June 16, 2008

More See America’s Loss of Global Respect as Major Problem

Majority of Republicans Say U.S. Is Less Respected

Overview

More Americans now say that the United States is less respected in the world than it has been in the past, and a growing proportion views this as a major problem for the country. More than seven-in-ten Americans (71%) say that the United States is less respected by other countries these days, up from 65% in August 2006.

For the first time since Pew began asking this question in 2004, a majority of Americans now sees the loss of international respect for the United States as a major problem. The percentage of Americans saying the loss of international respect is a major problem has risen from 43% in 2005 to 48% in 2006 and 56% currently.

The most recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted May 21-25 among 1,505 adults, finds that majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (72%) and Republicans (60%) believe that the United States has lost global respect in recent years.

In particular, Republican opinion about international respect for America has shifted substantially over the past two years. A clear majority of Republicans (60%) now say the nation is less respected in the international community, an increase of 12 points since August 2006. Moreover, 43% of Republicans say the loss of global respect represents a major problem, compared with just 26% two years ago.

Over the same period, opinion among Democrats and independents about America’s global image has remained more stable. While somewhat more Democrats say the nation is less respected than in 2006 (81% now vs. 76% then), there has been little change in the proportion who view this as a major problem; opinion among independents about global respect for the United States has remained stable since 2006.

Top Threats: Islamic Extremism, Iran and North Korea

When asked to assess a set of specific international threats to the United States, public consensus is strongest about the threat posed by Islamic extremist groups like al Qaeda. More than seven-in-ten (72%) view these groups as a “major threat” to the national well-being.

Solid majorities also say that the nuclear programs of Iran (62%) and North Korea (55%) represent major threats to the United States. Opinions about Iran’s nuclear program have changed little since 2005, while the percentage expressing concern about North Korea’s program has declined somewhat (from 66% who viewed the program as a major threat in 2005 to 55% who do so today). Half of Americans see China’s emergence as a world power as a major threat, a proportion that has remained largely unchanged since the question was first asked in 1999.

Other potential international threats – political instability in Pakistan and growing authoritarianism in Russia – are of considerably less concern to Americans. The public is divided over the severity of the threat posed by Pakistani instability (41% view this as a major threat, while 40% see it as a minor threat). Only about a quarter of the public (24%) says growing Russian authoritarianism is major threat to the United States.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to express concern about the top three potential threats (Islamic extremist groups and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea). An overwhelming majority of Republicans (86%) say that al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups represent a major threat to the country’s well-being. About two-thirds of independents (68%) and Democrats (67%) express this view.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (74%) say that Iran’s nuclear program is a major threat to the United States, compared with 62% of independents and 55% of Democrats. The partisan gap in opinion about the threat that North Korea’s nuclear program poses is slightly smaller; 61% of Republicans views this as a major threat, as do 58% of independents and 51% of Democrats.

Taken together, 54% of Republicans say that Islamic extremist groups and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea are major threats; just 42% of independents and 37% of Democrats say all three represent major threats to the United States. By contrast, there is little partisan difference in the percentages viewing other potential threats (China, Pakistan and Russia) as major concerns.