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4/19/07

World Publics Reject U.S. Role as the World Leader

Press Release by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

  • Majorities Still Want United States to Do its Share in Multilateral Efforts
  • Mixed Views on U.S. Overseas Bases

A multinational poll finds that publics around the world reject the idea that the United States should continue to play the role of preeminent world leader. Most publics say the United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should and cannot be trusted to act responsibly.

But the survey also finds that majorities in most countries want the United States to do its share in multilateral efforts to address world problems and do not want it to withdraw from world affairs. Views are divided on whether the United States should reduce the number of military bases it has overseas and in some countries publics perceive an improvement in their bilateral relations with the United States.  

Americans largely agree with the rest of the world: most do not think the United States should remain the world’s preeminent leader and prefer that it play a more cooperative role. They also believe United States plays the role of world policeman more than it should.

This is the fourth in a series of reports based on a worldwide poll conducted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, in cooperation with polling organizations around the world. The larger study includes polls in China , India, the United States, Indonesia, Russia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Israel and Armenia—plus the Palestinian territories.  The publics polled represent about 56 percent of the world’s population. Not all questions were asked in all countries.

Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org notes that this poll reinforces the conclusions of other recent global surveys, which have found that the United States’ image abroad is bad and growing worse. But he added that this survey also explores what kind of role the international community would like the United States to play in the world.

“This survey shows that despite the negative views of US foreign policy, publics around the world do not want the United States to disengage from international affairs, but rather to participate in a more cooperative and multilateral fashion,” Kull said.

Majorities in all 15 of the publics polled reject the idea that “the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.”  However in only two of them (Argentina and the Palestinian territories), do majorities say that the United States “should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.”

Publics in all of the countries surveyed tend to prefer that the United States pursue a cooperative, multilateral approach by doing “its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries.”  This is true in South Korea (79%), the United States (75%), France (75%), China (68%), Israel (62%), Peru (61%), Mexico (59%), Armenia (58%), Philippines (55%), Ukraine (52%), Thailand (47%), India (42%) and Russia (42%). 

Just as they reject the idea that the United States should continue to be the world’s preeminent leader, most believe the United States is “playing the role of world policeman more than it should.”  Majorities in 13 out of 15 publics express this view, including large majorities in France (89%), Australia (80%), China (77%), Russia (76%), Peru (76%), the Palestinian territories (74%) and South Korea (73%).  More than three out of four Americans (76%) also agree.  The only exceptions are the Filipinos, a majority of whom (57%) disagree that the United States is playing world policeman more than it should, and the Israelis, who are divided on the issue.

This desire for a reduced American role may flow in part from a lack of confidence that the United States can be trusted to “act responsibly in the world.” This lack of confidence was the most common view in 10 out of 15 countries.   Two Latin American countries show the highest numbers expressing this mistrust—Argentina (84%) and Peru (80%)—followed by Russians (73%), the French (72%), and Indonesians (64%). But in four countries, majorities or pluralities say the United States can be at least “somewhat” trusted to act responsibly, led by the Filipinos (85%), Israelis (81%), Poles (51%) and Ukrainians (49%). 

Despite the widespread belief that the United States should be more cooperative and less dominant, countries express mixed views about whether the United States should reduce its military presence around the world. In only five out of 12 publics polled does a majority favor decreasing the number of overseas US military bases: Argentines (75%), Palestinians (70%), the French (69%), Chinese (63%), and Ukrainians (62%).  In four, majorities favor either maintaining the current number or increasing it: Philippines (78%), Americans (68%), Israelis (59%), and Poles (54%).  Armenians and Thais lean in favor of maintaining or reducing, while Indians are divided.  No country favors increases.

Also contrary to their negative views of the United States’ role in the world is the perception in some publics that relations between their country and the United States are getting better.  Majorities in India (58%) and China (53%) say relations with the United States are improving. Pluralities think so in Australia (50%), Armenia (48%), Indonesia (46%) and Thailand (37%).  In the other countries polled, majorities or pluralities say relations with the US are staying about the same: 60 percent in Poland, 56 percent in South Korea, 52 percent in Israel, 52 percent in the Ukraine, and 45 percent in Russia. In no country does a majority or plurality say relations with the US are getting worse.

“The publics in many countries differentiate between their negative views of the U.S. international role and their perceptions of bilateral relations, which are seen as improving in a significant number of countries, even some that are highly critical of the United States,” said Christopher Whitney, executive director for studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The following documents are available in PDF form: full report, questionnaire, overview and methodology.

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