A new global poll conducted for the BBC World Service shows that the global view of America's role in world affairs has significantly deteriorated over the past year. The poll of 26,000 people in 25 countries (conducted by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland) finds that 73 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way the US has handled Iraq, while another 68 percent believe that the US presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict that it prevents.
The poll shows that world citizens disapprove of the way the US government has handled all six of the foreign policy areas explored. After the Iraq war (73% disapproval), majorities across the 25 countries also disapprove of US handling of Guantánamo detainees (67 percent),the Israeli-Hezbollah war (65 percent), Iran's nuclear program (60 percent), global warming (56 percent), and North Korea's nuclear program (54 percent).
Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes comments, "According to world public opinion, these days the US government hardly seems to be able to do anything right"...
GlobeScan president Doug Miller comments, "The US Administration's recent decision to send more troops to Iraq is at odds with global public opinion that thinks the US military presence in the region provokes more conflict than it prevents. This policy is likely to further hurt America's image."
The 25 countries polled in November and December of 2006 were the United States, Mexico, Britain, France, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Russia, China, India, Australia, Indonesia, The Philippines, and South Korea. The margin of error in each country polled is +/- 2.5 to four percent.
In 18 of the countries that were previously polled, the percentage of those who said the US was having a positive influence in the world dropped from 36 percent to 29 percent. Of the five countries that felt the US had a positive image, the highest totals were in Nigeria and the Philippines (72 percent each). The highest negative totals came from Germany (74 percent) and Indonesia (71 percent).
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the US handling of the prison for detainees at Guantánamo Bay also provokes enormous opposition, even among America's closest allies.
The countries whose citizens were most strident in their opposition over Guantánamo Bay were Germany, Egypt, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, France and Lebanon, with 80 per cent or more opposed. Of the Australians polled, 77 per cent disapproved of the US Guantánamo Bay policies, while 76 per cent of Britons and 72 per cent of Indonesians also expressed disapproval.
In an analysis for the BBC, Jonathan Marcus writes that the message of the poll is that the US " needs to listen more."
This, then, raises an obvious question. Is it simply the Bush administration's foreign policy or the whole image of America that is unpopular?
Comparable surveys suggest that there is still strong support around the world for the values enshrined in US society. But it looks as though America itself is seen to be living up to those values less and less.
As a result, America's soft power – its ability to influence people in other countries by the force of example and by the perceived legitimacy of its policies – is weakening.
The BBC poll is the first of three it plans to run. Next month it will release a poll on relations between Islam and the West, and then in March, it will look at positive and negative influences in a range of countries.