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Around The World 1
THIS WEEK

A Declining Brand?

The depths of disapproval registered abroad suggest that Trump has undone the progress Obama made in burnishing the American brand

| Muhtasim Billah |

A wide-ranging international study conducted by the Pew Research Center has found that the standing of the United States in the eyes of citizens of the nation’s closest allies and others worldwide is diminishing due to the country’s controversial president Donald Trump. The report was released on June 26. In the survey of 37 countries, Russia featured as a bright spot for Trump. As beleaguered as the president is at home, a majority of Russians say they have confidence in him. And Russians’ attitudes toward the United States have improved since Trump took office. Elsewhere, though, and with remarkable speed, Trump’s presidency has taken a toll on the United States’ image abroad.

The international survey by the Pew Research Center found that favorable ratings of the United States have decreased from 64 percent of people across all countries surveyed at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency to 49 percent this spring. The new figures are similar to those toward the end of the George W. Bush administration. The president himself has fared even worse: A median 22 percent are confident that Trump will do the right thing in global affairs, down from 64 percent who had confidence in Obama. From Chile to Italy, from Sweden to Japan, majorities consider the president arrogant, intolerant, unqualified, and dangerous. On the flip side, most view him as a strong leader. And many expect their country’s relationship with the United States to withstand his presidency. It is perhaps unsurprising that a man who campaigned on a pledge to put American interests first would generate backlash in other parts of the world. Nor is it surprising that the negative reaction would carry over to opinions about the United States itself. Particularly in Europe, “that is almost a reflex,” said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

What is surprising, said Frank G. Wisner, a former diplomat who served under Democrats and Republicans, is the degree to which Trump has scorned principles the United States has not only long espoused but also helped to define in the previous century. These include democratic governance, free markets, collective security, human rights, and the rule of law — commitments that together, Wisner said, delineate the liberal international order. Global popular opinion matters, Wisner said, in part because it defines how foreign leaders engage with American interests. The depths of disapproval registered abroad suggest that Trump has undone the progress Obama made in burnishing the American brand. It took Bush eight years, and the quagmire in Iraq, to notch such dismal ratings overseas, according to Pew. It has taken Trump six months. Trump’s unpopularity is the result of a mix of disagreement with his signature policy objectives, such as building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and distaste for his character, according to Pew’s analysis of poll results. Among other world leaders studied by Pew, German chancellor Angela Merkel receives relatively high marks. The share of people who report little or no confidence in her, a median of 31 percent across 37 countries, is less than half that for Trump, at 74 percent. The survey found that 59 percent lack confidence in Russian president Vladimir Putin and 53 percent in Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Trust in the American president plummeted most in some of the United States’ closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as in the countries it borders – Canada and Mexico. Trump receives a higher score than Obama only in only two countries – Russia and Israel. Since 2002, when Pew began examining the United States’ image abroad, perceptions of the United States have run in parallel with judgments about the country’s president. Opinions of the United States have improved in Russia, as confidence in the president rose from 11 percent toward the end of Obama’s two terms to 53 percent under Trump, which is among his best ratings — along with figures for Israel, Nigeria, and Vietnam. There is no directly comparable number for Americans, as approval ratings and confidence questions employ different wording, although public polls have found that majorities of Americans disapprove of Trump’s overall job performance and his handling of foreign policy.

Germans hold some of the most negative opinions of the United States, with 62 percent viewing the country unfavorably and 87 percent lacking confidence in Trump. At the same time, affinity for Americans remains intact, as does the popularity of American popular culture, Pew found. Most people think Washington respects the personal freedoms of Americans, yet there is growing doubt about American-style democracy, in France and Germany, among other countries. With Asia a notable exception, more people disapprove than approve of the spread of American ideas and customs to their countries.

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