JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Especially I'd like to thank our guests, Bruce Stokes and Andrew Kohut, who arrived from Washington just a short time ago to discuss their book, America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked.
Take a moment, if you will, and think back to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism, and the budding of democracy in Eastern Europe. When you do, you will recall that this was a moment that seemed to signal a glorious new day on the world stage.
Shortly thereafter, even when American took measures to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, our actions were widely supported, the international community was united, and our country was well liked. So when Bush 41 proclaimed the dawning of a new international order, there were few who protested. In fact, the world seemed content to accept a benign U.S. hegemony.
But that, as we know, was a long time ago. Since the United States was attacked five-plus years ago, and despite a very brief interlude of sympathy for the lives lost on September 11th, anti-Americanism has increased sharply around the world. And, even though there has been a recent recovery of some favorable opinion, we know that any positive sentiment is limited to very few countries. Where once we were considered the champion of democracy, we are now seen as a militant hyperpower.
But why are we so disliked? Where does this anti-Americanism come from? In America Against the World, Andrew Kohut, the Director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, teamed up with Bruce Stokes, consultant to the Pew Center, to present the results of an extensive Pew survey that polled more than 91,000 people in fifty nations from 2002-2005. Their purpose was to explore the rise of anti-Americanism and the steady deterioration of America's image around the world.
Our guests found that, even though some anti-Americanism existed before 9/11, what has pushed the world away is American exceptionalism, our individualism, and our "go it alone" attitude. The survey covers every aspect of anti-Americanism, while also comparing the attitudes of Americans themselves on a variety of subjects, and they reveal how these differences affect the world's views of the United States. You may be surprised by their findings.
Given the increasing tendency of the United States to act unilaterally on the world stage, understanding how the rest of the world views us, our Administration, and our actions is crucial to comprehending why our actions succeed or fail, and how best to formulate future plans.
Although the main thrust of this book turns on the question of what is causing anti-Americanism, Mr. Kohut and Mr. Stokes are open to the notion that some perceptions of America are exaggerations, or even outright misperceptions.
So, you might ask, how do we change these negative views? As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argues in the foreword to this book, "before we can stop the spread of anti-Americanism we need to truly understand who we are." America Against the World provides the insight necessary to take those steps.
Please join me in welcoming our guests today, Andrew Kohut, who will speak first, and Bruce Stokes. Thank you very much for joining us.
ANDREW KOHUT:Thank you very much for coming to hear us on the first day of summer here in New York—at least it feels that way to a couple of Washingtonians.
We have been the foremost chroniclers of the rise of anti-Americanism in this decade, and I think the description was quite apt. At the beginning of the decade, the State Department surveys that preceded our work showed that the United States was riding high with respect to image in most countries around the world.
Less than a year after the September 11th attacks, the summer of 2002, we launched our first survey. It was a comprehensive survey in 43 countries.
Our headline was that the image of the United States was slipping all around the world, but there was still a reserve of goodwill.
In fact, we took 29 of the State Department countries and trended them, and in 23 of them the ratings were down, but it wasn't a crisis. But I think there was a great deal of shock in Washington and all around the world when we reported this, because we thought the world was with us.
We did another survey in 2003, and the result in the headline was very, very different. The headline was "the image of the United States plummets all around the world."
We have conducted surveys every year, sometimes more than once a year, since. We are up to about 110,000 interviews in sixty countries. We now have a 47-nation survey in the field. They all on the major theme of the image of America since 2003 have come away with one idea, one overall finding, and that is that anti-Americanism isn't going away quickly.
We've had some improvements in certain places and some further deterioration of our image in others. But the word that we use in a lot of these surveys is that anti-Americanism is entrenched. It is entrenched because originally it was a consequence of unpopular policies and an unpopular approach to foreign policy.
But it has raised the specter of American power. Concerns about American power were under the surface—a unipolar world, the sole superpower—even before things really went bad. But now that people have come to dislike our policies and our approach, it has raised the issue of our unchecked power and how do you deal with America when it can do what it wants.
So Bruce and I set out to write a book about this midway through this series of surveys. I think we started in 2003. It's a little hard to remember exactly when.
We said, "What shall we write about?" In the end, we realized that the untold part of the story was the extent to which American values and American public opinion itself were part of this. So we wrote a book not only about anti-Americanism; we wrote a book about American public opinion, American values, and, if you will, American exceptionalism.
We reexamined the data to try to answer the following questions: How different are Americans from people in the rest of the world? Is there a distinctly American way of thinking about things? What are the big gaps between the way Americans think about things and people in other parts of the world?
A lot of the reference point, by the way, was with Europe and other developed nations, because we have a common culture, we have a common standard of living, and it is easier to make those comparisons. The comparisons are really with much of the world, but that's what we paid the most attention to.
We were also very interested in understanding whether the gaps between the way we think about things and the way people in other parts of the world think about things are growing and, most importantly, how are these differences between American public opinion and public opinion around the world shaping the image of the United States in the new century.
In short, it is no surprise—we've heard about this since the 19th century—that Americans are different in the way they think about things. That was de Tocqueville's point of view in the 19th century, and it is certainly a conclusion that you would come to if you looked at the comparisons that we have made between American attitudes and values and those of people in other parts of the world, especially Europe.
But the differences have gone beyond what de Tocqueville discussed. Prizing liberty and egalitarianism were distinctly American qualities in the 19th century. They're not anymore. Democracy and the value of fair play are globalized values; you find them all around the world. Different interpretations about what they mean, but basically the differences that de Tocqueville wrote about with respect to that are no longer the interesting things, no longer the things that stand out.
Some of what he said still sets us apart: certainly, our individualism, greater than elsewhere in the world; our distrust of government; our wariness of big organizations. He wrote about it in the 19th century, and we can document it. If you look in the book, we can show you some comparisons that speak to that.
But it goes beyond those things, and de Tocqueville went beyond those things too, but it goes beyond many of the things that even he talked about, because we are quite a different country and we play a different role in the world, certainly in a comparative sense.
- Certainly, one of the things that stands out is our religiosity. De Tocqueville did write about that. But we are a very religious country in Western terms. We are the religious-rich country in the world, maybe the only religious-rich country in the world.
- We are nationalistic, and we stand out in that respect.
- Our strengths also are revealed when you compare Americans to people in other parts of the world—our optimism, our "can do" attitude.
- Our faith in technology. Americans believe in technology to a greater extent than people in many parts of the world.
- We also have a greater disposition to use military force. It was there before the war in Iraq, and, despite the disillusionment with the war in Iraq, it is still there. I'm thinking about the survey that I'm just reading as it is coming in. I'm not surprised to see that we still stand out in that respect.
- We also stand out in terms of the way we look at the world, in terms of what I describe as a "soft internationalism." We're not strong internationalists. We're soft internationalists.
- And we stand out because of our equivocal multilateralism—not our rejection of cooperating with other countries, but our willingness to go back and forth. When we consider these forms of exceptionalism in light of the growth of anti-Americanism, we came up with three categories of what is called American exceptionalism.
The first one we called "misunderstood exceptionalism." These are values and attitudes that are seen abroad as part of the problem, but there is little evidence that these problems relate to the kind of foreign policy that we have chosen.
Yes, Americans are more nationalistic than Westerners. We say "we're patriotic" at greater rates. We have a question in our poll that says, "Our culture is superior to other cultures," and Americans say that much more often than other Westerners. We are sort of like South Asians in that regard. Our nationalism rings through. But there is no evidence in any of our surveys, or other people's surveys, that American chauvinism is related to how America relates to the world.
We started doing surveys back in the early 1990s about what should be the goals of American foreign policy. Spreading democracy ranked number 23 out of 25 in 1993. It ranked twenty-three out of twenty-five in 2004, when President Bush was extolling it and making it the centerpiece of his foreign policy.
The American public doesn't want an empire predicated upon American values. If you remember anything about what we say here about public opinion, Americans don't want to save the world or convert it. Their default position, however, is to ignore the world, not to want to reconfigure it.
Religion is another aspect of what we considered our misunderstood exceptionalism. Yes, we are more religious in terms of our beliefs, our church attendance. A majority of Americans, or close to it, say that you can't be a good person unless you believe in God. In Europe, the balance of opinion on that question is completely different.
American attitudes toward religion are much like Muslim attitudes toward religion. We are closer to the Muslim world than we are to Europe on many basic measures of religiosity.
But it doesn't relate to the way we feel about the world. It doesn't relate to foreign policy. We have for many years, since the mid-1990s, asked a series of questions where we take people through "what's your opinion about this, that, and the other thing." We said, "What are the influences?" When we talk about abortion or we talk about gay rights or we talk about any kind of personal thing, religion comes up. When we talk about foreign policy issues—whether to send troops to Bosnia, to invade Iraq, or how to deal with genocide—people don't cite their religion.
And there's not a correlation between their religious beliefs and practices and their attitudes. We do find a relationship with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, mostly because of the way Evangelical Christians have adopted this issue. But beyond that there is very little correlation.
But if you ask Europeans to judge us, they have used "too religious" as related to anti-Americanism. People who see this are more anti-American. And in the Muslim world, the people who see us as not religious enough—and that's the prevailing point of view—are more critical of us than the people who see us as religious.
So on the religious dimension it doesn't work in terms of this is a major problem. It's one of the kinds of exceptionalism that is related to anti-Americanism from our point of view.
A second category of anti-Americanism is conditional exceptionalism. These are the values and attitudes that are driven by time and circumstance and are subject to the influence of American leaders.
A prime example is our on-again/off-again internationalism. On the one hand, we want to be internationalists. On the other hand, we draw the line.
The best example I have of that is the 2004 election. Throughout that campaign, we saw consistently Americans saying, "It's a problem that America is not well liked, not well regarded, we've lost the cooperation of our allies"—in fact, a theme that the Kerry folks did in fact hit. But if you look at the outcome of the election, the American public overall—talking about the center of the American electorate, the independents—voted for George Bush, and they voted for George Bush not so much on moral values but on terms of his leadership with respect to foreign policy and the war on terrorism. So on the one hand we want people to like us, but on the other hand we embrace a foreign policy approach which is hardly multilateral.
We see the same thing with respect to our disposition to use military force. Americans believe that military force is an appropriate way of dealing with problems to a greater extent than people in other Western nations, certainly in Western Europe. And, very often, Americans have to be dragged kicking and screaming to go to war. That was certainly the case in the Balkan wars and other places in the 1990s. But our response to being attacked is a Jacksonian response. We certainly saw that in Iraq, we saw that in Afghanistan.
How leadership plays upon our internationalism, our disposition to use force, I think determines very much whether that comes into play with respect to American support for foreign policy.
Finally, the real problematic exceptionalism, if you look at what we found out about the image of the United States, is our strong individualism coupled with our boundless optimism. Those things represent our strengths, but the results are problematic with respect to the way we relate to the world.
Americans tend to downplay the importance of the rest of the world. "We can do it on our own," "events in other countries don't matter," "other people, not us, benefit from global trade"—these are the prevailing views of the American public.
It leads to an inertia, indifference, in dealing with problems. Generally, but internationally for sure, Americans are so optimistic they think that in the end we will find a way to deal with our health problems, our environmental problems, geopolitical problems—"We'll get to it." Americans have to be pushed to do things because of their confidence in the future and their sense that "it is all going to work out anyhow."
Their faith in technology only spurs this further. Americans lag rather consistently in how we feel about environmental problems, because I think that at bottom Americans figure "we'll come up with some gizmo, some way to deal with this technologically." It's a very American way of thinking.
I'm running out of time. I'll just also say that our lack of enthusiasm for multinational efforts reflects our greater sense of sovereignty and our greater concern for sovereignty.
We have over-expectations about what the world offers. We think we can have it both ways; we can have cheap imports but we want to protect our jobs. Yes, we vote for energy independence, but there is very little desire to deal with the issues attendant to energy independence. Americans think "We can have it both ways," again reflecting our experience.
Americans think they can get what they want in the world. They are accustomed to getting what they want in the world. They rely on themselves, not on others, for getting what they want. And they see much of the world as not offering all that much.
The charge should not be that America is a hyperpower—maybe it is—but certainly the American public is a hyper-people with respect to many of the ways in which it looks at the rest of the world. I think those are the things that make America truly exceptional and are the problems that you can see behind the anti-Americanism that we have chronicled.
BRUCE STOKES: Thank you. I, too, appreciate such a strong turnout and look forward to your questions and comments, because I find that when we do these sessions that we learn a lot from your questions. They help us both understand the data better and figure out what to ask people in the future.
My task is more limited. What I want to do is talk a little bit about some of the other aspects of the book that don't necessarily directly relate to anti-Americanism, but just things that came up in the surveys that we think you might find intriguing—we certainly did—and then talk a little bit about whether any of this matters, because obviously that's the bottom line.
There is a chapter in the book called "Doing Business and Practicing Democracy." This is clearly one of our values, our commitment to market values, our commitment to democracy.
Certainly, support for democratic values is widely shared across the world. When the Bush Administration argued this as one of their leading initiatives, they were right. It's not just that we ask people "do you believe in democracy?"; we asked them did they believe in freedom of speech and a fair judiciary and multiparty elections. People all over the world, including in the Muslim world, very strongly support this. So, in fact, the Bush Administration was right about that.
There are differences in practice. Americans, for example, are much more likely to sign a petition. The French are much more likely to demonstrate—I don't think that would surprise you at all. So how you practice democracy can be a little bit different.
On capitalism, though, there are real differences between Americans and Europeans in how we look at underlying values of capitalism. Americans are much more likely than Europeans to believe in competition, for example, and we are more likely to believe that our children should be taught the values of hard work. So there are differences there.
More broadly, the Europeans see both democracy and open markets as guidelines rather than American models to be copied. Less than half the Brits, the French, and the Germans admire American-style democracy or American-style business practices.
In fact, one interesting aspect of this survey was that the people who arguably had experienced American-style business practices the least (say, people in Africa) were the most enamored with them. The people who might have experienced American-style business practices the most (the Canadians and the Brits) had the greatest questions about our business practices. So there is some interesting data there.
Americans-style democracy, however, is very much disliked in Muslim countries. Even though they have great support for democracy and all of its components, American-style democracy is not that popular.
We have a chapter on globalization. We have a chapter on globalization because when we started this project years ago, this project was supposed to be about globalization. In fact, we were in the office of Mark Malloch Brown, then the head of the UN Development Programme, and we asked Mark. We said, "Look, we're going to spend all this money, we're going to survey all these people on globalization. Are we right that this is the next coming issue of the 21st century?"
Mark said, "Absolutely. You couldn't be better positioned. This is absolutely right." He said that to us on September 10, 2001, literally 12 hours before the world changed.
