Feelings towards other nations
Eighteen countries, as well as Taiwan and the European Union, 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.
This year, for the first time, we have included in the same ‘thermometer’ question the three nations Australians have felt most warmly towards in the past: New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada. New Zealand tops the list at 86°, followed by Canada at 84° and the United Kingdom at 82°.
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 held steady at 69°.
In 2018, feelings toward the US remain steady at 67°. Support for the alliance has also remained firm, with 76% of adult Australians saying the alliance is either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important for Australia’s security (almost unchanged from 77% in 2017). The number who say we should remain close to the United States under President Trump is 64% (almost unchanged from last year’s 65%, and up 14 points from a low in 2016, when only 51% said ‘Australia should remain close to the United States regardless of who is elected US President’). Only 31% of Australians say ‘Australia should distance itself from the United States under President Donald Trump’ in 2018.
However, trust in the United States ‘to act responsibly in the world’ has fallen six points since 2017 and 28 points since 2011, with 55% of Australians expressing trust in the United States to act responsibly, the lowest level of trust in the United States ever recorded in our polling.
These results indicate that Australians’ 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 during the campaign in 2016 than they are now the Trump presidency is a reality, with feelings settling in 2017 and steady in 2018.
Although China is Australia’s largest trading partner, the results from the 2018 Poll show Australians continue to regard it with some reservation. According to the 2018 thermometer, feelings towards China sit at a lukewarm 58°, equivalent to last year’s result.
Many Australians in 2018 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’ (unchanged since 2017, but up seven points since 2015).
When asked in 2018 whether China is ‘more of an economic partner’ to Australia or ‘more of a military threat’, a solid majority (82% – up three points since 2017) see China as ‘more of an economic partner’. Only 12% see it as ‘more of a military threat’. A majority (55%) also view China as the world’s leading economic power, ahead of the United States (29%) and the countries of the European Union (7%).
Feelings towards Germany (71°) and France (70°) remain steady in 2018. In past thermometer results Spain (69° in 2014) and the Netherlands (72° in 2014) have also been regarded warmly. This year the European Union came in at a warmish 67° (up five points since 2017 and equal to United States).
Japan’s thermometer reading in 2018 is at 74°, its highest result in the 13 years this question has been asked. This 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).
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
In 2018, feelings toward Papua New Guinea remain steady at 63°, following a cooler period between 2012 and 2015 during a period of political instability after Peter O’Neill replaced Michael Somare as Prime Minister, and negative media attention on events at the Manus Island detention centre.
OTHER ASIA-PACIFIC NEIGHBOURS
At 62° in 2018, South Korea continues to occupy a warmish spot on the thermometer.
The Philippines, which made its thermometer debut at 59° in 2017 has remained steady at 61° in 2018. Taiwan has also remained steady on previous results, registering a warmish 60°, similar to feelings towards China at 58°. East Timor also registered a warmish 57° in 2018.
Following Myanmar’s landmark general elections in 2015, its reading on the thermometer rose in 2016 to 55° (up five degrees since 2014). However, amidst international concerns about treatment of the Rohingya minority, feelings towards Myanmar have fallen four points in 2018 to 50°.
First polled in 2006, Australians’ attitudes to India have been relatively lukewarm but stable, ranging from 55°-62°. India’s reading in 2018 is 58°. 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 three years following one of its lowest-ever results in 2015. Indonesia’s eight-degree warming to 54° in 2016 was consolidated in 2017 at 55°, and has remained steady in 2018 at 54°. 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 Russia remain lukewarm at 47°, similar to 2017 (50°) and down five points from 2016.
AUSTRALIANS’ COLDEST FEELINGS: NORTH KOREA, SAUDI ARABIA, SYRIA, IRAN, LIBYA, PAKISTAN, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
In 2018, North Korea maintains its position as an outlier on the thermometer, with Australians’ sentiments at a very cold 25° in 2018, a five-point drop from 2017. This is well below its nearest rival for bottom spot on the thermometer in 2018, Saudi Arabia at 40°. This is the first year Saudi Arabia has been included in the thermometer.
While not included on the 2018 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.