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Americans' Views of U.S. Position in World Steady

Americans' Views of U.S. Position in World Steady

Story Highlights

  • Satisfaction with U.S. position in world unchanged at 37%
  • Public divided on whether U.S. rates favorably in world's eyes
  • Small dip in view that other world leaders respect Obama

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Thirty-seven percent of Americans are satisfied and 61% dissatisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world today. These views are unchanged from last year, even after a series of significant challenges for U.S. foreign policy. Americans' satisfaction is a bit higher than at the end of the Bush administration and at the beginning of the Obama administration, but remains well below where it was in the early 2000s.

Trend: Satisfaction With United States' Position in the World

The results are from Gallup's annual World Affairs survey, conducted Feb. 8-11. Americans' satisfaction held steady in the past year, even as the U.S. was forced to deal with the rise of Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, a dispute with Russia over Ukrainian separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine, heightened tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, and ongoing policy disagreements involving North Korea and Iran. The lack of change may be attributable to Americans' already high level of dissatisfaction with the nation's world position, with those events and the way the U.S. handled them serving to reinforce the dissatisfaction rather than to worsen or even improve it.

Americans have been more likely to be dissatisfied than satisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world since 2004, about the time it became clear that the U.S. military action in Iraq was running into problems that could -- and did -- lead to a prolonged U.S. commitment there. Satisfaction fell to a low of 30% in the final year of George W. Bush's administration and remained low in the very early stages of Barack Obama's presidency. Americans' satisfaction is modestly higher now than at that point, but has leveled off.

Gallup has asked the question at least yearly since 2000, but also three times between 1962 and 1966, during the Cold War and early stages of the Vietnam War. In those polls, 43% or 44% of Americans were satisfied with the position of the U.S. in the world.

Consistent with the fact that a Democratic president is deciding U.S. foreign policy, the current poll finds Democrats (57%) much more likely than independents (34%) or Republicans (20%) to be satisfied with the U.S. position in the world.

Americans More Likely to Believe Other Nations View U.S. Positively Than Negatively

Even though Americans are more dissatisfied than satisfied with the U.S. position in the world, they still, by a slight margin, believe the United States rates positively (52%) rather than negatively (47%) in the eyes of the world. These views have changed little since 2010, when they recovered after a downturn during the latter stages of the Bush presidency and the first year of the Obama administration.

Trend: Americans' Perceptions of How U.S. Rates in the Eyes of the World

Americans overwhelmingly believed the international community viewed the U.S. positively from 2000-2002, with more than 70% saying this. Those opinions changed dramatically in early 2003 in the lead-up to the Iraq war, when the U.S. had difficulty convincing allies to join the effort and the percentage believing the U.S. rated favorably in the eyes of the world fell to 57%. The United States eventually decided against a certain-to-fail United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and instead pursued military action with a limited coalition of allies. As the Iraq War continued for a second year into 2005, more Americans thought other nations viewed the U.S. negatively rather than positively, a trend that continued until 2010.

Americans' partisanship colors their opinions of how the international community views the United States. Currently, 69% of Democrats, 49% of independents and 38% of Republicans think the United States rates favorably in the eyes of the world.

Fewer Than Four in 10 Believe World Leaders Respect Obama

After a sharp decline in 2014, Americans' view that leaders of other countries respect Obama has edged lower this year. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now say this, compared with 41% last year, 51% in 2013, and 67% at the beginning of Obama's presidency.

Trend: Americans' Perceptions of President Obama's World Standing

Sixty-one percent of Democrats, 32% of independents and 16% of Republicans think other world leaders respect Obama.

While the 37% of all Americans who say world leaders respect Obama is his worst reading to date, it is not the worst Gallup has measured for any president. In 2007, 21% of Americans thought world leaders respected George W. Bush.

Obama's ratings have been better on this measure than Bush's were, with an average of 51% of Americans believing world leaders respect Obama during his presidency to date, compared with 43% who believed this about Bush when he was president.

Gallup had two measurements of Bill Clinton on the same item -- 41% in September 1994 and 44% in May 2000.


Americans continue to be largely pessimistic about the United States' international standing, as most are dissatisfied with the U.S. position in the world and believe world leaders do not respect Obama. Also, they are only slightly more likely to think the U.S. rates favorably rather than unfavorably in the eyes of the world. These views have held steady over the past year in arguably the most challenging year for foreign policy during the Obama administration.

Gallup's trends on these measures dating to 2000 suggest two distinct phases in Americans' perceptions of how the United States ranks on the world stage. The first was a time of high satisfaction and positivity during the economic boom and immediate post-9/11 era, when the terrorist attacks led to a surge in U.S. patriotism and support for government leaders.

The second phase began about the time of the United States' planned military action in Iraq in early 2003, which was largely opposed by the international community, including many traditional U.S. allies. That appeared to cause Americans to re-evaluate the United States' position in the world, seeing it in a much less positive light. Those opinions grew more negative as the U.S. involvement in Iraq continued, and although they have improved modestly in recent years, they have yet to recover to pre-Iraq War levels.

The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to mend international relationships that may have been damaged by the Iraq War, but it, too, has met resistance from the international community over some of its policies, including proposed military action against Syria in late 2013 and a plan to send weapons and military equipment to anti-separatist forces in Ukraine. In both cases, other nations were able to step in and negotiate agreements to avert the use of U.S. force.

Given Gallup's trends on these items, it is not clear if the 2000-2002 or the 2003-present views are more typical of how Americans feel about the United States' world standing. Gallup's 1960s data on Americans' satisfaction with the position of the U.S. in the world potentially indicate that the early 2000s era is more of the exception rather than the rule; thus, Americans may continue to express dissatisfaction with the U.S. position in the world for the foreseeable future.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 8-11, 2015, with a random sample of 837 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

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