By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own. This is the second article in a series on America’s identity and image since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The world may have breathed a sigh of relief after President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Union managed to avoid nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But America’s rise in the 50 years since President Kennedy was killed has been far from trouble-free – and America’s international standing since the fall of its great Cold War rival has reflected the ups, downs and uncertainties of the past five decades.
When the Cold War ended, U.S. strategic hegemony, and more broadly the American brand, appeared poised for prolonged preeminence. With the Soviet Union in shambles, followed soon thereafter with the implosion of Japan’s economic bubble, America’s standing in the world seemed unchallenged and unchallengeable. But in the ensuing quarter century, the U.S. image has been on a roller coaster ride. And China has emerged as a new rival in the eyes of the world.
There is little consistent, publicly available opinion data on global views of the United States prior to the first decade of the 21st century. In the early 1980s, a Newsweek poll found that most people surveyed believed America’s global influence was expanding. But that was not necessarily a positive sentiment. With a possible U.S.-Russian nuclear confrontation still very much on people’s minds, majorities in many countries said America’s strong military actually increased the chances for war. And just a quarter of the French approved of U.S. policies. The situation was only slightly better in Japan and Germany.
In 1991, in the immediate wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, majority views about the United States were generally upbeat in much of Eastern Europe and in Germany. Roughly three-quarters of Poles and Hungarians, and two-thirds of Bulgarians, Czechs and West Germans viewed the influence of the United States as a good thing, according to a survey by the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press.
By the end of the decade, there was generally favorable sentiment about the United States in many countries. Overwhelming majorities in Poland (86 percent), Britain (83 percent), Germany (78 percent), Japan (77 percent) and Italy (76 percent) gave Uncle Sam a thumbs up, according to surveys by the U.S. State Department.
Yet by 2002, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the ensuing “war on terror” launched by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, America’s image had begun to erode, according to the first Pew Global Attitudes survey. U.S. favorability dropped in countries where it was already moderate or weak: in Turkey (to 30 percent, down 22 percentage points since the beginning of the decade) and in Pakistan (down 13 points). And while the U.S. image remained healthy in many other nations, it had slipped in Germany (down 18 points), Britain (down 8 points) and in Poland (down 7 points). Ironically, perhaps in a sign that Cold War animosities were a thing of the past, Russian support for the United States actually rose to 61 percent, up 24 points.
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The numbers show that the Bush years were generally not good for America’s standing in the world. Opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and perceived American foreign policy unilateralism sapped good will toward Washington. By 2007, favorability of the United States had fallen by 30 points in Germany, 26 points in the Czech Republic and stood at just 9 percent in Turkey (down 21 points). Meanwhile, only a third of Chinese and 41 pecent of Russians had a positive view of their chief rival.
Interestingly, even before Bush left office, America’s standing in the world had begun to rebound. In 2008, the median was up to 46 percent and by 2009, with the election of Barack Obama as president, U.S. favorability rose to 59 percent in the 11 countries with comparable data, roughly equaling America’s standing in 2002.
But this “Obama bounce” was a decidedly mixed phenomenon. Europeans were generally quite taken with the “new” America. The U.S. image jumped 33 percentage points from 2008 to 2009 in France and Germany, and 25 points in Spain. It also increased 26 points in Indonesia and 22 points in Mexico. Yet its image in the Middle East and North Africa remained stubbornly weak – U.S. favorability hardly budged in the Middle East in 2009, with only 14 percent of Turks, 15 percent of Palestinians and 27 percent of Egyptians seeing the United States positively. True, U.S. favorability stood at 63 percent across 39 nations surveyed by the Pew Research Center. But the reality is that the U.S. image abroad has tailed off somewhat in comparable countries, in part a casualty of unrealistic expectations about President Obama.
All this said, U.S. favorability is only one measure of national standing, and U.S. soft power provides some additional and useful insight into how America is perceived around the world.
In a Pew Research Survey undertaken last year, a median of 71 percent of people surveyed in 16 European, Asian and Middle Eastern countries admired U.S. technological and scientific advances, while two-thirds said they liked American movies, music and television. Attitudes toward U.S. ideas about democracy and ways of doing business were more mixed, but global publics were more positive toward both than in the final years of the Bush administration.
So, did the fall of the Soviet Union herald an age of unbridled U.S. soft power supremacy? Not exactly – even in countries where U.S. soft power has a strong appeal, there were serious concerns about “Americanization.” A median of 70 percent said it is bad that U.S. culture has been spreading to their country. (Although a similar 2013 Pew Research poll in seven Latin American nations and six African countries found strong appeal for U.S. technology and pop culture).
But a strong national brand does not necessarily translate into a perception of the United States as the world’s leading economy – or as the superpower of the future. A median of 41 percent of people in 20 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2013 thought the United States was the world’s leading economic power. But that was down from 47 percent in the same nations in 2008. Meanwhile, a third said China was already the leading economic power.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War ushered America’s principle post-war rival off the world stage. But U.S. preeminence was short lived, a victim of both Washington’s foreign policy initiatives undermining America’s brand and the rise of China. The upsurge in U.S. favorability in the wake of the 2008 presidential election and signs that this now may be tailing off are a reminder of the current volatility of America’s international image. And prolonged negative sentiments about the United States in much of the Middle East suggest ongoing challenges for public diplomacy in the region. Yet one abiding sentiment is the continued popularity of at least some aspects of American soft power.
Ultimately, if there is any lesson to be learned about America’s standing in the eyes of world publics since the end of the Cold War, it is that a snap shot belies the reality of a moving picture. The U.S. global brand is constantly evolving – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
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Absolutely, and what a shame. It's high time that true patriotism stood up to Washington and paraphrased George Bush by saying, "Either you're for us, or against us!"
only a sith deals in absolutes.
A comment like that is worthy of a dictator, especially if the meaning gets enforced.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the world thought that we finally entered a period of peace and prosperity for all. The wars would stop, the money spent on the military would find much better uses in healthcare and education. Unfortunately , it was not the case. The wars continued, the bankers went gambling and the world became less secure place to be.
You can play all you want with phony statistics , but the image of the US as a moral, healthy force in the world simply vanished and is no longer there.
What to think is the main reason for the DOWNFALL???
Corporate greed being able to take over our government, nostradamus.
Every country has its ups and downs. As the US is the world's largest economy and has the most powerful military, whatever happens does have an impact on the rest of the world. China might surpass the US as the world's largest economy, but it would have a long way to go to replace the US in terms of soft power and other appealing qualities like casualness and unconventionality.
Americans are the reason for America's downfall. We care more about useless political points for our party than we do about the compromises that have made make this country work. We care more about condemning the poor than we do about helping our fellow citizens. We pay football players more to play a game than we pay teachers to educate our children. We spend more on pizza every year than we do on NASA. We care about the sacrifices that some one else should be making, but we don't think WE should have to sacrifice ANYTHING. We buy goods from China while we whine about lost jobs and the possible threat of ....China. We are more concerned about how right our side is, how wrong the other side is, than we are about trying to remember that the truth usually lies in the middle. We are letting our education system slide down the drain and piling up debt for our poorly educated children to pay. Who is to blame? If any American looks in the mirror they will clearly see who to blame. We were always the only people who could destroy America.... and we are.
Thank you, rightospeak. How true that is!
totally agree !
There will always be conflict. Its in our nature and it has been constant throughout history
The US as a "moral" force?
Don't make me laugh.
America's entire history has been tainted with atrocities, from the ethnic cleansing of native Americans to widespread slavery, to the genocide of 1.5 million Filipinos during America's colonization to the banana imperialist wars to Vietnam to illegal invasions of Latin America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course, the support for Islamic terrorism.
The USA is a nation of criminals, and even those gullible and foolish East Europeans who were all once so joyful to see the replacement of Soviet oppression with American oppression are now waking up to the true picture.
United States and garbage of the world!! what's more rotten.
A totally ridiculous remark. Name one country that HASN'T engaged in imperialism, oppression of minorities, greed, expansionism, or some other flaw? (Germany – Nazism and genocide. England – imperialism. Russia – communism and imperialism. Eastern Europe – more wars than you can count. China – wars and imperialism. Africa – genocide and corruption. The Middle East – corruption, genocide, imperialism, wars, inequality, etc, etc, etc.) Your entire argument is a one-sided assessment of all of America's mistakes. You neglect our invaluable assistance in stopping Nazism, our landing on the moon, our advocacy of human rights, our foreign aid, the fact that the US produces more life saving drugs than any other nation, and many other things. Is the US perfect? NO! We are just a nation of imperfect humans that make mistakes – just like EVERY other nation. Your "point" was ridiculous and biased.
And that's why 20 million people are in line to move here. Get a grip.
