"Axis of Evil" Countries Seen as America's Greatest Enemies

by David W. Moore

Most favorably rated countries are Great Britain and Canada, with Japan a close third

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup survey, conducted Feb. 7-10, finds the American public citing North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as the United States' greatest enemies. Three years ago, in his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush specifically charged these three countries with fomenting terrorism and declared that "states like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

The year before that, in a Feb. 1-4, 2001, poll, Americans had a very different view of the world. Thirty-eight percent considered Iraq as "America's greatest enemy," the highest number identifying any country that way. Another 14% mentioned China, with Iran mentioned by 8%, Russia by 6%, and Saudi Arabia and Libya each by 4%. Only 2% mentioned North Korea.

But the current poll finds that today, 22% of Americans each identify Iraq and North Korea as America's top enemies, while another 14% mention Iran. China was a distant second four years ago, but now it is ranked fourth, mentioned by 10% of respondents.

What one country anywhere in the world do you consider to be America's greatest enemy today? [Open-ended]

 

2005 Feb 7-10

2001 Feb 1-4

%

%

Iraq

22

38

North Korea/
Korea (non-specific)

22

2

Iran

14

8

China

10

14

Afghanistan

3

*

United States itself

2

1

France

2

--

Saudi Arabia

2

4

Syria

2

--

Russia

2

6

Middle East

1

2

Cuba

*

2

Libya

*

4

Japan

*

1

Palestine

*

1

Israel

*

*

 

 

None

2

2

Other

7

4

No opinion

9

11

 

 

* Less than 0.5%

Much of the change in opinion over the past four years, of course, is influenced by America's war on terrorism as well as the war in Iraq, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Iran and North Korea have both taken more aggressive international postures about their possessing nuclear weapons, in part, they argue, as a defensive response to possible U.S. military action -- an argument U.S. officials dismiss as an excuse for their warlike intentions.

Still, the ongoing conflict between the United States and these two countries is reflected in the American public's ratings of countries around the world. Eighty-two percent of Americans rate Iran unfavorably, and 80% rate North Korea the same way -- the highest unfavorable ratings for any of the 24 countries mentioned in the poll. Iraq comes in third, with an unfavorable rating of 66% -- far lower than the other two countries in the "axis of evil." The lower unfavorable rating is no doubt a reflection of the fact that with Saddam Hussein out of power and U.S. forces in Iraq, that country is less of a danger to the United States than is either North Korea or Iran.

Next, I'd like your overall opinion of some foreign countries. First, is your overall opinion of [RANDOM ORDER] very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable? How about -- [INSERT NEXT ITEM]?

2005 Feb 7-10
(sorted by
"total favorable")

Total
favorable

Total
unfavorable

%

%

Great Britain

91

4

Canada

86

10

Japan

81

14

Poland

78

9

India

75

18

Mexico

74

21

Germany

73

22

Israel

69

25

Ukraine

67

18

Egypt

64

26

Russia

61

33

Indonesia

57

28

Jordan

54

32

France

51

43

China

47

47

Pakistan

41

49

Afghanistan

40

54

Saudi Arabia

36

58

Iraq

29

66

Cuba

28

65

The Palestinian
Authority

27

62

Syria

25

60

North Korea

13

80

Iran

12

82

Iraq's unfavorable rating is only a point different from the negative rating given to Cuba, which Americans have long viewed in unfavorable terms. Almost a decade ago, Cuba's rating was even more negative -- with 81% expressing an unfavorable opinion, and only 10% a favorable one.

The most positive ratings these days go to Great Britain (91% favorable rating) and Canada (86%), mostly English-speaking countries with a great deal of shared culture with the United States. Close behind is Japan (81% favorable), which has shown a significant rise in American popularity in the past decade. In the mid-1990s, when the United States and Japan clashed over trade policy, Americans were about evenly divided in their ratings.

The greatest changes over the past year are found in Americans' ratings of Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, India, Afghanistan, and Israel -- whose net favorable to unfavorable ratings have all improved by at least 20 percentage points.

Changes in Country Ratings From 2004 to 2005
of at Least 20 Percentage Points

Country

Favor-
able
2005

Unfavor-
able
2005

Net
rating
2005

Favor-
able
2004

Unfavor-
able
2004

Net
rating
2004

Change:
net 2005
minus
net 2004

 

%

%

Pct. pts.

%

%

Pct. pts.

Pct. pts.

Pakistan

41

49

-8

28

64

-36

+28

Palestinian
Authority

27

62

-35

15

76

-61

+26

India

75

18

+57

61

29

+32

+25

Afghanistan

40

54

-14

28

65

-37

+23

Israel

69

25

+44

59

35

+24

+20

The more positive views of the Palestinian Authority and Israel are no doubt tied to both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of withdrawal from Gaza, as well as the emergence of new leadership in the Palestinian Authority following Yasser Arafat's death. The prospects for peace in that area of the world are clearly more positive now than they were a year ago.

Media coverage of elections in Afghanistan last October probably accounts for much of the increase in favorable feelings about that country. It could be that there were carry-over effects for Pakistan's rating, which also increased significantly since last year. Given that the two countries are neighbors and that their names sound alike, it could be that many Americans had improved favorable impressions of both countries.

India's increased rating may be part of a sympathy reaction to the tsunami disaster that resulted from an earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004. Also, the conflict between Pakistan and India this past year may not have been as salient in the news as it was the year before.

Survey Methods

Results in the current survey are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 7-10, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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