So, while we have a lot of data here about globalization, the debate certainly in the world has changed.
Also, I must admit, the data on globalization is not that much fun, it's not that interesting. Everybody loves globalization. No matter how you ask the question—we didn't just ask the "G" word, "What do you think about globalization?"; we asked people, "How do you feel about more products coming into your country from abroad, how about more investment, how about more technologies or cultural products coming from abroad?"—overwhelmingly people support globalization, even among the young, which is again counterintuitive, given the demonstrations and things of that nature. In fact, support for globalization is higher in Britain and Germany than it is in the United States. So, contrary to the headlines, there is broad and deep support for all aspects of globalization.
There is, however, a fear of Americanization. Seventy-nine percent of Americans think the spread of American ideas and customs is a good thing. Only 25 percent of the French agreed; only 39 percent of the Brits agreed. So, in fact, there is a problem there.
And, probably more disturbingly, people everywhere, including in the United States, believe that their traditional way of life is threatened. Now, we don't know necessarily what people meant by that, but I think that part of the angst about globalization comes out of that question. People aren't sure what it is, but their traditional way of life is changing; they don't particularly like that and it's upsetting.
We also in one of the chapters in the book wanted to test a thesis that was out there. Timothy Garton Ash, a very famous British journalist, who I'm sure may have spoken here in the past, and some researchers at The German Marshall Fund—both had written articles before we did our book talking about how Democrats look a lot like Europeans; you know, the Democrats are Europeans, and then the Republicans are over here someplace else.
What we realized when we looked at that analysis is they were only looking at the responses to foreign policy questions. We wanted to test that more broadly: on a range of values, do Americans who identify themselves as Democrats look more like Europeans than Republicans? In fact, we found that really wasn't the case.
On the question of optimism, one of the real defining characteristics of Americans, Democrats and Republicans are almost indistinguishable from each other, but both are twice as optimistic as Western Europeans.
Half of Democrats and Republicans believe you have to believe in God to be moral. Only a third of the Germans and one out of eight Frenchmen believe you have to believe in God to be moral. So we are much more like each other on those religious values.
More Democrats than Republicans are willing to accept homosexuality, but the Brits are 20 percentage points more likely to accept homosexuality than Democrats. So there is a real difference there across the Atlantic.
And on social welfare policy, while there is a ten-point gap between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of who's responsible for your life, is it you or is it society, there is a 22 percent gap between Democrats and Europeans on that issue.
So again, it is true there are some differences between Democrats and Republicans, but we still look much more like each other than we look like Western Europeans.
The final issue that I would like to raise with you, and I think a good way to launch our discussion here, is: Does it really matter?
One of the issues that came out at the time we did some of our first surveys was all this anti-Americanism would hurt American business abroad. In fact, some of our surveys and other surveys showed that people said, "We would be willing to participate in boycotts of American products we're so angry at the United States."
In fact, some subsequent analysis done by Bob Keohane at Princeton showed that if you look at iconic American brands in Europe—Nike, Coca-Cola, brands like that—they all had done progressively better in Western Europe every year throughout this entire period. Not only that, they have done better than their European competitors.
So on an economics basis it is really hard to see that all this anti-Americanism matters very much.
On a foreign policy set of issues, I would at least argue it is a little bit different. The support for America in Turkey right now is 12 percent. When we wanted to invade Iraq, we wanted to go through Turkey as part of the northern attack. They Turkish government would not let us. I think it is inconceivable that the Turkish politicians were not aware of how unpopular that would be. One reason that they would not let us was they knew they would have a revolt on their hands from their own people. So it does have a consequence.
It also has consequences in terms Andy mentioned. For example, if you look at people's perception of our religiosity, whether you think we're too religious or not religious enough tends to drive anti-Americanism.
Also, we've asked the question around the world "Do you think there should be another superpower in the world?" People in many, many countries believe there should be another superpower, and if you believed that, you are much more likely to be anti-American than the general public in your country.
So again, it seems to us that this anxiety about America's role in the world and this anti-Americanism is, in fact, driving anti-Americanism. There is a cost to it. I wouldn't want to over-exaggerate the cost, because, as I say, the evidence of the economics is pretty strong the other way, but clearly there is some consequence.
So I think we should throw this open to questions and answers.
Questions and Answers
JOANNE MYERS:I thank you both very much for laying the foundation for what should be a very interesting discussion.
I'd just like to ask a question first of all. When you asked them if there should be another superpower, who do they suggest that superpower should be?
BRUCE STOKES: That's the limitation of polling data.
JOANNE MYERS: Oh, you don't ask them?
BRUCE STOKES: You really would like to ask the people "Do you really want the Soviet Union back and do you really want this nuclear threat hanging over your head?" Clearly, the limits of time and money don't allow you to do that. My guess is people probably wouldn't have a specific answer. They hadn't thought it through that far.
ANDREW KOHUT: Bruce, we did ask people about China, and there is little desire to see the Chinese rival the United States militarily.
