Transatlantic Trends 2014 reveals a U.S. public whose interest in European leadership and in transatlantic cooperation is increasing — but not always reciprocated. Americans increasingly disapprove of their president’s foreign policy, and remain concerned about their own economic situation.
THE TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONSHIP
U.S. leadership continues to be seen as desirable on both sides of the Atlantic. Fifty-six percent of European respondents described strong U.S. leadership as desirable, as did 83% of Americans. The approval rate of U.S. President Barack Obama’s handling of international policies continued to drop, however: forty-three percent of U.S. respondents approved, a seven percentage point drop from 2013, while a majority of Americans (53%) disapproved for the first time. Still, Obama remained generally popular in Europe — 64% of Europeans said that they approve of his handling of international policy.
Europe and the United States diverged when asked about the future of transatlantic cooperation, however. In Europe, 50% said that they would like their country to take a more independent approach from the United States, while 34% of U.S. respondents said they preferred that the partnership become closer; 33% of Americans were in favor of taking a more independent approach, while 27% said the transatlantic relationship should remain about the same.
Americans were interested in the EU playing a major role in world affairs: 70% of respondents described a strong EU leadership role as desirable, an increase of 13 percentage points since 2013. Fifty-seven percent of Americans said that they had a favorable opinion of the European Union, an increase of seven percentage points since 2013 but still 11 percentage points lower than in 2010.
Russian and Chinese leadership were increasingly seen as undesirable: 53% of Americans opposed strong Russian leadership, an increase of seven percentage points since 2013, and 55% — eight percentage points higher than in 2013 — felt similarly about Chinese leadership.A stable percentage of Americans (57%) reported a negative opinion of China, while negative opinions on Russia increased 12 percentage points since 2013 to 71%.
THE ECONOMY AND IMMIGRATION
A plurality in the United States named the economy as the most important issue facing the country at the moment (28%). When asked about the impact of the economic crisis, 73% of Americans reported that they or their families had been affected — a return to 2009 levels from a high of 82% in 2011.
A majority of respondents (71%) in the United States expressed disapproval of their government’s handling of immigration policy. Thirty-eight percent of Americans felt that there are “too many” immigrants, 36% said that there are “a lot but not too many,” and 19% stated there are “not many.” However, if asked the same question after being given the actual percentage of the U.S. population born in another country, only 21% felt that there are “too many” immigrants and 44% said that there are “not many.” Americans were optimistic about the integration of first- and second-generation immigrants. Fifty-one percent said that first-generation immigrants were integrating well, and 69% said the same for second-generation immigrants. In contrast to Europeans, Americans said that emigration was not a problem (66%).
Sixty percent of Americans were worried about illegal immigration, while 38% said they were not worried. However, a plurality (45%) said that illegal immigrants should be given the opportunity to gain legal status that allows them to remain in the country, while only 27% felt that they should be required to return to their country of origin. Of those who said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay, 86% said that they should have a path to citizenship.
TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY COOPERATION
When asked about managing relations with China, a majority of Americans (53%) preferred to take an independent approach — but they were divided when the same question was asked about Russia and the Middle East. Forty-eight percent wanted to work independently when managing their relationship with Russia while 46% wanted to work with the EU, and 48%wanted to manage their relationship with the Middle East independently while 45% preferred to work with the EU.
NATO continues to be seen as essential by 58% of Americans and 61% of Europeans, percent-ages that have remained generally stable since 2002. While 51% of respondents in Europe said NATO should not be engaged in military operations outside of North America and Europe,49% of Americans stated NATO should be engaged in out of area missions (42% said it should not). Fifty-three percent of U.S. respondents said that NATO should also provide arms or training to help other countries defend themselves.
On both sides of the Atlantic, majorities agreed on providing economic and political support for Ukraine, even if there is a risk of increasing conflict with Russia (57% in the United States,58% in the EU) — but they diverged on the tools to use should the conflict continue: 68% of Americans wanted to offer NATO membership to Ukraine, while Europeans were divided.
Majorities in Europe and the United States wanted to offer economic assistance to Ukraine(Europe: 68%; United States: 58%) and impose stronger economic sanctions on Russia(Europe: 61%; United States: 64%), but majorities were opposed to sending military equipment to Ukraine (Europe: 71%; United States: 52%).