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U.S. Image Abroad Still Bad, but Better

Many hold unfavorable views of America, but Washington's tsunami aid and promotion of democracy have helped reverse the trend.

June 24, 2005|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — America's battered image abroad has improved slightly over the last year, boosted in Europe, Russia and the Middle East by U.S. aid to tsunami victims and the Bush administration's focus on promoting democracy, according to a new poll.

However, Muslims and Europeans continued to hold mostly unfavorable opinions of the United States, and large majorities in most nations do not believe U.S. foreign policy takes their interests into account, the 16-nation survey by the Pew Research Center found.

"Anti-Americanism is entrenched in many countries in the world, especially in Europe," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. "But we have seen some progress," he added, notably in India and Indonesia, where the U.S. image improved dramatically following widely hailed American aid after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December.

The survey shows that "it's possible for the United States to make progress," Kohut said, although he said anti-Americanism remained a major problem.

In France, for example, 62% of those surveyed had a favorable view of the U.S. five years ago. That dropped to 37% in 2004 but edged up to 43% this year, the survey found.

Attitudes toward the U.S. also improved slightly over the 2004 findings in Germany, Spain, Russia and Pakistan. But the U.S. image improved dramatically in Jordan and Lebanon, where pressure from President Bush contributed to Syria's decision to withdraw its troops.

In India, where economic and political relations with America are improving, U.S. favorability jumped from 54% in 2002 to 71% in 2005. And in Indonesia, the U.S. favorability rating jumped from 15% in 2003 to 38% in 2005, even though 47% of those surveyed said they were less favorably inclined toward the U.S. as a result of its calls for more global democracy.

China was rated favorably more often than the United States in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Russia, the poll found. In Canada, 58% of respondents said they had a favorable view of China, and 59% said they had a favorable view of the U.S.

The Pew survey interviewed 16,766 people in 16 nations for its ninth annual survey. Its findings have been closely watched, including by the administration, particularly since U.S. approval ratings crashed on the eve of the Iraq war.

Most Americans know they are disliked around the world. The survey found that 69% thought the U.S. was "generally disliked," whereas 26% believed they were liked abroad, the lowest percentage of any nation surveyed. Only 4% of Canadians believe they are generally disliked abroad, but 57% of Russians and 66% of Turks surveyed believe they are also unpopular.

Contrary to the popular belief that "the French have an inordinately high opinion of themselves and their culture, France does not lead the self-popularity parade," the survey found. "That honor belongs to China, where 88% of Chinese report holding a favorable attitude toward their country," the report says.

Although there are government restrictions on the media in China, Kohut said he had no indication that the Chinese were being less than candid with the pollsters about their views.

Americans are next in line in national pride, with 83% declaring a favorable view of their nation and 14% holding an unfavorable view.

Germany was the most self-deprecating of nations, the poll found. Only 51% of Germans said their country was liked abroad, and 43% believed that Germany was generally disliked. But other Western European nations gave Germany very high popularity ratings, including France, which gave Germany higher marks than it gave itself.

As in the past, Bush's unpopularity overseas appeared in the survey to be a leading cause of America's unfavorable image in many, though not all countries.

Though it is still true that the rest of the world holds the American people in higher regard than it does their government, the gap is narrowing, the survey found. Even in Russia, Pakistan and Indonesia, where the perception of the U.S. turned more favorable in 2005, the image of the American people declined, the survey found.

A senior State Department official said the administration believed that over time, the United States would come to be appreciated for its "universally shared values."

"No one is under any illusion: This is a long-term process," the official said.

But the U.S. response to the tsunami showed the world that "America cares, America is there when people need them, and ... we don't act on the basis of religion or politics but on the basis of our common human heritage," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol.

The Iraqi election in January did not improve the image of the U.S. in the view of most of those surveyed, including in Britain, where most believe force should not have been used in Iraq.

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Changing perceptions

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