There is a desire on the part of Europeans to see the European Union be a counterweight to America, but there is a reluctance among Europeans to be willing to pay for the cost, if you raise the issue of how much will it cost for the European Union to become sufficiently independent militarily to take on the roles that the United States takes on.
So Bruce is right, you don't come up with any good answers. But what you come up with is discontent with American power and concern about the fact that we are unchecked. But there's no alternative.
QUESTION: Thank you for a very interesting discussion.
I wonder if you could define a little bit more precisely what you mean or what your respondents mean when they talk about American-style democracy, which apparently everybody dislikes. What are the elements about the way we do things here that are particularly unlikable overseas?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, I don't know if we can answer that question specifically because that's pretty much the way we word the question. We worded it within a battery of things: "How do you feel about American-style democracy?"—"Don't like it." How do you feel about Americans' way of doing business?"—"Don't like it." "How do you feel about American music, American movies, American songs, or American television shows?"—"Like it very much." "How do you feel about American technology?"
BRUCE STOKES: In fact, foreigners like our songs and music more than we do.
ANDREW KOHUT: So it's a very good question, but not one that we've explored.
I think it relates to the image of our open style of electioneering. A lot of the polling that we did, the initial polling we did, came on the heels of the 2000 election, which the Europeans were not unaware of. But a lot of it also reflects just a generally negative view of America.
BRUCE STOKES: I have a friend who has a mini-career in going around and speaking for the State Department, showing U.S.-style political commercials. He gets a tape of them—probably not a tape anymore, a DVD of them—and shows them to people. He uniformly says people overseas are appalled. They can't believe that we are allowed to say these things in political campaigns.
QUESTION: A fascinating discussion. Thank you very much.
My question: To what extent do you believe the answers to your questions about attitudes toward the United States were affected by the war in Iraq?
ANDREW KOHUT: Oh, I think that's the big driver. Before the war in Iraq, we saw this, as I described it, a slipping of the American image but still a reserve of goodwill. After the war in Iraq, the image of the United States plummeted all around the world in many countries. There are some places where we're still well regarded and the Iraq effect wasn't that great. But if you look at Europe, you look at large parts of Asia, and certainly if you look at the Muslim world, before the war in Iraq dislike of America was limited to the Arab countries and what we call the region of conflict, Central Asia. But since then, anti-Americanism has become a global Muslim phenomenon. We found that the image of the United States in Indonesia fell from 55 percent in 2002 to 15 percent in 2003. That's a big decline.
QUESTIONER: If I may, I just came back from a week in Greece, and I found the same phenomenon you've been describing. The Greeks are hostile to President Bush. I respond, "So are the Americans."
ANDREW KOHUT: What we did find—for example, we asked the question, "Is the U.S. less trustworthy since the Iraq war?" Eighty-two percent of the Germans said yes, 74 percent of the Turks said yes, 63 percent of the Russians said yes.
We asked people after the 2004 election, "Has Bush's reelection made you less favorable towards the U.S. or more favorable?" Canadians 75 percent less favorable, Brits 63 percent less favorable, the Germans 77 percent less favorable. So the war, the reelection of President Bush—you get a sense, especially around President Bush, that people were collectively holding their breath, and then we didn't fix what they thought was a problem.
We also asked a question of people who said they had an unfavorable view of the United States. We'd follow up and say, "Is it Bush or is it America that you don't like?" What we found, disturbingly, was what one might have expected, that people overwhelmingly said it was Bush, but that the number of people who say "Well, it's now America too" has gone up over the years.
So this hole is deeper than just Bush, it seems to me. It's one of the conclusions, I would say, of this, that getting out of this hole is going to be harder than just having a new president in 2008.
QUESTION: Thank you. I also enjoyed your talk very much.
The ubiquitous Tom Friedman wrote a column a few weeks ago, which I'm sure you saw, in which he described either his own or his wife's trip around Kenya, and said that from the top to the bottom of that society, rich and poor, all had a picture of Obama on their walls. He suggested that if Obama were to achieve political power in this country, he would go a long way in helping our image overseas. I don't know if that's true. It would be nice in my opinion, Gore or Obama. But is there some big act or something that could happen in the world that you think might reverse this plummet as you described it?
ANDREW KOHUT: I don't think that even the election of Obama would change things.
By the way, Kenya is the exception. In fact, I just got in a survey from Kenya, and the Kenyans continue to have a positive view of the United States. That's just a little aside to your question.
QUESTIONER: Probably because of Obama.
ANDREW KOHUT: Perhaps. But they also have a positive view of President Bush. In fact, he has a 75 percent approval rating in Kenya. He could run for reelection in Kenya and do very well.
But to answer your question, because it's a great question, I think that what has to happen is that—it's just like domestic politics—things have to happen, there has to be change. If we had been successful in Iraq, we wouldn't be in this condition. If we make progress with the Israeli-Palestinian situation, that would go a long way to improving the image of the United States.
