Starkly different opinions about how the world views U.S.

November 9, 2017 9:05pm
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• Republicans, democrats on either side of a chasm

•  But Americans agree that North Korea, cyberattacks are major threats to the nation

More than two out of three (68 percent) of Americans say the U.S. is less respected by other countries than it was in the past.

Majorities said this when Barack Obama was president, as well as when George W. Bush was in office. However, there have been substantial changes in how both Republicans and Democrats view the relative level of global respect for the United States, according to a new study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Today, 42 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the U.S. is less respected by other countries than in the past, the lowest percentage expressing this view in more than a decade. And a much greater share of Republicans (29 percent) say the U.S. is more respected internationally today than did so during Mr. Obama’s presidency or Mr. Bush’s second term.

Even at various points when Mr. Obama was in office, majorities of Democrats viewed the U.S. as less respected internationally; 58 percent said this last year. But now, 87 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the U.S. is less respected than in the past, with 70 percent saying this is a major problem, according to the Pew report.

And while fewer than half of Republicans (42 percent) say the U.S. is less respected than in the past, only 28 percent think this constitutes a major problem for the country.

The national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Octover 25-30 among 1, 504 adults, finds that the public’s views of several global threats have changed since early this year. In particular, the number viewing North Korea’s nuclear program as a major threat to the well-being of the U.S. has increased, from 64 percent in January to 75 percent today.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) say cyberattacks from other countries are a major threat to the U.S., a view that has changed little in recent years. About two-thirds (68 percent) say ISIS poses a major threat to the well-being of the U.S., which is 11 percentage points lower than in January. (The survey was conducted before the deadly terrorist attack in New York City on October 31; ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.)

Opinions about other possible global threats to the United States also have changed. Nearly six-in-ten (59 percent) view global climate change as a major threat, up 7 points since January and the highest share saying this in surveys dating to 2009. By contrast, fewer Americans say Iran’s nuclear program is a major threat to the U.S. now (53 percent) than did so in late 2015 (62 percent).

The public’s views of whether Russia’s “power and influence” pose a major threat to U.S. well-being are virtually unchanged since January (54 percent then, 52 percent today), while somewhat fewer say China’s power and influence is a major threat today (46 percent) than did so then (52 percent), according to Pew.

As in the past, Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided over the seriousness of several possible threats, most notably climate change. More than eight-in-ten Democrats (83 percent) say global climate change is a major threat to the U.S. Just 28 percent of Republicans say the same, making it their lowest-rated threat, by far.

There also is a 25-point partisan gap in views of whether Russia’s power and influence constitute a major threat (63 percent of Democrats, 38 percent of Republicans), and an 18-point gap on Iran’s nuclear program (63 percent of Republicans, 45 percent of Democrats).

By contrast, there is much greater partisan agreement that North Korea’s nuclear program and cyberattacks from other countries represent major threats to the United States; 70 percent or more Republicans and Democrats say each is a major threat.

For many years, Republicans and Democrats generally shared the same views about whether Russia represented a major threat to the U.S. In 2014, 58 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats said “growing authoritarianism in Russia” was a major threat and as recently as last year, 37 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans described “tensions with Russia” as a major threat, says the Pew report.

But partisan differences increased sharply after the presidential election, amid reports that Russia interfered in the campaign. In January, 67 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans said Russia’s power and influence were a major threat. These views have changed little since January; currently, 63 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans say Russia is a major threat to the U.S.


The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted October 25-30, 2017 among a national sample of 1,504 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (378 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,126 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 698 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers under the direction of SSRS. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Marketing Systems Group. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older.

The combined landline and cell phone samples are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity and region to parameters from the 2015 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status (landline only, cell phone only, or both landline and cell phone), based on extrapolations from the 2016 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. The margins of error reported and statistical tests of significance are adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, a measure of how much efficiency is lost from the weighting procedures.

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