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What the world thinks America: anti-Americanism is growing, but many still admire the U.S.

Think of the United States as a television game show: Its relatively high ratings in much of the world (though down slightly from previous years), would just about guarantee renewal next season. But in many of the world's Islamic countries, America, the show, would get canceled before the second episode.

That's one way of looking at U.S. popularity as sketched by a detailed poll of world opinion. The survey of 38,000 people, conducted in 44 countries, by the Pew Research Center, a public-opinion research group, found that approval of the United States runs broad and deep over much of the globe. It is especially high among the U.S.'s closest allies in Europe.


But the poll also found an erosion of popularity even among U.S. friends, and a steep fall in Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East, despite a huge outpouring of sympathy for the U.S. after the September 11 attacks.

One of the worst showings was in Egypt, a longtime U.S. ally that ranks second only to Israel as a recipient of American aid. Just 6 percent of those polled say they view the U.S. favorably.

"The main lesson is that while there is a reserve of good will toward the United States, the most powerful country in the world has an increasing number of detractors," says Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center.

America's popularity is important because the U.S. is part of a global economy, and needs world cooperation for trade and for its war on terrorism.

In Pakistan, for instance, the government of President Pervez Musharraf has been of critical importance to U.S. operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda terror network in neighboring Afghanistan. But in the last two years, popular approval of the U.S. has fallen from 23 percent to 10 percent--making it more difficult politically for Islamabad to cooperate with Washington.


In another key ally, Turkey, favorable views toward the U.S. plunged from 52 percent to 30 percent in the last two years. Regarded as one of the most moderate Muslim nations, Turkey hosts two major U.S. bases and is the only Mideast member of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a mutual defense alliance of mostly North American and European nations). Its border with trouble spots like Syria and Iraq makes Turkey essential to the U.S., but with American popularity down, relations have been strained.

The poll results, however, are only indicators and must be read carefully. For instance, although the U.S. scored poorly in many Mideastern Muslim nations, in Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population, more than 60 percent of those surveyed rate the U.S. favorably.

The Pew poll also found that sizable majorities in much of Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia hold a "somewhat" to "very" favorable view of the U.S. And American music, movies, and television are highly popular in much of the world, particularly among young people.


Political analysts are divided on the reasons for the decline. Some argue that the U.S. has become a convenient focal point for people's overall frustrations and dissatisfactions. Reduced popularity, some say, may be the price the U.S. must pay as the world's sole remaining superpower. "When you're the big guy on the block, everybody is taking aim at you," says Karlyn Bowman, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

A broad general fear of U.S. influence may also be fueling anti-American sentiment. In almost every country, the poll found that a majority dislike the spread of American ideas and customs. This may reflect fears that their own culture--expressed in everything from food to films--is in danger of being overrun by U.S.-produced versions (a notion sometimes termed "cultural imperialism").

Some other analysts say that policies adopted by President Bush, such as the administration's aggressive efforts to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and its withdrawal from the Kyoto Accords, a world environmental treaty, are driving the drop in U.S. popularity.

The Pew poll found that majorities in many countries distrust U.S. motives, believing that the U.S. takes little account of the needs of other nations. The feeling is especially pronounced in Middle Eastern nations, but is also strong in Europe.

In Muslim countries, intense dislike of the U.S. is rooted in America's support for Israel. Frustrations about their own poverty and U.S. backing of oppressive governments probably stir the anger further.

"America isn't popular in the Islamic world because people perceive the U.S. as being responsible for their poverty, because they see the U.S. propping up these regimes, because they see the U.S. as a bully," says James Lindsay, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization.


Overall, the poll found a fearful and often unhappy world. The AIDS epidemic is seen as the greatest global danger in more countries than any other. Religious and ethnic hatred ranks second, followed by the spread of nuclear weapons, the gap between rich and poor, and the environment. Large majorities in almost every country express dissatisfaction with the way things are going in their own countries and in the world as a whole.

Polling experts caution that the Pew survey, like all polls, is a snapshot of a moving target--in this case, world opinion at a particular moment. But given the poll's careful methods and wide scope, they agree it raises warning flags for American policy makers. Says Bowman: "I'm sure it's gotten the White House's and the State Department's attention."



