December 19, 2001

America Admired, Yet Its New Vulnerability Seen As Good Thing, Say Opinion Leaders

How the World Has Changed

Despite their deep differences over the causes and consequences of the terror attacks, opinion leaders in every region agree that Sept. 11 marked the beginning of a new chapter in world history. About eight-in-ten (78%) U.S. respondents, and virtually the same number elsewhere, believe that the terrorist attacks and subsequent conflict opened a new era.

There also is broad agreement that air travel and tourism are likely to be casualties of the war on terrorism. Nearly all Americans and eight-in-ten of those from other nations say air travel will be harmed, while only somewhat fewer (90% U.S., 64% non-U.S.) say the same about tourism. Opinion leaders in Eastern Europe/Russia are notable for their lack of pessimism concerning tourism – just a third say tourism in their countries will be negatively affected.

Beyond that, the opinion leaders differ over what the war will mean for their countries. American opinion leaders are virtually unanimous in their view that personal freedoms and privacy will be curtailed as a result of the war, and solid majorities in Western Europe see the same for their countries (71% say personal freedom will be hurt, 66% privacy). This view is not as prevalent elsewhere – in Eastern Europe/Russia and Asia, no more than half believe personal liberties and privacy will be limited because of the struggle against terrorism.

On economic issues, opinion leaders in Asia are much more likely than those in other regions to say their nation’s exports and foreign investment will be undermined in the coming year by the fight against terrorism. While better than eight-in-ten respondents from Asia say those two areas will be hurt, fewer than half of those in other regions agree. A majority of the U.S. respondents (58%) believe exports will be unaffected while a 45% plurality says the same about foreign investment.

Population migration also is likely to be affected by the war on terrorism, according to opinion leaders, especially those in Latin America. Roughly seven-in-ten (71%) influentials in Latin America think migration will be negatively affected. American opinion leaders agree. Asked a different form of the question, fully 78% of U.S. influentials expect immigration to the United States to be hurt by the war.
Perhaps surprisingly, opinion leaders outside the United States do not see much of a backlash against American consumer goods or music and movies because of the war. In fact, majorities of non-U.S. respondents expect the sale of U.S. products and the popularity of American movies to be either boosted or unaffected by the conflict. American opinion leaders are far more likely to believe sales of U.S. consumer goods will be hurt (half expect that to occur), although they agree that the popularity of U.S. music and movies will be unaffected.

The opinion leaders are virtually unanimous in their view that use of the Internet will not be hurt by the current conflict. Respondents in the Middle East/conflict area are especially bullish on the Internet – 72% say use of the Internet will be helped as a result of the war. In Asia, a solid plurality (43%) believes that the use of the Internet will be helped. Elsewhere, most respondents expect that Internet use will be unaffected by the war on terrorism.

Westerners Willing to Sacrifice Freedoms

In addition to evaluating ways in which their nation’s economic and political life may be affected by the war, opinion leaders were asked their opinion of specific policies relating to personal liberty and immigration. American and Western European influentials – who are most likely to say they expect future terrorists attacks – are also among the most willing to sacrifice personal freedoms as part of the fight against terrorism.

Two-thirds of influentials in the United States and Western Europe say they are willing to accept less personal freedom. Opinion leaders from other nations express more reluctance about sacrificing freedom. In the Middle East/conflict area and Latin America, roughly half say they would be unwilling to accept less freedom, while about four-in-ten of those in Asia and Eastern Europe/Russia agree.

Opinion leaders have a similarly mixed view of tighter immigration curbs. Narrow majorities in the United States and Middle East/conflict area support such curbs in their countries. But two-thirds of Asian influentials oppose such restrictions, more than any other group.

New World Order?

Most opinion leaders in the United States and Western Europe think that one of the silver linings of the war on terrorism will be a lasting improvement in relations between the U.S., Russia and China. But respondents in other regions are far more skeptical, including a solid majority of those from Eastern Europe/Russia.
Nearly two-thirds of opinion leaders in America (63%) and Western Europe (65%) expect closer relations between the United States, Russia and China to endure. Respondents from Eastern Europe/Russia disagree – 57% say closer ties among the three nations will be only temporary. By slightly larger margins, opinion leaders in Asia and the Middle East/conflict area also say they doubt that the newly improved relations will last.

