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Feelings Towards Other Nations
Eighteen countries were included in this year’s Lowy Institute feelings thermometer. A limited sample of countries are included each year, and most countries are rotated in and out of the sample.
As is always the case, an English-speaking nation tops the 2016 thermometer, with New Zealand the country most warmly regarded by Australians at 85° (up two points since 2015). The United Kingdom (81°), Canada (84° in 2016) and Ireland (73° in 2013) also fall into this warmly-regarded group of English-speaking nations.
While Australians have felt warmly towards the United States throughout the history of the thermometer, they expressed surprisingly negative feelings about the United States in the early years of the Lowy Institute Poll, with its first thermometer reading of at 62° in 2006 putting it at a similar level of warmth as China (61°) and India (62°). By 2007, towards the end of the presidency of George W. Bush, the thermometer reading for the United States hit its lowest mark over the history of the Poll, at a fairly lukewarm 60°. Feelings warmed from 2009 to 2015 during the presidency of Barack Obama.
However, Australians’ warmth towards the United States suffered a record drop in 2016 in the lead-up to the US presidential election. Feelings cooled five degrees on 2015’s result to 68°, although still warmer than they were at their coolest point of 60° in 2007. This coincided with a fall in support for the US alliance as well as strong indications that Australians might recoil from the alliance under President Donald Trump.
In 2017, feelings towards the US have steadied at 69°. At the same time, support for the alliance has rebounded, with 77% (up 6 points since 2016) saying the alliance is either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important for Australia’s security. The number who say we should remain close to the United States under President Trump is 65% (up 14 points from last year’s 51% who said ‘Australia should remain close to the United States regardless of who is elected US President’). Only 29% of Australians say ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States under President Donald Trump’ in 2017.
These results indicate that Australian feelings towards the United States, and their support for the US alliance, can be affected by the person who holds the role of US President. Even so, Australians seem to have been more concerned about the idea of a Trump presidency in 2016 than they are about its reality in 2017.
Although China is Australia’s largest trading partner, the results from the 2017 Poll show Australians continue to regard it with some reservation. According to the 2017 thermometer, feelings towards China sit at a lukewarm 59°, equivalent to last year’s result. While China established a lead over Japan in 2016 as Australia’s ‘best friend in Asia’ (30% saying China and 25% saying Japan is Australia’s best friend in Asia), Japan consistently ranks higher on the feelings thermometer than China. In 2017, Japan registered at 71°, a much warmer result than China’s 59°.
Many Australians in 2017 also expressed a wariness of China’s military intentions, with 46% of Australians believing it ‘likely that China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years’ (up seven points since 2015).
Despite these misgivings, Australians continue to see the relationship as vitally important. China and the United States remain tied when we ask Australians which relationship is more important to Australia: 45% say the United States and 43% say China, in a statistically inseparable result. When asked in 2017 whether China is ‘more of an economic partner’ to Australia or ‘more of a military threat’, a solid majority (79%) see China as ‘more of an economic partner’. Only 13% see it as ‘more of a military threat’.
Feelings towards Germany and France remain steady in 2017 at 71°. In past thermometer results Spain (69° in 2014) and the Netherlands (72° in 2014) have also been regarded warmly. This year the European Union, added to the thermometer for the first time, came in at a warmish 62° (exactly the same result the United Nations received when Australians were asked about it in 2016).
Japan’s thermometer reading in 2017 is at 71°, its equal highest result since 2012, when public sympathy appeared to be a factor following the tsunami and Fukushima disaster which hit Japan in 2011. This year’s result consolidates a warming trend from 2013 when it registered a cooler 65°.
Japan has been regarded more warmly over the history of our polling than the majority of Australia’s other neighbours in Asia. Singapore is one exception, scoring comparably with Japan (71° in 2016).
After warming five degrees between 2015 and 2016 following the celebration of 40 years’ independence in 2015, feelings toward Papua New Guinea remain steady in 2017 at 61°. Between 2012 and 2015 feelings had cooled following a period of political instability after Peter O’Neill replaced Michael Somare as Prime Minister, coupled with negative media attention on events at the Manus Island detention centre.
At 64° in 2017, the Solomon Islands continue to occupy a warmish spot on the thermometer.
The Philippines makes its thermometer debut in 2017, level with China at 59°. While not included in 2017, East Timor registered a warmish 60° in 2016, its equal highest result since 2006. Taiwan attracted similarly warm feelings at 59° in 2016.
Following Myanmar’s landmark general elections in 2015, its reading on the thermometer rose in 2016 to 55° (up five degrees since 2014), and sits steady at 54° in 2017.
Malaysia’s last result in 2015 was 58°.
Feelings towards Fiji have been consistently warm, with a reading of 68° in 2016 placing it at a similar level to Japan (71° in 2017) and the United States (69° in 2017).
First polled in 2006, Australians’ attitudes to India have been relatively lukewarm but stable, ranging from 55°-62°. India’s reading in 2017 is 60°. Indians hold similarly temperate feelings towards Australia, with Australia scoring 56° on the India thermometer in the inaugural India-Australia Poll 2013.
Australian sentiment towards Indonesia has rebounded in the past two years following one of its lowest-ever results in 2015. Indonesia’s eight-degree warming to 54° in 2016 has consolidated in 2017 at 55°. Indonesia’s cool 46° reading in 2015 occurred during the lead-up to the executions of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The last time sentiments towards Indonesia had hit such a low point was in 2007 (47°) after a period of discord in relations following Schapelle Corby’s sentencing for drug offences and Australia’s granting of asylum to Papuans in 2006.
Lowy Institute polling since 2006 has demonstrated the wariness with which Australians and Indonesians regard each other. Feelings towards Indonesia did not rise above 50° on the thermometer until 2010, when they rose marginally to 54° following a successful visit to Australia by Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
When we asked Indonesians the same ‘feelings’ question about Australia in The Lowy Institute Poll 2006 on Australia and Indonesia, Indonesians ranked their feelings towards Australia at a similarly lukewarm 51°. By 2011, however, their feelings had warmed considerably to 62°.
Feelings towards Israel sit at a lukewarm 53°, aligning with previous results of between 49° (in 2010) and 55° (in 2006).
Feelings towards Russia sit at 50°, similar to its 52° reading in 2016. This was a seven-point increase on Russia’s coldest reading of 45° in 2015, at a time when awareness of the 2014 downing of flight MH17 in Ukraine was high. In 2015, the reading for Ukraine was 51°, six points above Russia’s 2015 result.
In 2017, North Korea maintains its position as an outlier on the thermometer, with Australians’ sentiments at a very cold 30° in 2017. This is well below its nearest rival for bottom spot on the thermometer in 2017, Russia at 50°. While not included on the 2017 thermometer, Iran (40° in 2016), Libya (41° in 2012), Pakistan (41° in 2012), Afghanistan (38° in 2014), Syria (37° in 2016), and Iraq (35° in 2015) have been regarded with a similar coldness.
Please rate your feelings towards some countries, with one hundred meaning a very warm, favourable feeling, zero meaning a very cold, unfavourable feeling.
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