Global Poll

Israel, Iran Garner Most Negative Ratings

Views of countries' influence from participants in 27 nations. BBC World Service/Globescan international poll. (Graphic: Globescan)

Most people believe Israel and Iran have a mainly negative influence in the world, according to a BBC World Service poll of 28,000 people across 27 countries. Poll participants were asked to rate 12 countries — Canada, China, France, Great Britain, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the United States, Venezuela — and the European Union, as having a positive or negative influence.

The poll was conducted for the BBC by the international polling firm GlobeScan ( together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. In total, 28,389 individuals in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United States were interviewed between Nov. 3, 2006 and Jan. 16, 2007. In 10 of the 27 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas.

The country with the highest number of mostly negative responses overall was Israel (56 percent negative, 17 percent positive, followed by Iran (54 percent negative, 18 percent positive); the United States (51 percent negative, 30 percent positive); and North Korea (48 percent negative, 19 percent positive).

Israel also stood out as having the largest number of countries (23 of 27) viewing it negatively. Iran was regarded unfavorably in 21 countries, the United States and North Korea in 20.

The most positive ratings were garnered by Canada (54 percent positive, 14 percent negative); Japan (54 percent positive, 20 percent negative); the European Union (53 percent positive, 19 percent negative); and France (50 percent positive, 21 percent negative).

The international press provided comment and analysis regarding the poll results.

Israel's Haaretz (March 6) questioned the veracity of the poll:

A BBC World Service-commissioned poll released this week proves, if nothing else, that the nature of the question pollsters ask will determine the answers they receive. It also suggested, without having to say so explicitly, that Israel is the bastard child of Satan, the troublemaking twin of its arch-nemesis Iran.

Hong Kong's Asia Times (March 7) weighed in:

Israel, whose war with Hezbollah last summer in Lebanon undoubtedly affected the results, was seen most negatively in the Arab world and Turkey (where only 2 percent of respondents gave it a "positive" rating) and in much of Europe. In Lebanon itself, 85 percent of respondents said they had a negative opinion of the Jewish state, followed by 78 percent in Egypt and 76 percent in Turkey.

At the same time, 77 percent of German respondents expressed a negative opinion, as did about two-thirds of Greek, French, British and Australian respondents. In Latin America and Asia, Brazil (72 percent) and Indonesia (71 percent) were the most negative, respectively.

Nations that were most positive about Israel were Nigeria (45 percent positive), the U.S. (41 percent), and Kenya (38 percent).

The poll results represented a slide in America's global reputation, as noted by Egypt's Middle East Times (March 6):

While there has been "improvement in ratings of India and a slight decline in views about Britain," there has been a "significant fall in positive evaluations of the United States."

Delving further, France's International Herald Tribune (March 7) reported on statements by Dr. Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). Kull testified on March 6 before the House Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight about the low standing of the United States in global public opinion, and briefed the panel on the image of the country reported in a variety of public opinion studies conducted in countries around the world:

Congress took a look Tuesday at how America stands around the world, and what it found was not good news.

"We have never seen numbers this low," Steven Kull of the University of Maryland testified.

Much of the criticism centered on the United States playing the role of world policeman, he said. A frequent complaint was that the United States did not take the interests of other countries into account.

"The numbers we are seeing today are the lowest numbers that have ever been recorded," Kull said, citing returns in several current polls. … "A lot of it is directed to the image of the president, who is not real popular."

A lot of the criticism, but not all of it, is centered on the U.S. war in Iraq, he said.

Canada was one nation that could justifiably view the poll results positively, with the Calgary Sun (March 7) Page Six columnist flippantly stating: "I knew we were pretty good folk, but had no idea we were so awesome."

However, the country's Victoria Times Colonist (March 6) in an article titled, "Canada liked, but likely ignored," said:

A new poll that ranks Canada first in terms of its positive influence in the world is more a reflection of the world's ignorance of Canada than widespread approval of its foreign policy, says the firm that conducted the survey.

"A lot of this is driven by general lack of awareness of Canada," says Oliver Martin of GlobeScan Inc, which conducted the poll for the BBC. "Even though we're a G-7 country, we're not on the radar screen for economic ratings, trade ratings, even cultural perspectives."

India, too, had reason to hail the poll, with the Times of India (March 6) reporting:

India is the only one of 12 major countries to have significantly improved its global stature in the past year, even as Israel, Iran, the U.S. and North Korea are overwhelmingly negatively identified as the world's new rogue states by disparate groups of people in 27 countries around the world, according to a new BBC poll.

Experts explained that the correct interpretation of the findings was not that India was the world's most "popular or admired" country but its public profile was "most improved" of all the countries rated.

The majority of the coverage by the international press focused on the nations viewed most negatively in the poll. The BBC (March 6) noted that:

Israel, of course, has long provoked sharp international reactions, and last year was involved in a controversial war in Lebanon. … Israel is viewed most negatively in the Muslim countries of the Middle East, although also in Europe.

An opinion piece published by Britain's Mathaba News Network (March 6) posited:

A recent GlobeScan survey conducted for the BBC World Service confirms what most people know but governments want to deny — Israel is an unpopular state whose role is seen as anything but benign in world opinion. The poll rates countries as to whether there influence in the world is considered to be mainly positive or negative, and the results show Israel to be perceived the least positive and the most negative influence. Even Iran did slightly better in the perception of people around the world.

A more in-depth analysis was provided by the Turkish Daily News (March 7):

"The reasons are evident," said Ilhan Üzgel, lecturer at the Ankara University's Political Sciences faculty, to the Turkish Daily News. "The United States invaded Iraq and now there is ongoing chaos there. On Israel, looking at Palestine and Lebanon would be enough. These affected Israel's image in people's minds."

"Ever since the war in Iraq, anti-American feelings in Turkey has raised steadily. Debates on the war and its impact continues unabated. In this sense, the results were not surprising. But putting Iran among the most 'negatively-imaged' countries is thought provoking."

According to Üzgel, the reason for this result could be Iran's nuclear program and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's style.

According to Australia's The Age (March 5):

It was the first time that Israel has been included in the list of countries ranked by the annual poll.

Iran's negative rating increased from an average of 47 percent recorded in last year's larger survey of 33,000 respondents.

Australians viewed all four countries — Israel, Iran, North Korea and the U.S. — in a more negative than positive light. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed put North Korea's influence as negative, compared with just seven percent who described it as positive. They viewed Iran 75:10, Israel 68:16 and the US 60:29.

Also from Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald (March 5) in an article headlined, "Warlike natures a turn-off," reported that:

There had been "dramatic positive movements" in attitudes in the Muslim world towards Iran in the past year, the survey said. In Indonesia, for example, positive views of Iran rose to 50 per cent, compared with 39 per cent last year. By contrast, 71 per cent of Indonesians were against Israel.

Kull, commenting on the poll results said: "It appears that people around the world tend to look negatively on countries whose profile is marked by the use or pursuit of military power. This includes Israel and the U.S., who have recently used military force, and North Korea and Iran, who are perceived as trying to develop nuclear weapons."

"Countries that relate to the world primarily through soft power, like Japan, France, and the EU in general, tend to be viewed positively," he added.