When we provided aid following the tsunami, in Indonesia that 15 percent went back to 35 percent. It didn't go up to 55 percent.
But we can make things happen by doing things. Saying things at this point is going to be a lot less effective, and the image of even a very attractive candidates, such as Obama—they'll get a honeymoon, whoever it is, but the honeymoon won't last long if there aren't real international consequences.
QUESTION: Despite all the figures that you have given out regarding the view of America in all those countries, since George Bush was reelected in 2004 we've had Angela Merkel in Germany, John Howard again in Australia, Stephen Harper in Canada, and now Nicolas Sarkozy in France, all of whom represent policies that, in a sense, are more in the Bush vein than they would be the other. So, despite the reaction of those countries to your question of whether you have more or less respect for Bush, they have essentially gone with leaders who are going to make common cause with the United States and Bush.
Michael Mandelbaum in a book last year indicated that yes, there's a good deal of opposition to America in the world, but that most countries see the United States actually as the world's government—they're the policemen, they're the enforcers. Most of those countries have no capacity to involve themselves militarily or do anything. Yes, they can do it in small areas in Sierra Leone maybe, or in the Ivory Coast if France sends a detachment down there, but in order to police the world and in order to keep the world stable, they all look to the United States to do it. So they have the luxury of criticizing America but they don't have the means to do anything but [criticize]. So I think there is where I would like to have you discuss things.
ANDREW KOHUT: I think all of those trends are in the direction that you note. But in the elections where we have really been at stake, the people who backed us or criticized us suffered different consequences. I mean Schroeder ran his reelection campaign against us and he won, and the Spanish government fell as a consequence of participation in the war.
Now, I think a really interesting question, and one of the things that we talk about in the book, is that public opinion is a bigger player, not only in politics in the United States but in Europe and elsewhere. The issue is: how much room do these conservative leaders have to embrace our policies or Bush's policies? I think that's the bigger question, rather than just the sheer ideological affinity of these leaders. That would be my answer.
JOANNE MYERS: Bruce, did you want to add something?
BRUCE STOKES: I just think that we have to remember that we all tend to talk to elites. I think, based on my reporting in Europe, it's clear that the European elites were scared by what they saw as this alienation between America and Europe and were bending over backwards to try to make nice with the United States, to try to repair this relationship.
Merkel is certainly that case, Barroso is that case, and they have been able to get elected, they have been able to govern. So it seems to me you could argue that their public's attitude maybe doesn't matter that much. But it is true; the data is really overwhelming.
I mean Merkel's views on the United States don't reflect the German public's point of view at all. She gets elected anyway. Merkel's point of view about the United States doesn't reflect the German public's point of view at all, and there's just no evidence that it is getting any better. Now, I think it's a legitimate point to argue that it may not matter. She is going ahead and try to cozy up to Bush because she sees broader need of doing that.
Certainly, the world works better if Europe and the United States can work together rather than at odds with each other. I would agree with that.
ANDREW KOHUT: Can I follow up on this, because I wanted also to speak to the question of how does it matter.
I think it does matter with regard to trust. We are more likely to be able to get people to go along with our point of view about how tough we should be with Iran if the publics of these countries trust us. If America is in a position where it has a lot of capital and wants to take a tough position with Iran, there will be much more political support. It will be much more politically easy for European leaders or allied leaders to go along with us than if we are disliked and America has little capital in these places. So I think trust matters in a world in which we require partnerships. It's not only being a cop; it's also being a nation that exerts soft power as well as hard power.
QUESTION: You didn't mention anything about South America or Latin America. Did you do any soundings there? Here we're talking about age-old allies who have been extremely supportive of American policy. I happen to do a lot of business with them. I was just curious, because there has been a sea change in my opinion, with the one exception of Colombia, against America. I was wondering if you had done any studies and whether you had developed any interesting statistics as to why they have turned against us as opposed to other countries.
ANDREW KOHUT: We've ignored Latin America to a large extent, but the ignoring is over, because we are in the field with ten countries.
It is not as bleak as you would think. We don't have all of our countries in, but there's much more support for America than you would believe. I've looked at Argentina and I've looked at Mexico. I haven't seen Venezuela. But certainly, in Mexico there is no sense that this is a country that has become so alienated by American policies, much less so than what we see in Europe and in Asia and other places.
This is a sort of incomplete report. I've seen two out of eight countries. But even in Argentina there has been some improvement. When we were there in 2002, the Argentineans were really very angry at the West and all the major powers, including us. Things even there have improved. But, based upon at least what we see in Mexico, there is some good news.
QUESTION: I was curious to press you a little bit more on your comments about American democracy, because I tend to think that calling something "American democracy" tends to load the question. When we've done qualitative work in the Muslim world and we asked people about the attributes of democracy, whether it's the rule of law, free elections or open elections, these are things they absolutely demand, let alone want.
We recently did something interesting. We asked a question about support for the American-led war on terror in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, but we asked only half the sample that. We asked the other half how they felt about international efforts against terror. We found that in Pakistan and in Indonesia support for the international effort against terror went up 10 percent. Interestingly enough, however, in Bangladesh, the one country of the three where Americans were still liked, it didn't change. That suggested very much that simply calling something "American-style" anything—war on terror, democracy, what have you—is a sure way to damn it, at least in countries where America is not very popular.
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, that's true in a sense. But if your effort is to try to understand how people feel about the American war on terrorism, then that's really what you have to go after.
One of the amazing things that we are finding right now in the surveys that we're doing is that, even though the image of the United States has fallen, there is actually more support for the American-led war on terrorism than there is for America itself.
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] for al-Qaeda [inaudible].
ANDREW KOHUT: That's right. But those are the sorts of things that we're trying to tease out of this poll.
QUESTION: I wondered whether you were able to identify in your polling where people got their impression of America. I mean they are all giving you opinions, but where do those opinions come from? I'm sort of suggesting that maybe the press or media throughout the world influence how people who don't even know an American think.
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, we do find that people who have a personal relationship with America, know Americans, have visited America, have a better view of us than people who haven't.
We do find that people most often say that they get their views about international issues from satellite television. That's true not only in Europe; it's also true in the Mideast, where television is the big player. The only place where satellite television is not the big player is in Africa, where it is still radio in many places.
BRUCE STOKES: That's a very good question. We know from asking Americans that question that the media is the plurality response. Interestingly, it is not with their religion, for example.
QUESTION: My question is also about American-style democracy. Do you have a definition? The biggest difference between American-style and, say, European democracy—except, I think, in Great Britain—is America has more or less a two-party system. I mean legally there could be more parties, but in reality it is a two-party system, as opposed to a multi-party system. It is based on campaign contributions, and the accounting of those is all a bit shaky. So wouldn't it be a good idea to change parts of your system? I know it has been criticized in the United States as well, to advance to the liking of American democracy. But if you had like five parties, no campaign contributions, and the voting would be clear.
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, opinions about American democracy are interesting, but they're kind of a sidelight to what are the real personal—
QUESTIONER: But these get big, big headlines.
ANDREW KOHUT: What are the real big drivers of opinion about the United States? The most important correlate of how ordinary people feel about the United States is whether the United States takes into account the needs and interests of their country in the way it makes foreign policy—unilateralism, in a word. That's the issue that is the most important one, or had been at least initially the most important dimension of public opinion about America. Now I think also the issue of America's power is the most significant thing, the most significant perception about America in most countries.
QUESTIONER: So you're saying people don't care how—
ANDREW KOHUT: Not that they don't care, but this question and this issue is kind of a sidebar to the bigger questions about America and only one little item that we put in a series to get what are the highs and lows that people ascribe to America. Certainly, our popular culture and our products and our technology remain the highest.
QUESTION: I'd like to get away from the 9/11 effect and go back to some basic things about perceptions of Americans throughout the years. Did you ask any questions concerning Americans and what they feel—are we tolerant people, are we bigots, are we naïve, are we unsophisticated, are we over-generous—those kind of questions?
ANDREW KOHUT: One of the things that we've done is we've done a lot of research on how the American people are seen in addition to the United States, the image of America writ large. What we have seen are declines, not only in the image of the United States overall, but also the image of the American people.
We've done some detailed questions, asking people what qualities they ascribe to Americans. Americas are thought to be hardworking. They are thought to be honest by large percentages of people in most countries. Those are the positives.
What were some of the other positives?
ANDREW KOHUT: Those are the negatives—selfish, violent, and as we've mentioned, too religious. We have done quite a bit about the image of the American people. It's really a very mixed image. In some ways, we are seen as good folks, being honest and hardworking and diligent. On the other hand, we're seen as violent and immoral in many places.
QUESTION: And simplistic sometimes.
ANDREW KOHUT: Perhaps.
QUESTION: On the other side of the coin, how does the rest of the world feel about America's loss of economic, political, and military power?
ANDREW KOHUT: I don't think we asked people questions about hypothetical issues, and there hasn't been an American loss of those things.
One of the things that we try to do is when you're interviewing people in a wide range of countries, you have to keep the questions pretty simple. We don't ask foreign policy questions or prospective questions or questions about what people think about the future because we try to keep the questions close to what's in the range of what ordinary people think about. They don't speculate about America's geopolitical position for the most part.
QUESTIONER: Loss of military power [inaudible] in our economic [inaudible].
BRUCE STOKES: Our sense is, and there's a debate here—Andy would know better about this than I would—in the polling community about how specific you can be. But clearly, we have come down on the side of saying if you ask people very specific questions, they will give you an answer because they're embarrassed not to have an answer. But whether it means anything, whether they've actually thought about it before you actually asked them the question, is another point. It's better to ask people about their opinions in general, their emotions, rather than a well-thought-out geopolitical strategic question, which the average guy on the street in—I don't know—in Vietnam may never have thought about before.
