Every week, surveys from all across the EU tell us what Europeans are thinking, feeling and talking about. In our segment, eupinions echo, we collect these voices and play them back to you. Each week, we highlight one survey of particular interest in a short blogpost and share daily new survey results via our website and our twitter channel.
It is no secret that Europeans have generally looked unfavourably on the last four years of US political leadership. Former US President Donald Trump has held abysmal approval ratings among EU citizens throughout his term in office and our very own survey, taken right before the November 2020 election, showed a vast majority of Europeans favouring Joe Biden to win the election. Biden's electoral victory and official inauguration as the 46th president of the United States of America consequently has let many Europeans to rejoice. However, while Biden's international approval ratings have immediately shot way above the previous administration one's, a closer look at European sentiments reveals that things will not be quite as easy for the new president. In the views of many EU citizens Trump has dealt significant damage to the US' reputation and the transatlantic relationship and not all Europeans believe that that damage can be fully repaired.
To further examine these views, we want to take a closer look at a recently published survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). The survey, which was commissioned by the ECFR and conducted by Datapraxis and YouGov, interviews 15,000 Europeans from 11 countries, asking them about their sentiments towards the new Biden administration and the EU-US relationship in general.
One thing that becomes clear immediately when looking at the ECFR data, is that while Europeans generally approve of Biden, they are sceptical towards the US political system after four years of Donald Trump in the White House. While 57% of people surveyed said that they believed that the recent US election would have a real, positive effect on the EU, just 42% of respondents said that they generally trusted Americans to make the right choices for their country in their elections. 54% of Europeans agree that the world now is in a worse place because of Trump's presidency and 33% outright state that after voting for Trump in 2016, Americans cannot be trusted anymore. When asked about the American political system in general, a total of 61% of Europeans viewed it as broken, a view held most adamantly in the UK (81%), Denmark (71%) and Germany (71%).
But can this damage still be repaired? Europeans are not fully convinced. Just under half of all European respondents (49%) believe that the US "is more likely to repair its internal problems and divisions and invest in solving global problems like climate change, peace in the Middle East, relations with China and European security". At the same time, about a third (31%) believe that "the US is more likely to be so consumed by internal problems and divisions that there will be little scope left to invest in solving global problems". The remaining 20% were unsure. Views about the US' future global role were most pessimistic in the Netherlands were more people (40%) had lost hope in the US, than remained optimistic (39%).
Europeans deep seeded scepticism of the US' capability to recover from the previous administration further shows in their views of the US in relation to other major powers. Asked about the US' global competition with China, a large majority of 59% of Europeans believed that in ten years' time, China would be the stronger power globally. Only 19% believed the US to remain stronger.
This view has direct consequences for Europe and its strategic future. A total of 67% of European citizens are convinced that Europe won't always be able to rely on the US and believe that Europe now needs to look after their own defence capabilities. Should it ever come to a major disagreement between the US and another global power, however, not many Europeans feel any obligation to join the fray on the side of their American ally. 60% of Europeans stated they would prefer their country to remain neutral in a potential future conflict between the US and China, while 59% would prefer a neutral position in a similar US-Russia conflict.
Overall, these numbers show the large loss in trust that the US has suffered abroad over the last four years, and the significance of the challenge the newly elected US President Joe Biden now faces. However, there are also some clear signs for optimism. As mentioned above, Biden enjoys high international approval ratings, which he can use to reforge old alliances and his first week in office has already delivered on some crucial international promises, such as the US' decision to re-join both the WHO, as well as the Paris Climate Accord.
If you liked this instalment of eupinions Echo, you might also be interested in these reads:
- The Empathy Effect
Empathy and the COVID-19 pandemic in European Public Opinion
- Fear not Values
Public opinion and the populist vote in Europe
- Together Apart
Trumpism and its effects on European public opinion
The ECFR survey collected the opinions of more than 15,000 people in 11 countries. It was commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations, and conducted in November and December by Datapraxis and YouGov.