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By Richard Wike, Jackob Poushter, Laura Silver, Janell Fetterolf And Mara Mordecal

Transition From Trump To Biden

The election of Joe Biden as U.S. president has led to a dramatic shift in America’s international image. Throughout the Donald Trump presidency, publics around the world held the United States in low regard, with most opposed to his foreign policies. This was especially true among key American allies and partners. Now, however, a new Pew Research Center survey of 16 publics finds a significant uptick in ratings for the U.S., with strong support for Biden and several of his major policy initiatives.

In each of the 16 publics surveyed, more than six-in-ten say they have confidence that Biden will do the right thing in world affairs. Looking at 12 nations that were surveyed both this year and in 2020, a median of 75% of respondents express confidence in Biden, compared with 17% for Trump last year.

Presidential transitions over the course of the past two decades have had a major impact on overall attitudes toward the U.S. When Barack Obama took office in 2009, ratings improved in many nations compared to where they’d stood during George W. Bush’s administration, and when Trump entered the White House, in 2017, ratings fell sharply. U.S. favorability is up again this year: Whereas an average of just 34% across 12 nations had a favorable overall opinion of the U.S. last year, this year that median is at 62%. In France, for example, just 31% expressed a positive opinion of the U.S. last year, matching the poor ratings from March 2003, at the height of U.S.-French tensions over the Iraq War. This year, 65% see the U.S. positively, approaching the high ratings that characterized the Obama era. Improvements of 25 percentage points or more are also found in Germany, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada…

Respondents in most of the surveyed countries make a stark distinction between Biden and Trump as world leaders. Nearly eight-in-ten Germans (78%) have confidence that Biden will do the right thing in world affairs; just 10% said the same of Trump a year ago. Similar differences are found in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, and there is a difference of at least 40 percentage points in all nations where a trend from 2020 is available for comparison.

This is also the case with views of the United States as a whole, with confidence in U.S. presidents having shifted dramatically over the past two decades, especially in Western Europe. In Germany, the UK, Spain and France – four nations surveyed consistently by the Pew Research Center – ratings for Bush and Trump were similarly low during their presidencies, while this year’s confidence in Biden is fairly similar to the ratings received by Obama while he was in office.

In most countries polled, people make a stark distinction between Biden and Trump as world leaders. Nearly eight-in-ten Germans (78%) have confidence that Biden will do the right thing in world affairs; just 10% said the same about Trump a year ago

Biden’s high ratings are partly linked to positive assessments of his personal characteristics, and here again the contrast with Trump is stark. Looking at 12 countries polled during the first year of both their presidencies, a median of 77% describe Biden as well-qualified to be president, compared with 16% who felt the same was true of Trump. Few think of Biden as arrogant or dangerous, while large majorities applied those terms to Trump. Assessments of the two leaders are more similar when it comes to being a strong leader, although Biden even receives much more positive reviews than his predecessor on this measure.

High levels of confidence in Biden are also tied to favorable views of his policies, several of which have emphasized multilateralism and reversed Trump administration decisions. The current survey examines attitudes toward four of the Biden administration’s key policies and finds widespread support for all four.

A median of 89% across the 16 publics surveyed approve of the U.S. rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), which the U.S. withdrew from during Trump’s presidency. A median of 85% also support the U.S. rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was met with widespread criticism, and was overwhelmingly unpopular in the surveys conducted by the Center during his presidency. For example, just 8% of respondents in France approved of Trump’s plans to withdraw support for international climate change agreements in 2019, compared with the 91% who now back Biden’s reentry into the agreement.

Support for the Biden administration’s proposal to organize a summit of democracies from around the world is also widespread, with a median approval rating of 85%. There is only slightly less support (a median of 76%) for Biden’s plan to allow more refugees into the U.S. (Biden campaigned on allowing more refugees into the country, briefly reversed his initial goal to raise the cap on refugees from levels set by the Trump administration, and then walked back the reversal amid criticism.)

Biden has also made clear that he plans to strengthen America’s commitment to the NATO alliance. And, as the current poll shows, NATO is viewed positively by the member states included in the survey.

Although Biden’s more multilateral approach to foreign policy is welcomed, there is still a widespread perception that the U.S. mainly looks after its own interests in world affairs. More than half of respondents in most of the surveyed publics say that the U.S. does not take their interests into account when making foreign policy decisions, although fewer feel this way in Japan, Greece and Germany.