QUESTION: [from a Canadian] I was wondering if you could go into a bit more depth on whether the survey reveals any particular points for change, potential to really turn around that opinion; maybe some low-hanging fruit if you will, from those opinions, areas to go to; or, for example, where America's allies could perhaps help to turn around some of those negative opinions.
BRUCE STOKES: Well, one thing that we did find was that, based on our surveys, we all should want to be Canadians, that Canadians are the most satisfied, the happiest—the place you want to be, basically.
I think—Andy might have something to say about this—that, clearly, if you look at the data over time in terms of our attitudes towards the United Nations, which is kind of a placeholder for our attitudes towards multilateralism; even our attitudes towards isolationism—and, by the way, we are at historically high levels of isolationism in the postwar period right now. Forty-one percent of the American people say we should mind our own business in our 2005 survey, which is as high as it was at the end of the Vietnam war.
But those attitudes tend to fluctuate wildly from year to year. As Andy pointed out, our support for the United Nations was something like 77 percent in 2001 or 2002. It was quite high.
ANDREW KOHUT: It has gone down.
BRUCE STOKES: It has gone down now. But the point is what has been high and gone down can go back up, if you look at the numbers.
So it does seem to me that different kind of leadership on these issues—the Clinton White House certainly talked a more supportive game of the United Nations, for example, and I think that probably has an impact on public opinion.
Certainly, the consequences of the unilateralism in Iraq probably will over time raise people's support for multilateralism—if anything, just that we don't want to do this alone again.
So I think those are the kinds of things we could look for.
ANDREW KOHUT: I also think that the environment is an area. The surveys that we're analyzing now show much more concern across the board than five years ago for the environment and American policies with respect to it. America is seen as taking stronger positions with respect to the environment, especially with respect to global warming. That I would put in the category of low-hanging fruit.
BRUCE STOKES: You know, before the Iraq war, the attitudes towards the Bush Administration and America on climate change were a driver of concern about America.
ANDREW KOHUT: The withdrawal from Kyoto—we did a survey in August of 2001, and Bush's ratings in Europe were very negative then. The thing that came up more than anything else was the way America just walked away from Kyoto. And concerns about global warming and the environment have only increased around the world—increased here, but they're not as great as they are in other places. But nonetheless, in answer to your question, that's one category.
JOANNE MYERS: Last question, right here.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you—you mentioned earlier in your comments that you speak now and then to people in Washington who perhaps might be some people in positions of influence or policy-affecting personalities. I was wondering what kind of reaction do they give you when they hear the findings that you're exposing here today, the kind of thing you expose to them?
ANDREW KOHUT: I've testified before a couple of Senate committees and a number of congressional committees over the years, most recently a few months ago. There is an openness toward this material. This information has, I think, shaped the view of the way we are seen by policymakers in Washington.
I've been in the White House, and I've talked to Condoleezza Rice and Karl Rove about it a long time ago, and they were not fans of this information. I think, though, that even in the White House at this point there is a great recognition that this is a real problem. When we did our first survey, I think to a certain extent their view was this was anomalous. They have appointed Karen Hughes to deal with the problem. [Laughter]I think they recognize that this is a problem now.
Neither they nor anyone—certainly [not] us—would say that one should govern a country or run a foreign policy based upon public opinion. That isn't the issue. But the issue is taking into account the consequences on the image of the United States and what that portends in terms of international cooperation and evaluating policies. I think some are more inclined to take that point of view than others.
QUESTIONER: Would you distinguish between parties? Which are more responsive, Democrats and Republicans, or is there any general rule that you see along those lines?
ANDREW KOHUT: I don't know. I've had—what is the name of the Indiana Senator, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee? I'm having a senior moment. Senator Lugar is a great consumer of this information. On the Democratic side, there are also many others.
Obviously, the people who take a very hard-line position are less inclined. But even many of the neo-con scholars use this material and are well aware of it.
BRUCE STOKES: And at a more sublime level, I lecture regularly at the Foreign Service Institute on these findings, and they are trying to expose their junior foreign service officers to this.
It is actually disturbing, though. When you lay out this data—and these are all people, in the courses I've taught, who have served at least one tour overseas, so they've been exposed to it firsthand—their initial reaction is to deny it. All the initial questions are methodological questions, which implicitly say, "Well, you must be wrong"—you know, "your sample is too small," "it wasn't representative of this"—because they don't want to believe it, even though some of them would then go on to tell you stories about it.
So it is having, I think, some impact. I know, for example, the findings on perceptions of our religiosity and how those are drivers of anti-Americanism— it's a very dicey subject for the U.S. government to start talking about our people's religiosity via the government. By the same token, the data is pretty conclusive that we have to start explaining our religiosity because people misperceive it and it drives anti-Americanism.
The Foreign Service Institute is developing some curriculum around that issue to teach their foreign service officers how to talk about religion, in some kind of a neutral way hopefully, but a way that would help make people understand who we are around religion and, again, who we aren't around religion.
JOANNE MYERS: Well, Karl Rove and Condi Rice may not be fans of yours, but I'm sure our audience are great big fans. I thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.