Citizens of the world are increasingly wary of the world's dominant nations and disapproving of their leaders.
That is a key finding from a deep and wide snapshot of worldwide public opinion released June 27 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The nonpartisan polling organization surveyed 45,000 people living in 47 countries during April and May 2007.
Andrew Kohut, director of the project, briefed reporters on the contents of the 129-page report – available at www.pewglobal.org – at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters held Wednesday.
In explaining what he called "global unease with the major powers of the world," Mr. Kohut listed three key findings.
"First, anti-Americanism is extensive, as it has been over the course of the past five years," the veteran pollster said. "Secondly, the image of China has slipped significantly among the publics of other major nations. Thirdly, there is a mixed attitude toward Russia. Certainly [Russian President] Putin's ... ratings have declined sharply over the past five years ... and they now more or less mirror worldwide lack of confidence in President Bush."
The Pew report says pollsters found "little evidence that discontent with the major nations of the world and their leaders is resulting in greater confidence in those who have challenged the global status quo." For example, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez "inspires little public confidence, even in Latin America," the document says.
There is also widespread wariness about Iran. "Huge majorities in most countries say they have little or no confidence in Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to do the right thing regarding world affairs," the report said.
There are practical reasons why world public opinion matters, Kohut noted.
The US "ability to garner international support for its ideas and its policies is much diminished by all of this distrust," he said.
The world's opinion of the US is not entirely bleak, the Pew report notes.Majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the US. But in the 33 countries where Pew has data to track the view of the US over time, favorable ratings have declined in 26 of them.
"The US image in Muslim countries is just abysmal," Kohut told reporters. "We now have a single-digit favorability rating for the US in Turkey – 9 percent."
The global view of several US policies is grim. "Global support for the US war on terrorism, which we have been tracking since 2002, goes a little bit lower each year," Kohut said. "It is very modest in Europe and there is tremendous opposition to the war on terror in most Muslim countries."
America also suffers in the eyes of those concerned about the environment. "The US is now blamed for hurting the world's environment at a time when there is rising global concern for environmental issues, and that is one of the other headlines out of the survey – that there is so much more concern than there was in 2002 about the environment and pollution," Kohut said.
Many poll respondents thought the US insincere about promoting democracy.
"The poll shows that many people think the United States is hypocritical about its promotion of democracy. I think we had in 46 of 47 countries, including the United States, large majorities saying the United States promotes democracy mostly when it suits its own needs, not for the sake of promoting democracy," Kohut said.
What would it take to improve the US image in the Muslim world? "To really change things with regard to the image of the United States from the point of view of Muslim people, you have to change American policies, not do a better job of explaining them," Kohut said. "In the Muslim world ... the universal view is that the United States is unfair in the way it deals with Israel" on more favorable terms than it does with Arab states.