The Pew Research Center poll of 38,203 people in 44 countries was conducted from July to October 2002. Questions were translated into 46 languages and 17 dialects, Polling was conducted face-to-face by leading survey firms in each foreign country, and in most cases involved representative samples of urban and rural dwellers. In China, Egypt, and Vietnam, the governments forbade the asking of some questions. The potential sampling error ranged from 1.8 to 4.4 percentage points per country; the median was 3.4 points in either direction. The full report is at:

Worldwide Polls Find a Dip in U.S. Popularity


* Why do you believe so many people in other countries have an unfavorable view of the U.S.?

* Have you ever had an unfavorable view of someone principally because he or she was more powerful, wealthy, or in other ways better off than you?

* How would you define a world superpower?


To help students understand why a growing number of people in other countries have an unfavorable view of the U.S.


BEFORE READING: Have a student write "Coca-colonialism" on the board. Ask the class what they think the word means. After brief discussion, tell them that the word was coined in France many years ago to describe the global influence of American culture. Refer students to the article about Mecca-Cola in "News and Trends," page 7. Note that the cola is produced by a French entrepreneur.

CRITICAL THINKING/DISCUSSION: First, remind students that the U.S. needs good relations with other countries both for its war against terrorism and for trade, which is vital to the U.S. economy.

With these facts in mind, ask students how the U.S. might improve its image in countries around the world.

* What are the pros and cons of cutting U.S. support for the dictatorial regimes in some Islamic countries? (Pro: That might improve the image of the U.S. in the eyes of ordinary people. Con: Cutting support might endanger U.S. oil supplies.)

* Should the U.S. sign the Kyoto Accords, which require signatories to restrict their emissions of so-called greenhouse gases? (The U.S. says the accords unfairly restrict developed countries in favor of developing countries, which face less onerous regulations.)

* The article reports that many people around the world oppose President Bush's aggressive efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Ask students what the President might do to persuade these people that the U.S. is on the right track with its policy regarding Iraq.

* Note Karlyn Bowman's comment: "When you're the big guy on the block, everybody is taking aim at you." Then move on to the next paragraph, to the poll report that the majority in other countries dislike the spread of U.S. ideas and customs. Ask: Are these people acting hypocritically? Why don't these people reject U.S. ideas and customs? Do they have a choice? Are they swamped by the power of "Coca-colonialism"?

Upfront QUIZ 2 FILL IN THE BLANK > NATIONAL > PAGES 18-20 DIRECTIONS: Write the correct answer on the line provided.

1. The Pew Research Center public opinion poll found a steep fall in U.S. popularity in Muslim countries, especially in the-- --region. (two words)

2. One of the worst showings--only a 6 percent favorable rating--was reported in --, a longtime U.S. ally and second-largest recipient of U.S. aid.

3. In many Muslim countries, the U.S. is unpopular because of its unwavering support for --.

4. At the same time, in --, the world's most populous Muslim country, more than 60 percent of the people rated the U.S. favorably.

5. One of the many benefits of friendly relations with other countries is international trade, because the U.S. is part of the global--.

6. U.S. relations with Pakistan have been strained as a result of U.S. military operations against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terror network in the neighboring country of--.

7. The article says the U.S. "brand," as exemplified by American movies, music, and--, remains popular in much of the world.

8. In both the developed and undeveloped world, the U.S. is unpopular because of its withdrawal from the Kyoto Accords, an international treaty designed to improve the quality of the world's--.

9. --, the only Mideast country that is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is also the home of two major U.S. bases.

10. In some countries, the effort led by President Bush to oust dictator--has contributed to a dip in U.S. popularity. (two words)

11. In--, America's neighbor to the north, the favorable view of the United States actually rose by 1 percent, to 72 percent.

12. Some experts say diminishing popularity may be the price the U.S. has to pay as the world's sole remaining--.

ANSWER KEY Upfront Quiz 2, page 5

1. Middle East

2. Egypt

3. Israel.

4. Indonesia

5. economy.

6. Afghanistan.

7. television

8. environment.

9. Turkey

10. Saddam Hussein

11. Canada

12. superpower.
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Article Details
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Author:Vilbig, Peter
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 21, 2003
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