Our international image has been tarnished by our idiotic involvement in Vietnam back in the 60's and 70's and now we seem to be jumping into more and more of these useless and unnecessary wars overseas. On top of that, we're now using those ungodly drones operated by a bunch of gutless wonders who butcher people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen on a daily basis. In 1988, George H. W. Bush promised a kinder, gentler America only to achieve the exact opposite in 1989 once he assumed the Presidency!
Great comment, Joseph McCarthy! yes, what really should worry all of us about the whole "Drone" nightmare is that more than half of the operators of these drones are in their 20's, and are sitting in comfortable air-conditioned offices, in a secret location in the Nevada Desert, with a Google Map on a huge screen in front of them, a Sony Playstation-like Joystick in their hands, and a look on their face that says "boy, I'm really enjoying playing this video game" while they press a red button on their joystick, that releases a Hellfire Missile that ends up hitting some so-called terrorist in Waziristan (Pakistan), over 12,000 miles away........... and over 50% of the time, these kids playing their deadly video game could be dead wrong, and committing a horrible act of murder of innocent people, a heinous crime indeed.............. we really need to bring the entire Drone program out of the shadows and into the open, so that the American People can see what exactly is going on, and then all of us can decide if it should continue or not...............
I'll support drones before soldiers every time. Has everyone forgot the civilian casulty rates when our soldiers were on the ground? We finally have aresponse to the IEDs that they cant get around and its decimating them. Sucks being them.
Thank God for drones so we don't have to put boots on the ground to kill our enemies. Last time I checked, Vietnam was still controlled by an elite group of people who call themselves communist.
Alright steve, if you're a war loving Tea Partier, that's your business. But please, do leave God's name out of your hateful right-wing posts here. It's both blasphemous and uncalled for! Besides, can you truly imagine Jesus condoning such obscene butchery as that? No true Christian can!
To Joseph – I support the use of drones also. Does that make me a tea party warmonger also? If so, it will be hard to reconcile that with the accusations of my being a liberal democrat, which I PROUDLY AM. Do drones sometimes kill innocent people? Certainly. And how many innocent civilians were killed in Vietnam? WW 1 and 2? The War of the Roses? and EVERY other war in human history? The simple fact is that war invariably sucks. It is always a colossal waste of lives, resources, and wealth. It always involves innocent casualties. The other simple fact is that we are humans. We can land on the moon, but we can't get along on Earth. Thus, we have wars. The number of innocent civilians killed by drones is a FAR smaller percentage than the numbers killed in more antiquated methods. And even if drones are only saving Americans lives 1) as an American, I'm fine with that. Other countries can build drones as easily as we can. If they can't then it's not our fault that they didn't invest in science and technology. 2) At least SOME lives are being saved. It's still better than soldiers of BOTH sides dying.
You figure out a way to end war and I'll gladly end my support for drones.
@ RZ, its high time we, the citizens of the US stand up to the clowns in Congress and tell them "YOU work FOR US we dont work for you! And if you cant handle the job then go and we will get someone who can!"
I totally agree Chrissy. Sadly, it's much more common to 1) keep voting for the same clowns and keep complaining about the circus, and 2) blame only the clowns from the "other side" of the ring. Ultimately, our problems aren't the clowns. Our problem is that the circus master, the American people, have forgotten how to run the show.
Sorry, guys but whenever I can get through and it's applicable, I'm gotta keep plugging the following quotes;
"It is our duty still to endeavor to avoid war; but if it shall actually take place, no matter by whom brought on, we must defend ourselves. If our house be on fire, without inquiring whether it was fired from within or without, we must try to extinguish it."
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
– Thomas Jefferson
“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”
– Samuel Adams
“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism”.
– George Washington
While our half white President will never be popular in America, with the TeaBillieKKK, the rest of the world knows quality.
Bush brought the lowest American popularity world-wide – 30%.
President Obama brought the highest American popularity – 60%.
His 8 years will be looked upon quite favorably by historians for many significant progressive changes.
Who really cares what the whining, blaming, hating Americans think – heck – half of the Republicans want to disband the United States, shut down the government, then seceed from the Union. That's your KKK for you.
You not only are a big idiot, but you are more of a racist than the people you accuse of being aligned with the KKK. Most people judge president Obama on his true merit, good, bad or indifferent. Calling republicans racists carries the same stupidity that calling all democrats communists does. Maybe you need to pick up a book, become truly informed of the issues then comment in open forums with an ounce of intelligence.
90% of the Tea Billies are racist.
Only about half of Republicans are Tea Billies. No one called Republicans racist.
