New Poll: Americans Concerned About Long-Term Impact of Damaged US Reputation Abroad

January 28, 2008  • Institute Contributor

For Immediate Release
Contact: Keith Blackman
202-530-4585 (office)
[email protected]                                                                                                                             

New Poll: Americans Concerned About Long-Term Impact
of Damaged US Reputation Abroad
Implications include further economic setbacks

WASHINGTON, DCJanuary 28, 2008:  A new poll shows that a vast majority of Americans is concerned about the continuing decline in the United States’ reputation overseas, but also that Americans are optimistic that individuals can take action to address the decline. 

The poll of 1,099 US adults was taken January 14-15 for the non-profit organizations World Learning and the Aspen Institute.  It finds that, although discussion of foreign policy and the war in Iraq may have waned in the current presidential primary season, Americans still worry that the country’s damaged reputation is harming America’s place in the world. The majority of Americans believes that possible outcomes of a declining reputation are further economic setbacks, an increased chance of a terrorist attack, and decreased support for US foreign policy.  

The results come on the heels of President Bush’s return from an eight-day, six-country trip to the Middle East and the announcement by the White House of extensive international travel by the President in 2008 aimed at improving America’s image.

“Frankly, we’ve known that our reputation abroad has been diminishing over recent years,” said Carol Bellamy, President and CEO of World Learning. “What was surprising about these results is the number of people – particularly women, young people and seniors — who realize this, are concerned about it, and want to take action.”

According to the poll, 75 percent of Americans believe U.S. foreign policy is driving dissatisfaction with America abroad and more than 60 percent believe that dislike of American values (39 percent) and of the American people (26 percent) is also to blame. 

The public sees this distrust harming the US in tangible ways:

  • 66 percent believe that foreign governments will be less likely to support the United States’ diplomatic and military efforts abroad;
  • 63 percent worry that Americans will be less welcome in other parts of the world;
  • 61 percent worry that there is a greater likelihood of terrorist attacks in the US;
  • and 36 percent believe negative perceptions of the US could prompt boycotts of American products and retailers. 

Overall, nearly nine in ten Americans (88 percent) believe that it is very important for other countries to have a favorable opinion of Americans. Women in particular (80 percent, as compared to 65 percent of men) are very or somewhat worried that the US is losing the trust and friendship of other countries.

“Whether a Democrat or a Republican is our next president, he or she will face the huge challenge of restoring America’s image abroad,” said David Devlin-Foltz, Director of the Global Interdependence Initiative at the Aspen Institute. “Fortunately, our poll shows that Americans understand that they can help by working and studying overseas.”

According to the new findings, many Americans believe that overseas experiences by average Americans, playing the role of citizen diplomats, can improve the United States’ image abroad. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) believe that studying or working abroad has a positive impact on Americans’ awareness and appreciation of other people and cultures. Conversely, 78 percent believe that when more Americans go abroad, they change local perceptions of our people and culture for the better.  And when asked about the most effective means to improve relations with foreigners 39 percent believe that increasing business contacts with other countries is the best means of achieving that goal.

The World Learning/Aspen Institute survey found that young people (33 percent) and African Americans (36 percent) believe that studying abroad is the most effective means to improve relations with people in other countries. Yet today fewer than 1 percent of all college students study abroad, and of this small number, less than 8 percent are Hispanic or African American, even though these populations represent 25 percent of all college students.  

Congress is acutely aware that more student diplomats need to go abroad. It is considering legislation that would help 1 million undergraduate students – many of them minorities – participate in study abroad programs over the next 10 years.

“If today’s students are going to rise to be the leaders of tomorrow, it’s crucial that they get out of their comfort zones, experience the world and bring a greater understanding of the world back to their home communities,” said Bellamy.

About World Learning
World Learning, a global non-profit based in Vermont (www.worldlearning.org), has been focused for 75 years on bridging cultures and transforming lives. Today, World Learning runs study abroad and international development programs in 77 countries, directly impacting the lives of thousands of people each year. Since 1932, when the first group of students traveled abroad, more than 100,000 people have participated in World Learning programs. 

About the Aspen Institute
Founded in 1950, the Aspen Institute (www.aspeninstitute.org) is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives.

About the Poll
Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) conducted an omnibus online survey among 1,099 U.S. adults age 18 and over, between January 14 and January 15, 2008. Data was weighted based on age, sex, geographic region and race to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the of the total U.S. population. The margin of error was +/- 3%.

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