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The 2012 Transatlantic Trends Survey report is released

12 September 2012 16:05


Transatlantic Trends: Merkel rated favorably for crisis leadership; Europeans like EU, not euro; Americans think Europe more important than Asia; Americans, Europeans want to avoid Syria

WASHINGTON (Sept. 12, 2012) – The 11th annual Transatlantic Trends survey out today reveals that transatlantic majorities still approve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and that Mitt Romney is largely an unknown in Europe.

Transatlantic Trends 2012 (www.transatlantictrends.org) shows 82% of Europeans said they had a favorable opinion of the American president. When Europeans were asked about Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, 38% of respondents either said they did not know or refused to answer, and 39% said their view was unfavorable; 23% reported a favorable view.

The survey of European and American public opinion also shows that despite the economic crisis, 61% of Europeans still considered membership in the EU to be a good thing for their economies. The euro currency, however, fared much worse in public opinion, with 57% saying the currency had been or would be bad for their economy. When asked whether their country should leave the eurozone, one-in-four respondents in Spain (27%) and Germany (26%) agreed.

Fifty-two percent of Europeans approve of the way German Chancellor Angela Merkel has handled the economic crisis, but there was a clear North-South split in her ratings. Approval was high in France (64%) Germany (63%), and Sweden (61%), and disapproval was highest in Italy, Spain (both 63%), and Portugal (61%), three countries hardest hit by the economic crisis.

Transatlantic Trends 2012 is an annual survey of U.S. and European public opinion. Polling was conducted by TNS Opinion between June 2 and June 27, 2012, in the United States, Turkey, Russia (surveyed for the first time), and 12 European Union member states: Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The survey is a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Compagnia di San Paolo, with additional support from the Fundação Luso-Americana, the BBVA Foundation, the Communitas Foundation, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the Open Society Foundations.

“What this survey shows is that, regardless of who is elected in November, the transatlantic challenges are real,” said GMF President Craig Kennedy. “Transatlantic Trends shows that there is enough common sentiment on Syria, Iran, and the economic crisis to turn positive feelings into cooperation.”

“Transatlantic Trends presents a state of the transatlantic relations in pretty good health,” said Compagnia di San Paolo Chairman Sergio Chiamparino. “But if we look at Europe, some worrying trends emerge, from the deep differences between Northern and Southern European countries to the lack of trust in governments. The leaders on both sides of the Atlantic should pay attention to these issues, especially in light of the negative view of the social and economic equality of their system registered across Europe and in the United States.”

In the EU, 65% stated they had been personally affected by the economic crisis (up from 61%), while in the United States, 79% said they had been personally affected. A majority of Americans (52%) said they disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy. Fifty-six percent of EU respondents disapproved of their own government’s response. Disapproval registered most sharply in the troubled periphery economies of Europe: Spain (73%), Italy (66%), and Portugal (65%). Russia was evenly split on its government’s handling of economic issues (46% approved, 46% disapproved).

Half of European respondents (50%) would support further cuts in government spending, the same number as the previous year. American respondents (58%) also would support further decreases in government spending.
When asked whether respondents felt their economic systems worked fairly for everybody or if they believed most benefits of their system went to a few, 76% of Europeans and 64% of Americans chose the latter.

Despite still-high approval numbers, Obama’s popularity in Europe has continued to slip since taking office in 2009. While his foreign policy approval rate has dropped only three points in the United States (from 57% to 54%) since 2009, it has dropped 12 points in Europe (from 83% to 71%).

The transatlantic relationship remains largely stable as 63% (down from 71%) of U.S. respondents and 66% (down from 68%) of EU respondents said they felt that their countries had enough common values to cooperate on international problems. On specific questions of Obama’s foreign policy, his handling of international terrorism received highest approval in both the United States (66%) and the EU (71%), although Turks (32%) and Russians (38%) were considerably more critical.

President Obama is not as popular at home as he is in Europe, although a majority of Americans (57%) said their overall view of the president was favorable, 40% unfavorable. Romney is seen unfavorably by a plurality in the United States (49%). If Europeans could vote in the U.S. election, 75% of EU residents would vote for Obama, and only 8% would vote for Romney.

While a transatlantic opinion gap still exists on some security topics, the survey revealed Europeans and the United States still see each other as essential allies. Nearly two-thirds of EU respondents (61%) said that the United States was more important for their countries’ national interests than Asia. Similarly, 55% of Americans felt that Europe was more important than Asia, a reversal from 2011, when Americans said Asia was more important than Europe. Despite the continuing debate about burden-sharing in the alliance, a majority (58%) in the EU reported they continued to see NATO as “still essential” for their security, although the number of Americans who agreed dropped six points to 56%.

All countries reported concern about a nuclear Iran, but opinion differed on how to prevent that from happening. Eighty percent of Europeans and 79% of Americans said they were concerned — both increases from the previous year. Sixty-one percent of Russians also expressed concern. A plurality of those in the EU (34%) and Russia (33%) preferred offering economic incentives to military action, while a plurality of Americans (32%) preferred imposing economic sanctions.

Although Americans and Europeans disagreed on the engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was agreement regarding intervention in Libya. Pluralities in the United States (49%) and the EU (48%) said intervention had been the right thing to do. However, transatlantic majorities felt that their countries should stay out of the conflict in Syria. Fifty-nine percent in the EU, 55% in the United States, and 57% in Turkey said their counties should stay out of the conflict completely.

Views on Russia turned from favorable to unfavorable on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Forty-two percent of Americans and 37% of Europeans said they held favorable views of Russia. Yet half the Russians (50%) had favorable views of the United States, while two-in-three (64%) thought favorably of the EU. Seventy-five percent of Europeans and 60% of Americans said they had little confidence that the Russian elections reflected the will of the voters. A plurality of Russians (46%) said they were not confident in their own elections; 43% said they were.

Although Turkish feelings for the EU and United States warmed somewhat over the past year, a majority of Turks still viewed the EU and United States unfavorably (53 and 57%, respectively). As in 2011, a plurality of Turks thought that working with Asia was more important to their national interests than working with the United States (46%). A plurality of Russians also felt that Asia was more important to their national interests than the United States (40%).

For the full report, methodology, and topline data, see www.transatlantictrends.org
For data on Bulgaria, please look here.