Anti-Americanism has surged in much of the world, according to new polling from the Pew Research Center. But unlike an earlier generation of detractors, critics are less concerned about the exercise of unrivaled U.S. power than they are about a U.S. retreat—from both global leadership and liberal democracy, notes Richard Wike, Director of Global Attitudes Research at the Pew Research Center.
In fact, a major driver of anti-Americanism today has less to do with geopolitics or foreign policy and more to do with the unease that currently pervades democratic societies amid a global “democratic recession,” in the words of the political scientist Larry Diamond (below),* he writes for Foreign Affairs:
According to International IDEA’s most recent assessment of the global state of democracy, “Democracy is ill and its promise needs revival.” The scholars Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk have examined public opinion over time and found decreasing support for democracy and growing support for nondemocratic forms of government in a number of supposedly “consolidated” democracies. In many ways, liberal democracy is experiencing a crisis of confidence, as recent Pew data shows. A 2017 survey found a median of 78 percent across 38 countries saying representative democracy is a good form of government, but surprisingly high numbers were also open to nondemocratic alternatives, such as rule by experts (49 percent), rule by a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliaments or courts (26 percent), or even military rule (24 percent).
“Democracy is a popular idea, but the degree to which people are committed to democratic rights and institutions is often underwhelming,” Wike adds. “Moreover, there are growing doubts about how well the United States can serve as a model of liberal democracy.”
Other Western democracies, such as Canada and the European Union, should take up the slack on advancing democracy, some observers suggest.
Yet it is worth remembering that the United States’ image has bounced back before. It’s clear today that people haven’t given up on the United States, Wike observes:
In 2018, Pew asked respondents in 25 nations whether they would rather live in a world with the United States or China as the top superpower. A median of 63 percent preferred the United States, while just 19 percent preferred China. People recognize that the world is changing, but they still want the United States to have a prominent place in it. RTWT
- The founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and the co-chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy.