DONALD TRUMP AND THE US ALLIANCE
Australians appear to have adjusted to the reality of the Presidency of Donald Trump, following initial reservations. This year, feelings towards the United States remain warm at 67°, and support for the US alliance remains firm, with 76% of Australian adults saying the alliance is either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important for Australia’s security.
What has changed, however, is the level of trust in the United States. A bare majority of Australians (55%) say they trust the United States to ‘act responsibly in the world’, in a six-point fall since 2017, a 28-point fall since 2011, and the lowest level of trust in the United States ever recorded in our polling.
The 55% of Australians who trust the US overall is in contrast with the 90% who trust the UK, 87% who trust Japan and 84% who trust France. US President Donald Trump appears to be a significant factor in this declining trust in the United States. Few Australians (30%) have either ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence in President Trump ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’. On a list of nine world leaders, President Trump is only placed ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on this measure of confidence.
In 2016 in the lead-up to the US Presidential election, Australians appeared to recoil from the US alliance, with a nine-point fall (to 71%) in the proportion who viewed the US alliance as ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important for Australia’s security. This was the second-lowest level of support on this measure in our 12-year polling history, although eight points higher than the lowest result of 63% in 2007, towards the end of the presidency of George W. Bush.
However, this fall was reversed in 2017, with support rising 6 points to 77%, and in 2018 the result is steady at 76%.
Also steady is the number of Australians adults who say ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States under President Donald Trump’ (31% in 2018, from 29% in 2017). This is fourteen points lower than the number in 2016 who said ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States if it elects a president like Donald Trump.’ The number who say we should remain close the United States under President Donald Trump is almost unchanged at 64% (from 65% in 2017, and up 13 points from those who said in 2016 ‘Australia should remain close to the United States regardless of who is elected US President’).
It appears this broad support for the US alliance is practical in nature, not merely symbolic. Only 48% of Australians say they would be ‘less likely … to support Australia taking future military action in coalition with the United States under Donald Trump’ now that he is President. This is 11 points lower than the 59% in 2016 who said they would be less likely to support Australian military action with the United States under Donald Trump. In other words, reluctance about Australia joining the United States in military action under the Trump administration has eased since the new President took office.