadership across 130 countries stood at 41 percent in 2012, down measurably from 49 percent approval in Obama’s first year. Despite these poorer scores, approval ratings for the most part remain stronger than they were at the end of the last Bush administration.

This shift suggests that the president and the new secretary of state may not find global audiences as receptive to the U.S. agenda as they have in the past. In fact, they may even find even once-warm audiences increasingly critical. The image of U.S. leadership continued to be the strongest worldwide in Africa in 2012, bolstered by strong majority approval in sub-Saharan Africa. However, this strong support in the subcontinent, which first showed signs of weakening in 2011, waned more in 2012.

U.S. leadership remains far less popular in North Africa, except in Libya, where U.S. support for the revolution may have generated an almost unprecedented level of goodwill toward America. A majority of Libyans (54%) surveyed before the attack in Benghazi approved of U.S. leadership in 2012. In Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt, no more than one-third approved and ratings remained mostly flat. Algerian approval of U.S. leadership is down slightly since 2011, dropping from 37 percent to 30 percent.

The free fall in U.S. approval in the Americas that began after Obama’s first year in office ended in his fourth year. Median approval was stagnant at 40 percent between 2011 and 2012, but the U.S. image remains better positioned now than before the president began his first term.

Median approval of U.S. leadership in Europe has slipped 11 points since Obama’s first year in office but was still twice as high in 2012 as it was during the last years of the Bush administration. Half of the loss took place in the last year alone, suggesting the U.S. was likely shouldering some of the blame for the ongoing financial crisis in Europe. A median of 36% approved of U.S. leadership last year, down from 42 percent in 2011.


Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2011 in 136 countries and 2012 in 130 countries.Measures based on aggregates of multiple surveys conducted in 2011 and 2012 are noted in the report. For results based on the total samples, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the margin of sampling error ranges from ±1.7 percentage points to ±4.8 percentage points….

Pew Global Attitudes Project: Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted. Released 13 June 2012

Global approval of President Barack Obama’s policies has declined significantly since he first took office, while overall confidence in him and attitudes toward the U.S. have slipped modestly as a consequence.
Europeans and Japanese remain largely confident in Obama, albeit somewhat less so than in 2009, while Muslim publics remain largely critical. A similar pattern characterizes overall ratings for the U.S. – in the EU and Japan, views are still positive, but the U.S. remains unpopular in nations such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, support for Obama has waned significantly in China. Since 2009, confidence in the American president has declined by 24 percentage points and approval of his policies has fallen 30 points. Mexicans have also soured on his policies, and many fewer express confidence in him today.
The Obama era has coincided with major changes in international perceptions of American power – especially U.S. economic power. The global financial crisis and the steady rise of China have led many to declare China the world’s economic leader, and this trend is especially strong among some of America’s major European allies. Today, solid majorities in Germany (62%), Britain (58%), France (57%) and Spain (57%) name China as the world’s top economic power.

Majorities or pluralities in 12 countries express a favorable opinion of the United States, while the prevailing view is negative in only five nations. In three countries views are closely divided.

Attitudes toward the U.S. are generally more positive today than in 2008, the final year of the George W. Bush administration. The biggest improvements in America’s image have occurred among Europeans – in France, Spain, and Germany, the percentage of people with a positive view of the U.S. is at least 20 percentage points higher than in 2008.

However, some of the initial surge in pro-American sentiments that followed Obama’s election have waned in Western Europe, especially in Germany where 64% had a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 2009, compared with 52% today.

Results for the survey are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Survey results are based on national samples except in China.

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