If you don't think southern white conservatives are racist, you are living in la la land. Sorry dude, it's obvious. The head Cruz of the TeaBillies recently said that we should ship all the blacks back to Africa.
c31: wow, a rational, reasonable point made out on an internet comment section? it's like seeing a wild panda or a unicorn. Shhhh, I need to take a screen shot of this to prove it happened.
Yeah...I agree...the US as an aggressor shift oppions negatively. Slow down the war machine.
You'll find a lot responders on this site either drinking Kool-Aid or chasing Unicorns.
Obamas popularity is only based on not being Bush. Completely hollow as we are now finding out. When Obama promised a new era of government transparency no one thought he was gonna use the NSA the way he did. Does that count as a promise kept or a decelton? Oh wait – let me guess – it was started before him so its not his fault and he didnlt know for thre last 5 years. How embarrasong for the Nobel Peace Prize organization – I bet the they want their award back...
Get a historical grip. The KKK was founded by democrats and white southerners who didn't accept the post-civil war era. You can call Republicans KKK all you want, but it doesn't make it true. Barak is a failure and will go down in history as another Jimmy Carter...very smart man, very poor leader.
After 1964, the Dixicrats went to the GOP, and the groups that identified with them went over , also. The KKK is one of those groups.
Thank the tea-baggers for the U.S. world standings. Instead of making government work, their sole purpose appears to be making government impotent. Absolutely no agenda other than perpetuating gridlock. If the left comes up with a proposal, the baggers' only response block it. When up to anywhere from 51% to 90% of Americans were for something, the baggers were against it. I understand why the U.S. standing in the world is where it is. If I were on the outside looking in, I would think this was some kind of bad reality show. I don't place 100% of the blame on the baggers. Those democrats who change according to which way the wind blows have the backbone of an earthworm.
The tea party is way too new to be blamed for any of the last 50 years of popularity of the US. At most thet can claim only the last government shutdown. Everything else is based on politics from all walks of us Gov sides.
Agreed; the TP first appeared in 2009, a few months after Obama was inaugurated. Their influence has been felt for the past four plus years.
I have to agree with Darren. The tea party is too new to account for 50 years of American popularity ratings. I do think they are largely responsible for much of our current gridlock though. Ultimately though, the main responsibility lies with the American people. We have resigned ourselves to a government bought and paid for by special interests. Most of us don't vote anymore. Most of us (that still bother to vote) support a party/ideology over the necessary compromises that make America work. Most of us don't even bother to learn HOW VAST the inequality between rich and poor really is and, if we do it doesn't help. Some of us will justify it (which didn't stop the French or Russian monarchies from ending) and those that want to address it are falsely labeled as socialists. The Tea Party is a symptom. Lack of unity is America's disease. Our current decline in popularity is directly related to the fact that our lack of unity makes us singularly unimpressive as a nation. We get more popular when we unite, run this country properly, and GIVE the world something to be impressed with. America, at it's best, is ALWAYS impressive.
It's funny how democrats, the very same people that champion Gay rights, use a gay slur to refer to Republicans. Isn't that ironic. You champion Gay rights, yet you refer to Republicans using a Gay slur. Great job. I'm sure your hate-mongering will win many people over. Worked for Hitler. Bravo.
I would venture a guess that the tea bagger name may come from the fact that many staple a tea bag to their tricorne hats. I have never seen that term used as a gay "slur", per se.
And invoking Godwin's Law? Please.
Straight people teabag also. How is it a slur on gays?
About time these politcians get there head out of there asss and there hand out of the corporations pockets it is the united states of america not the divided states of embarassment bat lately you cantt tell the differance
Get the $$ out of politis and things will change. Campaign finance reform. $1 does not = free speach
My money is my money. You cannot force me to not spend my money. $1 is freedom of speech.
You get what you pay for, Steve.
None of this changes the fact that my underpants look like a fudge factory.
A nose dive would be more appropriate. While the US is in bed with the MB most of the rest of the world has figured out that they are every bit jihadist as Al-Qaeda, et al, only the tactics differ. US political elites tell us NOT to judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a "tiny minority" BUT on the other hand……. we are encouraged TO judge ALL Gun Owners by the actions of a few. Liberal logic never ceases to amaze.
Did you say Liberal logic?
Amazing. You complain about judging people as a group and then finish with "Liberal logic never ceases to amaze me." I'm always amazed at hypocrisy. Since liberals do exist in America, maybe you should spend less time whining about them and more time working out viable compromises with them – or teach your (grand)children Chinese.
I enjoy pooping in the shower and pushing it down the drain with my big toe.
Thanks for sharing that. Now, go away.
I shall go away in a moment, but first, allow me to dispense a barrage of stink nuggets upon your head.
No. Go back to your cell in OZ, Alvarez.
Without proper understanding what was the purpose of these studies, how the questions were phrased and if they were different in each of the consecutive studies, how the participants were picked: all that statistics and number jingling is pretty much about nothing – I would not take it for their face value.
And today in Europe, Asia and Africa when obamas face is on TV there is circus music and background laughter
I didnt vote for him ...
Its high time we dont try to govern ourselves based on what others think. I'm not saying we disregard what non-Americans think, certainly America benefits from Globilization more than almost anyone, but trying to be popular is futile in highschool and its futile in the real world. Sure some are popular but they grow up to be sales people. The true leaders focus on a set of principles and dont waiver when its not popular.
I agree, but I would go farther with it. We also need to quit dividing ourselves by parties and ideologies. Our lack of unity is our greatness weakness. We have 300 million Americans competing against 1.3 BILLION Chinese (not to mention the rest of the world). It's not even so much that we're losing, we haven't even gotten into the game yet. We need to quit worrying so much about our popularity score, stop fighting amongst ourselves, pull together, and remind the world what a UNITED States of America looks like at it's best.
So this is a picture of two German guys posing for tourists as US/USSR soldiers at the Parizer Platz in Berlin – right by the Brandenburg Gate...
I think that is funny choice for a picture to go with that article.
I wonder if these guys will get an extra bonus for their photo being used by CNN.
For a more friendly and favorable USA image, Americans need to start working on it. Only sound policy, reliability and success will get America back on track for leadership, probably not on a world scale, but at least within the NATO alliance. Best American image after the cold war, was achieved from George W. Bush and Laura Welch Bush during their tenure. They also showed generosity and solidarity for the less wealthy and hungry, but were never careless about 'Realpolitik'.
You seemed to have forgotten Stephanie, that the obscene invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan were carried out under this "Great" George W. Bush in which over 1,000,000 Iraqis alone lost their lives for absolutely nothing at all! Moreover it was this Bush that got us into the depression that most of us are now experiencing! As long as we keep electing these right-wing fanatics into office, our image will only decline!
There are many Kurds that disagree with you. Wise up. What if nobody ever stopped Hitler? Sadam was another Hitler. Ask any Kurdish person.
What the Kurds need steve, is the right to set up their own home state just like the Israelis did back in 1948. As for Saddam Hussein, was he truly any worse that the horrific Shah of Iran? Some how I don't think so!
Who cares what the world thinks? Leaders lead and followers follow. We are the lone super power and the envy of the world with millions in line to get here. That's fact. People don't like us because of our greatness not despite it. We are the world, a county of immigrants, of the cast-offs and we are the most powerful and richest nation in the history of man. I'm sure the people that don't like us will not be afraid to call us to bail them out of the next world war.
I agree with steve leaders lead and followers follow.Also winners win losers lose.
Talkers talk, thinkers think.
You can expect the U.S. to decline sharply, in the next 3 years, and that decline could be so significant, we may never recover.
A message to the VAST majority of Americans – Why has America's standing declined lately? Blame the Republicans? No. Blame the democrats? No. The tea Party? No. Drones and wars? No. Blame whoever "the other side" is? No. BLAME YOURSELF!!
YOU have let our government separate us into artificial divisions of democrat/ republican, black/ white, hispanic, christian or not, rich and poor, liberal/conservative. YOU have forgotten that those things that we agree on far outnumber those we differ on. YOU have forgotten that YOU don't have to put up with the clowns in Congress OR their circus. YOU have forgotten that YOU run this country and that THEY work for YOU. YOU have forgotten to care, to stay informed (as opposed to blindly believing everything "your" side tells you), and to vote. You have forgotten your compassion for your own fellow citizens. YOU are more willing to blame everyone else than to take responsibility and to stand up to fix this country. YOU are more concerned about being proven right than you are about compromising. YOU have LET our government run up this massive debt. YOU don't want to make any sacrifices, but think everyone else should be "patriotic" enough to do so. YOU buy all these goods from China and then complain about job losses. YOU have forgotten that the FIRST word in our name is UNITED. YOU have forgotten that when we ARE united then nothing on Earth can stop us. YOU have lost faith, given up, and resigned yourself to merely blaming others. YOU have sacrificed our greatness.
Americans, the only people that could EVER destroy you was always YOURSELVES! And YOU are doing a good job of it. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.
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