Why the US has slipped in a global ranking to No. 7

In 2016, the US ranked No. 4 in the US News & World Report study. But international perspectives of the US presidential election have caused it to fall three places in 2017.

Mike Segar/Reuters
New American citizens wave American flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony in Newark, N.J., on March 1, 2017.

The United States is only the seventh best country in the world, according to a joint rankings and analysis project from US News & World Report, Y&R's BAV Consulting, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Best Countries Ratings project, which is in its second year, looks at the opinions of people all over the globe in order to determine how 80 major countries (up from 60 last year) are perceived throughout the world. During the 2016 best country ratings, the US was ranked at No. 4 in the world, but has dropped to No. 7 in the ratings for 2017.

Why the drop? For many survey respondents, it boiled down to the November US presidential election. More than 70 percent of survey respondents said they had lost respect for US leadership as a result of the cutthroat electoral process. And the eventual winner of the election was none too popular either, with a majority of survey respondents (60 percent) around the world saying they would have backed Hillary Clinton, not President Trump, had they been US citizens.

"It's pretty clear that Donald Trump ran and was elected as a nationalist who would look out, as he put it, just for American interests, and who thought the US was doing too much and was being exploited by the rest of the world," Thomas Wright, fellow and director of the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution, told US News. "That has made the rest of the world very nervous."

This lowered perception of the US – and its president – was based on data from 21,000 people from 36 different countries. Support for Mr. Trump was lowest in Mexico, where only 4.6 percent of respondents saying they supported the US president. South Korea's approval for the US president was also notably low, with only 8.6 expressing approval for Trump.

"Europeans look at Trump and see [Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi. South Americans look at Trump and see [former president of Venezuela] Hugo Chavez," said Jacob Parakilas with the British think tank Chatham House. "And I think there's some truth to that, but obviously they had smaller countries with smaller economies and militaries in their command. Their potential impact was much smaller."

Despite the fall in the overall rankings, the US is still perceived as extremely powerful, secure in its No. 1 spot as "most influential" country in the world, according to the survey. But that influence means that the world's eyes are on the US, especially under an unpopular president in the wake of a contentious election.

"Our data captured widespread global concern for the social and geopolitical changes that cast many nations into uncertainty and turmoil," said John Gerzema, chairman and chief executive officer of Y&R's BAV Consulting, in a press release. "The new rankings reflect people's desire to restore some sense of order by rewarding nations they perceive as championing neutrality, stability and diplomacy."

Another big drop in the best nation rankings was that of Germany, which fell from the No. 1 spot last year to No. 4 in 2017. The country has seen increasing tensions the past year over the refugee crisis as well as a number of terrorist attacks that likely colored how respondents perceived the European power. Other countries moved up in the rankings; Japan jumped from No. 7 to No. 5 this year, and Switzerland was able to take the No. 1 spot for the entire list this year.

So, in this survey, what's the secret to having a positive enough international image to go up in the rankings?

"The Best Countries project allows us to chart how global perceptions of a country affect its prosperity," said David Reibstein, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School. "We've learned that a focus on education and citizenship – including human rights, gender equality, religious freedom and more – can drive prosperity more than traditional forms of power, like military prowess."

This article contains material from the Associated Press.

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