Published on Thursday, December 5, 2002 by the New York Times
World Survey Says Negative Views of U.S. Are Rising
by Adam Clymer
WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 — While people in most non-Muslim countries continue to view the United States favorably, negative opinions have increased in most nations over the past two years, according to public opinion surveys in 44 countries.
The surveys of 38,000 people conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicated that, although there is widespread support for the United States-led campaign against terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, it was tempered by large minorities or even majorities in many countries who say the Bush administration is ignoring their nations' interests.
Moreover, followup polls last month in four countries — Britain, France, Germany and Russia — found substantial percentages of people saying they thought that the main reason the United States would go to war with Iraq would be "because the U.S. wants to control Iraqi oil." That view was held by 44 percent in Britain, 54 percent in Germany, 75 percent in France and 76 percent in Russia. A parallel survey in the United States found 22 percent agreeing with the war-for-oil theory.
While polling could not be conducted in some important countries, like Saudi Arabia, and sensitive questions could not be asked in others, like China, the combined surveys appeared to be the largest simultaneous effort to gauge world opinion ever conducted, said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center.
"The main lesson," Mr. Kohut said, "is that while there is a reserve of good will toward the United States, the most powerful country in the world has an increasing number of detractors." He said the post-cold-war reality was "how old friends who need us less, like us less," especially in Europe, while "the Russians have a better opinion of us."
Favorable views of the United States declined in the past two years in Britain from 83 to 75 percent and in Germany from 78 to 61 percent, while they increased in Russia from 37 to 61 percent. There were also striking increases in favorable opinions in Uzbekistan, from 56 to 85 percent, and in Nigeria, from 46 to 77 percent.
The United States-led campaign against terrorism was opposed by most people surveyed in several nations with Muslim majorities. The percentages opposed were 79 percent in Egypt, 85 percent in Jordan, 64 percent in Indonesia, 56 percent in Lebanon, 64 percent in Senegal, 58 percent in Turkey and 64 percent in Indonesia. Pluralities took that view in Pakistan — 45 percent — and Bangladesh — 46 percent.
The only other non-Muslim countries surveyed where majorities opposed the effort against terrorism were Argentina and South Korea. Argentina, in the midst of an economic crisis when the survey was taken earlier this fall, was critical of the United States on several other measures. In South Korea, Mr. Kohut said, relations with North Korea, a point on which the Seoul government and the Bush administration differ, may have been a factor. But throughout Europe, at least two-thirds of the public backed the policy, and in the predominately Muslim Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, where the presence of American troops helps the economy, 91 percent supported it.
The findings on Turkey, where the Pentagon wants to use air bases and ports in case of war with Iraq, were singled out as important by Mr. Kohut and Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state and a consultant on the project.
In Turkey, favorable views of the United States have dropped from 52 to 30 percent in the past two years. Only 30 percent said they supported the campaign against terrorism and 74 percent said the United States did not pay either much or any attention to Turkey's interests when setting policy. This week, Turkey's foreign minister, Yasar Yakis, cited public opinion in explaining to American officials why his country could not accept large numbers of American ground troops for a war with Iraq. Dr. Albright said this showed the difficulties in weighing "what we're asking countries to do in terms of leadership versus what people want us to do."
A delicate issue raised in the surveys was suicide bombing. In 14 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, respondents were asked if they believed that "suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies."
Majorities said it was often or sometimes justified in Lebanon (73 percent) and Ivory Coast (56 percent). More than 40 percent found it justified it in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Jordan. More than 25 percent said it was justifiable in Pakistan, Indonesia, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Uganda.
But in many countries the question was not asked. Mr. Kohut said that in Egypt, for example, "A question about suicide bombing is not only impolitic, it could get you thrown in jail."
He said in order to do any polling at all in China and Vietnam, certain questions had to be omitted. "In Saudi Arabia," he said, "you have to get permission to do a poll, and we didn't get permission."
Although in some countries the polling was conducted by telephone, most people were interviewed face to face. In most countries, the survey involved national population samples, but others were done only in urban areas. They took place between July and October. The margins of error varied, from as low as plus or minus two percentage points to as much as plus or minus four percentage points.
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