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Anti-American Sentiment Focuses on US Policies, Not American People, Study Finds - 2003-02-10

U.S. media are full of stories of rising anti-American sentiment in many countries. Two recent surveys confirm these accounts,and it may spell trouble for U.S. foreign policy makers.

The Pew Research Center has found much of the world has a generally negative impression of U.S. government policies. But the Center's Nicole Speulda said the picture is more positive when it comes to what people in other countries feel about American culture and people.

"That's exactly what our study found: It was policies, not the people," Ms. Speulda said.

The Pew Center based its findings on a survey of the attitudes of 38,000 people in 44 countries. The survey of attitudes toward America is part of a much bigger study aimed at finding out what makes people around the world think the way they do, what they have in common and how they differ from one country to the next.

Ms. Speulda, the study's project director, said the majority of respondents expressed negative views about the spread of American culture. Not surprisingly, she said, those over 50 were a lot less receptive to U.S. movies, television, and music than the young set of 18 to 29-year-olds.

"Young people said that they were more likely to say that they liked American movies and television, and were less likely to say that it was bad that American ideas were spreading there," she said.

A separate Boston University survey conducted last year also tried to measure views toward Americans of people even younger than those covered by the Pew survey. The survey included the views of more than 1,300 high school students in Taiwan and 11 countries, including China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It found that teenagers in other countries had generally negative views, considering Americans as materialistic, immoral, violent, and domineering.

Co-author Professor Melvin DeFleur blames mass media for presenting young people overseas with a distorted view of America. "What they [teenagers] encounter, without realizing it, is incidental, unwitting lessons about what we are like. And we are seen as very violent, we are seen as highly criminal. And our women are seen as sexually immoral because if you watch almost every movie or television programming these days, you see a lot of people in bed, you see a lot of bare breasts," he said.

Does the attitude of people in other countries towards Americans influence their governments' relationship with Washington? It might, says Ann Florini, of the Brookings Institution. But, she adds, foreign governments usually have concerns other than the public popularity of Americans and their culture in dealing with the U.S. government.

"If there is extreme public hostility to something that we're doing, that's going to constrain what those governments can do vis-ŕ-vis the United States government. But a general sense that the people in this country are nice or the people in this country are not nice is not usually the basis on which people elsewhere try to mobilize their governments to cooperate with us or not to cooperate with us," Ms. Florini said.

Ms. Florini points to Turkey as an example of a country where the government has to balance strong public opposition to the U.S. policy toward Iraq and cooperation with Washington. "Issues like the fact that more than 80 percent of Turks oppose any Turkish involvement in a war against Iraq and do not want to work with the U.S. on that. Obviously, it raises considerable questions about the degree to which the Turkish government could even if it wanted to participate in that war," she said.

She adds that many countries whose populations are largely anti-American end up cooperating with the United States because their governments feel there is a great deal at stake if they do not.