Those That Trust Trump, or Who Hearts America?

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A fascinating update, courtesy of Pew Research Center, on attitudes towards the United States around the world, best summarised in this table:

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It’s personally interesting to note that Poland is the third most pro-American nations of those surveyed, just behind Israel and the Philippines. Poland being the most America-friendly country in Europe is neither new nor surprising; there is a long history of immigration to the United States (for a long time it was said that Chicago was the second largest Polish city in the world) and of course during the Cold War America was seen as the beacon of freedom for those most restive subjects of the Evil Empire. You can’t get a worse geopolitical location in Europe than being stuck between Germany and Russia and, having been let down in need by all her European friends and allies throughout history, it’s also predictable that Poles would have to reach out beyond the ocean for someone to have their back.

Globally, the two pro-American clusters are located in Eastern and Central Europe and East and South Asia. Here too, the explanations are self-evident: in the former region the United States is seen as an ally and a defence against Russia and in the latter against China and North Korea. On the other hand, the old Cold War allies in Western Europe who no longer need to be protected from anyone (but arguably themselves) have been losing that loving feeling for a long time now. It’s no doubt though that Donald Trump has been a huge drag on America’s popularity. This is noticeable virtually everywhere but most prominent in Western Europe and Latin America:

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Though even throughout Western Europe, there has been near-universal upswing between 2018 and 2019.

While it’s generally not surprising that those on the right are more favourably disposed towards the United States than those on the left, some other demographic differentials are quite interesting:

In some countries there are also significant differences between men and women in assessments of the U.S. The country with the greatest difference is Australia, where 60% of men but only 39% of women say they favor the U.S., a difference of 21 percentage points. Stark differences also exist in Canada (18 points), Spain (17), Sweden (17), India (16), the Netherlands (14), the UK (14), Brazil (14), and Germany, Argentina and Japan (each 10 points).

Age is another factor, perhaps not surprising per se, but rather counter-intuitive in detail:

pew-america3 As the report says, “young people tend to express more positive opinions about the U.S. In 21 of the 33 countries surveyed, those ages 18 to 29 have a more favorable view of the U.S. than people 50 and older.” We can surmise that throughout most of the Western Europe it’s the older people, those with memories of the Cold War, who have more favourable attitudes towards the US than the woke Gen Y and Zs. On the other hand, it bodes well for the future that young people in countries like Russia, Indonesia, Tunisia and Brazil – the future of the their societies – are more open to America and not see it as much as an enemy or a menace as many of their parents and grandparents.

As I mentioned before, there is little doubt that Trump accounts for the often dramatic fall in America’s favourability around the world – not only is he a polarising personality but his “America first” policies have little to appeal to foreigners. Barack Obama was by contrast hugely popular overseas, in many cases much more so than at home, and America’s standing was correspondingly high throughout his presidency. But while all the adulation must have felt personally pleasant to Obama, it’s more difficult to argue that the popularity translated into many positive security and economic outcomes and externalities for the United States and the rest of the world.

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Confidence in Trump correlates reasonably well with the favourable view of America – except in Asia, where the Japanese and the South Korean in particular are able to separate their distrust of the President from their continued liking for the country. Poland is the only European country where Trump seems to be genuinely popular, as anecdotally shown before during his visit to the country. Trump might not be a foreign affairs president and might not know very much – or even genuinely care – about places like Poland, but gestures such as increasing the American military presence on the ground, supporting energy security and easing visa rules for Poles play well with the general population. Thus Trump’s actions speak louder than his and his predecessors’ words and I doubt that many in Poland consider him Putin’s puppet.

pew-america5George W Bush’s favourability, heightened with the sympathy post-9/11, evaporated on the hot sands of Mesopotamia. Obama’s charm too diminished over time, though still remained pretty stratospheric towards the end, particularly in Western Europe. Trump, not surprisingly, started dismally but has been slowly climbing up, even if to still comparatively dismal levels. It is an interesting phenomenon nevertheless and shows that the more people see of him the more they are able to see past the “Orange Man Bad” caricature, which is just as prevalent in the world media as it is in throughout the American channels. With another term in office Trump might continue to surprise people. A more internationally savvy leader would try to convert it into some tangible realignments, straightening America’s and her allies’ hand against China in Asia and Africa, against Russia in Eastern Europe and against socialists forces in Latin America, but I’m concerned Trump will miss these golden opportunities.

Australia, stuck at the bottom of the world, for all the history of her special alliance with the United States from 1941 onward, is very much a part of the Western mainstream in its attitudes. While, like the United States, a “new”, multicultural society that settled a continent, its mentality is increasingly in tune with the “old world”: significant strains of anti-Americanism combine with nativity about international affairs.

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What one thinks of Merkel or Macron is largely irrelevant; they are internationally inconsequential leaders. What is concerning is that more than a quarter of Australians have confidence in Putin and nearly 40 per cent in Xi; feelings not shared by Russia’s and China’s neighbours or for that matter any sensible observers around the world who know not to put much faith in strongmen who lead illiberal, authoritarian and expansionist regimes. Australia’s location in the world arguably accounts for much of this; blindness indeed increases with distance.

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