What does the world think of America?

People make their way through snow in New York's Times Square, February 8, 2013.

Sixteen countries give their views on the United States: its influence, politics and work ethic Image: REUTERS/Keith Bedford

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale

The United States is the world’s largest economy and has the mightiest military force on the planet. The US president is routinely referred to as the most powerful person in the world.

But is all that enough to win a global popularity contest? Let’s not forget that in some parts of the world, notably the Middle East and parts of Asia, the US has a big reputation problem.



The Pew Research Center has been tracking international opinion of the US over a number of years. Its 2016 poll gives a clear insight into how people around the world, from Germany to Japan, feel about America as Barack Obama’s presidency comes to an end.

Pew asked people in 16 nations a range of questions to gauge the current level of popularity.

International image

Among people surveyed in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and North America, the overall image of the United States remains positive. While the Iraq War in 2003-11 proved deeply unpopular, today's US-led action against ISIS has been met with widespread approval.

  Limited opposition to US-led military campaign against ISIS
Image: Pew Research Center

Global leadership

America has long been perceived as a world-leading nation, but the rise of powerful economies in Asia has called that into question. What the Pew survey shows is that most of the world still believes in the US, and sees it as holding on to the power and influence it wielded a decade ago. Only the Japanese see America as having diminished internationally.

   Japanese see decreasing US influence, but Indians say US influence is rising
Image: Pew Research Center

Clinton or Trump?

The American people are witnessing an election campaign like no other. But what do spectators on the other side of the Atlantic think? Given the choice of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, Europeans were asked which candidate they had more confidence in to lead world affairs. There was a clear winner, as the chart below shows. But for Donald Trump, the responses made grim reading.

And it's not only Europeans; Asians also expressed low levels of confidence in the Republican nominee.

Neither candidate matched the popularity of Barack Obama.

   Europeans express confidence in Obama and Clinton, but not Trump
Image: Pew Research Center

Common Joes and Janes

Looking beyond politics, Pew also quizzed the world on its views of the American people. It turns out that most citizens around the world see Americans as optimistic and hardworking. In Spain, 80% of people thought this. In China and Japan, the American work ethic is less appreciated, with 39% of Chinese and just 26% of Japanese people describing Americans as hard workers. When asked if Americans were a tolerant people themselves, the responses were less positive, as this chart shows.

   Many do not see Americans as tolerant
Image: Pew Research Center

The views of America captured in the Pew survey are based largely on responses from US allies. Pew itself acknowledges that the outcome would be different if the survey were to take in views from the Middle East and countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The next Pew survey on how the world views America is scheduled for after the presidential election. Outcomes are expected to be heavily dependent on who is sitting in the Oval Office in 2017.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum