A recent report, entitled ‘U.S. Image Plummets Internationally as Most Say Country Has Handled Coronavirus Badly’ was authored by Richard Wike, Janell Fetterolf and Mara Mordecai and published on Pew Research Center website (PRC 9-15-2020). The conclusion of the report (see title) does not surprise many people since the global media have ample negative comments about the U.S. leadership since President Donald Trump took office. However, the survey results covering 13 nations across two decades (2000-2020) arranged together does present some interesting data and interpretation worthy of further analysis and comments. Aside from the obvious conclusion, we can comment on the nuances associated with public opinion data and offer further thinking.
First, we should recognize the reputation of P.R.C. PRC is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world by conducting public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. PRC does not take policy positions and maintains independence, objectivity, accuracy, humility, and transparency in its mission - To generate a foundation of facts enriching public dialogue and enabling sound decision making. Its broad empirical research scope covers a wide range of topics helpful to the U.S. and international policymakers, civic leaders, educators and the public at large to understand and address some of the world’s most challenging problems.
An unbiased (nonprofit, nonpartisan and non-advocacy) public opinion survey revealing the voice of the people and coupling it with independent demographic, economic and political analyses can provide insight on how the world is changing. This is a very valuable public service. However, the public survey methodology is not totally free from defects. First, the sampling of survey target is a complicated issue. Taking the phone survey alone, you have the issue of picking a meaningful population ratio of landline versus cell-phone since the phone type (land vs. cell), phone number (clustered banks of consecutive numbers) and response rate (day, evening and no-responses) have an important influence on the survey population. In addition, the non-sequitur respondent (and/or bogus respondents) and influence by instant current events during the survey period do present challenges to public survey research.
Bearing the above in mind, we will examine the above mentioned survey report and its raw data. The report concluded that since Donald Trump took office as president, the image of the United States had suffered in and across many regions of the globe. As the new 13-nation PRC survey illustrated, America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among many key allies. In the six major countries, the share of favorable public view of the U.S. had all declined. Data tabulated over two decades from 2000 to 2020 show that the favorable ratings are dropping from 83 to 41 (UK), 62 to 31 (France), 78 to 26 (Germany), 77 to 41 (Japan), 72 to 35 (Canada) and 59 to 33 (Australia). The two decades consist of two terms of GW Bush, two terms of Barack Obama and one term of Donald Trump; there is an uptick at the beginning of the Obama Administration but overall showing a decline as indicated by the above numbers.
The report also claims that the decline over the past year is linked to how the U.S. had handled the Coronavirus pandemic, citing that “Across the 13 nations surveyed, a median of just 15% says the U.S. has done a good job of dealing with the outbreak. In contrast, most say the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Union have done a good job.” But in nearly all nations (except the U.S. and U.K.) people give their own country positive remarks for dealing with the crisis and relatively few think China has handled the pandemic well, although better than the U.S. with a mean rating of 37:15. People also think their own country have done a better job than WHO with a mean rating of 74: 64. Here we can see an obvious bias by comparing the pandemic impact results reported by these countries and WHO. China has the lowest death rate and also lowest number of active cases per fixed population. In fact, WHO has given China high approval for her management of the pandemic disease.
Ratings for U.S. President Donald Trump started at a similar low value at the endpoint of Bush’s declining rating over eight years. The declining trend continued this year. Over the thirteen nations (the above six plus Belgium, Denmark, Italy, South Korea (SK), Netherlands, Spain and Sweden), Belgium gave the lowest approval where only 9% had confidence in President Trump to do the right thing in world affairs. Japan gave the highest assessment but still only 25% showing confidence in Trump. Trump also got lower rating than the U.S. (34:16). Comparing with other world leaders (six included in the survey), the orders are (I) Germany-Merkel and France- Macron, (II) UK-Johnson, (III) Russia-Putin and China-Xi , and (IV) Trump, fared the lowest.
The report also pointed out that the European respondents who support right-wing populist political parties do have a better view of Trump. For example, 45% of Spaniards who support VOX party versus only 7% who don’t support VOX have confidence in Trump. This survey result certainly resonates with the sentiments in the U.S. where Trump has consistently having a strong hold on the conservative right, especially among the 60% whites in the population. This correlation with right-wing political ideology is also exhibited in the question of how well the U.S. handled the corona-virus pandemic. In other words, people’s 'attitude' matters significantly in their judgment and decision even facing a medical issue such as corona-virus disease. Hence, we probably could predict that a similar correlation would be found if the question of how climate change was handled by the world leaders in a survey. Trump and his conservative supporters’ attitude on both pandemic and climate change can explain the Trump policies.
The pandemic would certainly have a significant impact on global economy. The majorities of the 13 countries except Japan and SK named China as the world’s leading economic power in 2020. People in Japan and SK still see the U.S. as the world’s top economy. This survey was conducted among 13,273 respondents in 13 countries from June 10 to August 3, 2020. This data revealed the survey challenges discussed above, the non-sequitur issue. Japan and SK both are large exporters to both the U.S. and China. Since the U.S. initiated a trade war (although targeting China but also impacting other countries), Japan and SK would rather see the U.S. being the top economy to lessen the pain from the trade war. In terms of buying power, China is no doubt the largest economy . The pandemic may even enhance her position in a relative sense since her economic recovery seems to be faster than other countries’.
The Black Lives Matter triggered by the George Floyd’s death did spill beyond the U.S., thus it would influence survey results, likely projecting a lower image of the U.S. PRC correctly avoided the racial injustice question into its 2020 survey. However in its past studies, there were obvious dips in U.S. image, for example, in 2013-2014 due to Edward Snowden event and 2014-2015 due to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. PRC is an experienced research center on opinion survey. Its work is commendable but we need to take precaution in interpreting the survey results with additional input from other demographic and geopolitical studies. This paper by Richard Wike et. al. may have used an obvious conclusion as its title, but the raw data contained therein be useful for scholars as well as political leaders to ponder for the benefit of enriching public dialogue and making sound policy decisions.