The Slatest

Foreigners Trust America More Than Americans Do

A Coast Guard patrol boat in New York Harbor on Oct. 18.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Let’s start the long-weekend party by comparing the hell out of some polls! First, Americans’ trust in their own institutions, from NBC/WSJ.

Second, the Pew poll results in FiveThirtyEight’s Rex Tillerson–related piece about the shifting opinions that foreigners have had of the United States and its president since 2002. You should click through to their story to see all the data, but, briefly:

  • The surveys cover a 14-country sample including European, African, Middle Eastern, South American, and Asian nations. On an absolute scale, some of the countries generally like us a lot (Kenya, Japan) and others really don’t (Chile, Jordan).
  • Averaging those countries’ residents’ responses, confidence in the U.S. president to “do the right thing” in international matters was stuck at about 20 percent from the time of the Iraq war until Obama took office, then jumped to 60 percent, and is now up to 80 percent.
  • The share of those foreigners who have a favorable view of the U.S. overall started at about 50 percent before Iraq, dipped into the 30s, and has since climbed back to about 60 percent.

Americans’ trust in their own country is basically in the toilet. Aside from the military—about which there has generally been a positive consensus even during Iraq, when critics would often say they condemned the Bush administration’s execution of the war but supported the troops—nothing breaks 60 percent. Small businesses and police are doing OK (though it’s kind of striking to think that 43 percent of Americans don’t have confidence in small businesses). Other than that, federal institutions, local institutions, private institutions … all in the toilet together. But abroad, the reputation of the country as a whole has been surging. Meanwhile, we just elected a president who campaigned on the premise that other countries don’t respect us anymore.

What gives? The short version is maybe: Iraq was very bad for our reputation abroad, but it’s since rebounded to a level commensurate with the U.S.’s status as a country that (mostly) supports international stability and economic growth (I realize there are big caveats there too) and whose citizens have a relatively high standard of living/level of political freedom. On the other hand, within the U.S., the working and middle classes have become economically stagnated, and we’ve spent the past eight years furiously litigating racial tensions. Outside our borders, it looks like we’re recovering; inside, we’re on a treadmill to nowhere.

But that’s just my guess. Leave yours in the comments! Just kidding—please only use the comments to criticize Barack Nobama/Obungler/Obummer.