The violent storming of the United States Capitol on January 6 by a crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump drew considerable attention abroad, as well as concerns about the health of American democracy. Even before the riot, however, many people in three key United States allies – Germany, France, and the United Kingdom – were concerned about the American political system.
A large majority in all three countries said in a Pew Research Center survey in fall 2020 that the U.S. system needs either major changes or comprehensive reform. The opinion was particularly prevalent in Germany, where 55% said major changes are needed and an additional 18% said the system should be completely reformed. The share of people saying major changes to the US system are needed was slightly lower in France (45%) and the UK (40%).
Few in the three nations said no changes to the American system are needed.
This analysis covers how the Germans, the French and the UK view the American political system after the 2020 election. It includes a demographic analysis comparing responses to questions by views on political parties. The article also draws on long-term trend data to contextualize these views.
For this article, we use data from nationally representative telephone surveys of 3,066 adults from November 12 to December 23, 2020, in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. We also use a Körber-Stiftung investigation conducted by Kantar in Germany from 6 to 10 November with 1,058 respondents.
Here are the questions used for this report, along with the answers and its methodology.
In the UK and Germany, attitudes towards right-wing populist political parties have played a role in this issue. Those with a favorable opinion of the UK’s Brexit Party (now called the Reform Party) and the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) were less likely than those with a negative opinion of these parties to say that the American system needs to be completely reformed.
A separate survey conducted in Germany by Körber-Stiftung days after the 2020 election, confidence in American democracy has waned. When asked whether the election had boosted or weakened their confidence in American democracy, 53% of Germans said it weakened their confidence. About a third (34%) said it had boosted their confidence and about one in ten (7%) said it had neither strengthened nor weakened their confidence.
While the 2020 election may have raised concerns about the health of the American political system among citizens of other countries, doubts about certain aspects of American democracy have grown in recent years.
In Germany, France, and the UK – as well as other countries around the world – the proportion of people who believe the US government respects the personal freedoms of its people has declined over time. As with many aspects of America’s international image, opinions on this issue became more negative during the Trump years, but the trend started before he took office.
The Pew Research Center recorded a decrease in this measure for the first time between 2013 and 2014, as the news broke about Edward Snowden and National Security Agency surveillance around the world. Further declines occurred in 2015 as a result of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the police murder of Michael Brown the previous year. Erosion continued steadily until 2018, the last time the question was asked.
The Centre’s previous international surveys also posed a question regarding “American ideas on democracy”. In 2017, the last time the question was asked, the opinions of the global public were mixed on American ideas about democracy. Globally, a median of 46% said they didn’t like these ideas, while 43% said they liked them. Majorities in France (64%) and Germany (56%) said they disliked American ideas about democracy, but the proportion of those who said this was lower in the UK (44% ).
Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with the answers and its methodology.
Christine Huang is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes at the Pew Research Center.
Richard wike is Director of Global Attitudes Research at the Pew Research Center.