December 3, 2009

U.S. Seen as Less Important, China as More Powerful

Section 4: U.S. Allies and Country Favorability

Opinions among members of the Council on Foreign Relations about which U.S. allies and partners will be more important in the future – and those that will be less important – have changed dramatically since the last America’s Place in the World survey in 2005.

Fully 58% now say that China will be a more important future U.S. ally, up from just 31% in 2005. A majority (55%) also names India as a more important future ally, up from 43% in 2005 when India was mentioned more frequently than any other country. And the proportion of CFR members identifying Brazil as a more important U.S. ally has more than doubled – from 17% to 37% – since 2005.

By contrast, the percentages identifying Japan and Great Britain as more important future allies have fallen sharply. Currently, 16% say Japan will be a more important U.S. ally, down from 32% in 2005. While roughly the same percentages of CFR members named Japan and China as future allies four years ago, more than three times many now cite China than Japan.

Just 10% of CFR members view Great Britain as a more important future ally, down from 27% in 2005. And both Great Britain and Japan rank near the top of the list of U.S. allies predicted to be less important in the future.

Nearly one-in-five CFR members (18%) name France as a less important U.S. ally, while nearly as many say Great Britain (17%) and Japan (16%). But while the percentage naming France as less important has declined from 31% in 2005, far more CFR members say Great Britain and Japan will be less important; just 2% saw Great Britain as a less important ally in 2005 while just 7% said the same about Japan.

Currently, 13% of CFR members mention European countries generally or the EU as less important U.S. allies in the future; just 5% named Europe in 2005. However, there has been little change in the percentage naming European countries as more important (19% now, 23% then).

In the 2005 survey, 21% of CFR members said that Germany would be a less important future U.S. ally. But that figure has fallen to 8% in the current survey. And while just 3% of CFR members named Germany as a more important future ally four years ago, 9% cite Germany today.

Public’s Views of Leading Countries

While fewer CFR members see Great Britain and Japan as more important future U.S. allies, both countries continue to be viewed very positively by the general public. In a September survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 84% said they had a favorable opinion of Canada, while 77% had a favorable impression of Great Britain. Two-thirds expressed positive opinions of Japan (67%) and Germany (66%), while nearly as many (62%) had a positive opinion of France.

By contrast, public views of Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were overwhelmingly negative. Just 11% had a favorable opinion of Iran compared with 77% who had an unfavorable opinion. The balance of opinion toward Pakistan was only somewhat better (16% favorable/68% unfavorable). And only about a quarter (24%) felt favorably toward Saudi Arabia, compared with 61% who had an unfavorable opinion.

These opinions were little changed from recent years for many of the countries where comparative data was available. Yet there were substantial changes in the public’s impressions of some countries. Most notably, opinions of France, which were roughly two-to-one unfavorable during the early months of the Iraq war, turned dramatically.

In the September Global Attitudes survey, 62% said they had a favorable opinion of France compared with just 25% who had an unfavorable opinion. As recently as 2007, fewer than half (48%) expressed positive opinions of France and in May 2003 just 29% had a favorable opinion.

The most recent survey found that 71% of Democrats expressed a favorable view of France, compared with 62% of independents and 53% of Republicans. The improvement in opinions of France since 2003 has come across the partisan spectrum: at that time, just 39% of Democrats, 30% of independents and 19% of Republicans felt favorably toward France.

China Viewed More Favorably

Most Americans continue to say that China’s emergence as a major power represents as major threat to the United States. Yet a Global Attitudes survey from June found that China’s image among the public had improved. Half expressed a favorable opinion of China, compared with 38% who had an unfavorable opinion. In April 2008, opinion of China was evenly divided (39% favorable/42% unfavorable).

The improved image of China reflected primarily a shift in Democratic opinion. More than half of Democrats (54%) rated China positively, while about 35% said they had a negative view. In April 2008 Democrats were nearly evenly split – 39% had a favorable view and 42% had an unfavorable view of China.

Republicans expressed mixed views of China; 43% give it a positive rating and 46% rate it negatively. In April 2008, somewhat more Republicans said they had an unfavorable opinion of China than said they had a favorable opinion (47% vs. 40%).

Iran and Pakistan

Views of Iran have become even more negative than they were in April 2008, when clear majorities already saw that country in a negative light. In the September Pew Global Attitudes survey, 77% expressed unfavorable views of Iran, up from 64% in April 2008.

Positive impressions of Pakistan also declined substantially during this period. In September, just 16% had a positive impression of Pakistan, while more than four times as many (68%) expressed a negative opinion. In April 2008, as many expressed favorable views (37%) as unfavorable views (39%) of Pakistan. In both surveys, opinions of Pakistan did not vary significantly across party lines.

Public Remains More Sympathetic to Israelis

The public continue to sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians in the long-running Middle East conflict. About half (51%) say they sympathize more with the Israelis, while just 12% say they sympathize more with the Palestinians. Another 14% volunteer that they sympathize with neither side; about two-in-ten (19%) offer no opinion. These numbers have changed little in recent years.

As in past years, a much greater percentage of Republicans (68%) than Democrats (43%) or independents (49%) say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians.

A partisan gap in public’s views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been evident since the 1990s, but those differences widened considerably in 2006. Since then, about two-thirds of Republicans – including 68% in the current survey – have said they sympathize more with Israel, compared with slightly less than half of independents (49% currently) and a smaller share of Democrats (43% currently).

Support for Israel is especially strong among conservative Republicans. More than seven-in-ten (72%) say they sympathize more with the Israelis, while 58% of moderate and liberal Republicans share that view. There also are differences among Democrats: 49% of moderate and conservative Democrats sympathize more with Israel compared with 35% of liberal Democrats.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are most likely to say they sympathize more with Israel (72%). Close to six-in-ten of all Protestants agree (58%), as do 49% of white mainline Protestants. Among Catholics, 46% say they sympathize more with Israel, 12% sympathize more with the Palestinians and 17% volunteer that they sympathize with neither side. About two-in-ten (19%) offer no opinion.

The unaffiliated are more closely divided. A third (33%) say they sympathize more with Israel, while 23% say they sympathize more with the Palestinians and 19% volunteer neither; 20% offer no opinion.

A plurality of CFR members (41%) say they sympathize with both sides equally in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 26% sympathize more with the Israelis, 16% more with the Palestinians and 12% with neither side. But the question asked of CFR members was different from the question asked of the public. CFR members were asked whether they sympathized more with Israel, more with the Palestinians, with both sides equally, or with neither side. The public survey did not include the categories of “both” and “neither.” Therefore, results from the two questions are not comparable.