In the weeks ahead, and in the wake of Washington visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, there is much at stake for the United States and its key allies in Europe. The U.S. decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal raises questions about future U.S. sanctions against European companies. A Transatlantic trade war remains possible over American steel tariffs. And U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that would be unprecedented if it occurs.
At home, President Trump’s supporters, at least, are unbowed by the challenges ahead. They see the president as a strong leader, with roughly one-third of Americans (31 percent), including 7 in 10 Republicans, convinced that Trump is making the U.S. position in the world stronger.
The view from Europe, however, is quite different. Anti-Americanism is near record levels -- not only among European publics, but also among some of the region’s economic and security experts.
Between 2016 and 2017, favorable views of the United States fell by double digits across seven of the 10 European countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center. This was part of a global pattern that saw the U.S. image decline across most of the 37 nations polled. Positive assessments of America were particularly weak in Spain (31 percent favorable), Germany (35 percent) and the Netherlands (37 percent). A 2017 Gallup survey on perceptions of U.S. leadership found comparable downward trends and results in Europe.
Much of this decline can be attributed to a collapse in confidence in the U.S. president himself. Compared with confidence in Barack Obama in his last year in office, faith in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs has plummeted by 83 percentage points in Sweden, 75 points in the Netherlands and Germany, 70 points in France and 68 points in Spain. Overall, the European public’s support for Trump stands at 18 percent, compared with 77 percent for Obama.
It’s not only the general public that has its doubts about the current U.S. president. A recent Pew Research Center survey of 237 European thought leaders, done in association with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, reveals harsh assessments of the American leader and Transatlantic relations. Just 12 percent voice confidence in Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Roughly 6 in 10 think Transatlantic economic and security relations have worsened in the last twelve months, while 8 in 10 believe diplomatic ties have suffered.
Many European thought leaders are unhappy with Trump-era policies. Eight in 10 European foreign policy and security experts believe that Washington’s planned move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv will make it harder to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Seven in 10 say the Trump administration’s approach to Iran has been bad for stability in the region. And 6 in 10 voice the opinion that Washington’s dealings with Pyongyang have made an agreement regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program less likely. (The survey was conducted before President Trump announced his intention to meet with Kim this spring.) A similar share of these European thought leaders fault the U.S. president for not being tough enough in his dealings with Russia.
A little more than a year in to the Trump administration, the international tests facing the United States have rarely been so diffuse or so uncertain. In the face of such challenges, leadership would benefit from a healthy dose of followership. Yet, contrary to what Republicans in the United States think about their country’s international standing, America may not so easily rally other countries to its cause. Favorable opinion of the United States and its head of state has declined, especially in Europe. Re-establishing pro-American sentiment and confidence in U.S. leadership may well be the most basic challenge the Trump administration faces in the weeks ahead.
Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the author's own.