A similar gap exists on the question of whether democratic institutions in nations undergoing the transition to democracy will be helped or harmed by the war on terrorism. Most American opinion leaders (55%) say democratic institutions in those countries will be helped, and by about two-to-one (43%-22%), respondents in Western Europe agree. But 64% of opinion leaders in Eastern Europe/Russia believe that democratic institutions in emerging democracies will be hurt, not helped, by the struggle against terrorism.

Few See Broader Conflict

Opinion leaders in both the West and Islamic countries reject the notion that the Sept. 11 attacks will trigger a major cultural clash pitting the West against Islam. Indeed, there is a confluence of opinion among respondents in the United States, Western Europe and Islamic countries that the conflict will be limited to a struggle between the West and the al Qaeda group – better than half in all three regions take this view.
Respondents in the Middle East/conflict area are somewhat more likely to envision a broader conflict (41% see broader clash, 54% limited conflict). And interestingly, opinion leaders in Eastern Europe/Russia are split on this point; as many see a major conflict between the West and Islam (40%) as believe it will be limited to al Qaeda.

In the conflict with Osama bin Laden’s group, most opinion leaders – with the notable exception of those in the United States – feel it is unlikely that their country will become a target of al Qaeda terrorism. Fully 85% of Americans say new attacks by al Qaeda against their country are likely; only about one-in-four of those elsewhere believe their country will become targets. Only among Western Europeans (47% of whom say an attack on their nation is likely) is there much concern about an al Qaeda attack.

Of the small number outside the United States who say an attack by al Qaeda is likely, nearly all think that allying with the U.S. is the best way to avoid such an attack. Even among those in the Middle East/conflict area, fewer than one-in-ten say that creating distance with the United States would be an effective means of avoiding future al Qaeda attacks.

U.S. Seen as Acting Unilaterally – Again

The wide gap between American opinion leaders and those from other nations over the U.S. image is mirrored in the dramatically different perceptions of whether the United States is taking heed of the interests of coalition partners in the fight against terrorism. Seven-in-ten American opinion leaders say the United States is taking into account allied interests. On average, six-in-ten of those in other nations disagree, saying the U.S. is acting mainly on its own interests.

What is striking is the uniformity of that view across regions. Roughly as many opinion leaders in Western Europe (66%) – where there is considerable support for U.S. military action – as in the Middle East/conflict area (71%) believe the United States is acting mostly in its own interests in battling terrorism.

The view among elites in Western Europe that the United States is mostly going it alone shows that, at least in this respect, opinions apparently have changed little as a result of Sept. 11. Before the attacks, better than seven-in-ten members of the public in four Western European nations said that the Bush administration based foreign policy decisions entirely on U.S. interests rather than taking European interests into account (see “Bush Unpopular in Europe, Seen As Unilateralist,” Aug. 15).

Differences Over Israel

Substantial majorities of opinion leaders in every region except Eastern Europe/Russia believe the United States has been too supportive of Israel. American influentials, on balance, disagree: 45% say that U.S. backing for Israel has not been excessive, while 35% say that it has.

Opinion leaders in the Middle East/conflict area, not surprisingly, are nearly unanimous in their view that the United States has been too supportive of Israel. Yet that opinion is widely shared in Latin America and Asia as well, where roughly eight-in-ten believe U.S. backing has been excessive. The only significant dissent comes from Eastern Europe/Russia, where opinion is split – 40% say U.S. has provided too much support for Israel, while 47% disagree.

There is broad agreement that U.S. pressure on Israel to create a Palestinian state would reduce terrorism. Most American opinion leaders (67%) subscribe to this view, as do those in other regions, especially the Middle East/conflict area (90%).

Mid-East Leaders See Risk Worth It

Many opinion leaders, especially those in Asia and Eastern Europe/Russia, say the war on terrorism is not worth the risk it poses to the governments of Muslim states aligned with the United States against terrorism. But influentials in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey do not share this view (this question was not asked in Egypt).

In fact, by a 74%-23% margin, influentials in this region say the military action is worth the risk it poses to governments of Islamic nations. Only among U.S. opinion leaders is this view more prevalent (85% agree).