Although Biden’s more multilateral approach to foreign policy is welcomed, there is still a widespread perception that the U.S. mainly looks after its own interests in world affairs

Doubts about the U.S. considering the interests of other countries predate the Trump administration, and this has been the prevailing view – even among close U.S. allies – since the Center began asking the question in 2002.

Despite widely reported bilateral and multilateral tensions between the U.S. and many of its major allies and partners over the last four years, relatively few people describe the U.S. as an “unreliable partner.” But neither do they express great confidence in the U.S. as an ally. Across the 16 publics polled, a median of 56% say the U.S. is somewhat reliable, while just 11% describe America as very reliable.

In addition to the concerns that some have about the way America engages with other nations, there are also concerns about domestic politics in the U.S. The 16 publics surveyed are divided in their views about how well the U.S. political system is functioning, with a median of only 50% saying that it is working well.

And few believe that American democracy, at least in its current state, serves as a good model for other nations. A median of just 17% say democracy in the U.S. is a good example for others to follow, while 57% say it used to be a good example but has lost that status in recent years. Another 23% do not believe it has ever been a good example.

One of the reasons for the low ratings received by the U.S. in 2020 was the widespread perception that it was handling the global pandemic poorly. In the current poll, the U.S. receives significantly more positive marks for the way it is handling COVID-19, but most still say that the U.S. has done a bad job of dealing with the outbreak (for more see “Global views of how the U.S. has handled the pandemic have improved, but few say it’s done a good job”).

In his first overseas trip as president, Biden is preparing to attend the G7 summit in the UK and the NATO summit in Brussels. Once there, he will meet with two other leaders who are widely trusted for their handling of world affairs (…) (…)

Across the 16 publics surveyed, majorities or pluralities say the U.S. is a somewhat reliable partner. But in no public surveyed do more than two-in-ten say that the U.S. is a very reliable partner. At the same time, fewer than fourin ten say the U.S. is a not too reliable partner, and in no public do more than one-in-seven say that the U.S. is a not a reliable partner at all.

The sentiment that the U.S. is a very or somewhat reliable partner is highest in the Netherlands (80%), Australia (75%) and Japan (75%), while 44% in Taiwan and 43% in Greece say that the U.S. is not too reliable or completely unreliable.

When asked whether relations with the U.S. will improve, worsen or remain the same over the next few years, a median of 57% across the 16 publics say that they will stay the same. While a continuation of current relations with the U.S. is the most common response, a median of 39% say relations will improve and only 5% say they will worsen.

The only country where a majority thinks that relations with the U.S. will improve is Germany (60%), where attitudes about the transatlantic alliance have become increasingly pessimistic in recent years. Half of Canadians also say that relations with their southern neighbor will get better over the next few years. (…)

In 2020, only 10% of Germans had confidence that Trump would do the right thing in world affairs (matching a previous all-time low earlier in Trump’s presidency). Once Biden took office, confidence in the U.S. president increased by 68 percentage points in Germany, but it is still lower there than the all-time high of 93% in 2009, Obama’s first year in office

In the first year of his presidency, Biden enjoys positive ratings from majorities in each of the publics surveyed. Overall, a median of 74% have confidence that the U.S. president will do the right thing in world affairs.

Confidence is particularly high in the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Canada, where around eight-in-ten or more trust Biden when it comes to international affairs. He receives his lowest ratings in Greece, South Korea and Taiwan, though his handling of world affairs is trusted by more than six-in-ten in each of these countries.

Widespread confidence in Biden contrasts starkly with views of his predecessor. Trust in the U.S. president was historically low in most countries surveyed during Trump’s presidency. In many cases, however, the share of those who have confidence in Biden is not as high as the share who had confidence in Obama, at the start or the end of his presidency.

Germany is a good example of this pattern. In 2020, only 10% of Germans had confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs (matching a previous all-time low earlier in Trump’s presidency). Once Biden took office, confidence in the U.S. president increased by 68 percentage points in Germany, but it is still lower there than the all-time high of 93% in 2009, Obama’s first year in office. A similar trend can be seen in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

However, in Greece, confidence in the U.S. president is the highest it has been since Pew Research Center first asked this question in the country. A much higher share of Greeks have confidence in Biden compared with Obama in 2016 and earlier. Notably, Biden has shared a positive relationship with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Greeks are now more than twice as likely to say that the U.S. takes their country’s interests into account when making policy decisions (53%) than they were when Obama was president (20% in 2013).

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