Feelings towards other nations
To put Australia’s foreign policy in context, every Lowy Institute Poll since 2005 has included our annual ‘feelings thermometer’. On a scale of 0° in temperature (coldest feelings) to 100° (warmest feelings), the thermometer measures Australians’ feelings towards a range of countries and territories in our region and further abroad that have played a prominent role in world events during the year. A limited sample of countries are included each year, and most countries and territories are rotated in and out of the sample.
Feelings towards other nations
This year’s Lowy Institute feelings thermometer includes nineteen countries and territories, as well as the European Union.
Please rate your feelings towards some countries and territories, with one hundred meaning a very warm, favourable feeling, zero meaning a very cold, unfavourable feeling, and fifty meaning not particularly warm or cold. You can use any number from zero to one hundred: the higher the number the more favourable your feelings are toward that country or territory. If you have no opinion or have never heard of that country or territory, please say so.
In 2006, this question asked respondents about their feelings towards ‘countries and peoples’. From 2007 to 2018, this question asked respondents about their feelings towards ‘countries’.
* Until 2015, asked as ‘Great Britain’; from 2015 asked as ‘United Kingdom (Great Britain)’.
An English-speaking country has topped the Lowy Institute feelings thermometer this year, as in every other Lowy Institute Poll. Australians give our neighbour New Zealand a very warm 86°. New Zealand has always received a result above 80° since we first asked about it in 2007, which can only be said of one other country: Canada. In the 2019 Poll, New Zealand was also seen by a majority of Australians as our ‘best friend’, and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern topped the list of global leaders, with 88% of Australians expressing confidence in her to do the right thing in world affairs. While Australians tend to regard New Zealand and its leaders warmly, it should be noted that the Christchurch massacre took place during the fieldwork.
In 2019, feelings toward the United States have cooled by four degrees to 63°. While this is lower than the high point of 73° during the Obama presidency in 2015, it has not fallen below the lows of the Bush presidency as recorded in 2006-7. Feelings towards the United States are 14 degrees warmer this year than towards China.
Generally, Australians have felt warmly towards the United States throughout the history of the thermometer, although its first thermometer reading at 62° in 2006 put it at a similar level of warmth as China (61°) and India (62°). Feelings warmed from 2009 to 2015 during the presidency of Barack Obama.
While Australians’ warmth towards the United States suffered a record drop in 2016 in the lead-up to the US presidential election (falling five degrees to 68°), feelings held steady in 2017 at 69°.
The 2019 thermometer result corresponds with a small drop in support for the alliance: a majority (72%) of the population still say the US alliance is either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important for Australia’s security (down four points from 2018). This result remains nine points higher than the low point of 63% in 2007, during the presidency of George W Bush. However, the proportion of Australians saying the alliance is ‘very important’ has dropped ten points to 38%, while the number of those who say it is ‘fairly important’ has increased six points to 34%.
However, trust in the United States ‘to act responsibly in the world’, while relatively unchanged from last year, has been on a downward trajectory since 2011. Just over half the population (52%) say they trust the United States either ‘a great deal’ or ‘somewhat’ to act responsibly in the world. This is the lowest level of trust in the United States recorded since we first asked this question in 2006. The highest level of trust in the United States was 31 points higher (84%), recorded in 2009 and 2011, following the inauguration of President Obama.
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 with feelings relatively steady in the last two years.
More information on Australia-US relations in the Lowy Institute Poll is available here.
This year, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong appeared in the same feelings thermometer for the first time in a Lowy Institute Poll. Australians hold warm feelings towards Hong Kong (63°) and Taiwan (59°), but feelings towards China have cooled significantly this year. At 49°, China has fallen nine degrees from 2018 in the largest fall and the lowest result China has received since the Lowy Institute first asked this question in 2006.
Australian sentiment towards China has been generally stable and lukewarm, with China registering 58° in the 2018 Lowy Institute ‘feelings thermometer’, a reading statistically equivalent to those recorded over the past five years. This nine-degree drop in 2019 corresponds with Australians expressing the lowest level of trust they have ever felt towards China in 2019: only 32% of Australians say they trust China either ‘a great deal’ or ‘somewhat’ to act responsibly, a 20-point fall from 2018 and 15 points lower than the previous low of 47% recorded in 2008. More information on China in the Lowy Institute Poll 2019 is available here.
Japan’s thermometer reading in 2019 is at 72°, stable from 2018. Feelings towards Japan have been warming since 2013. Japan has been regarded more warmly over the history of our polling than the majority of Australia’s other neighbours in Asia – except Singapore (71° in 2016). However, Japan is only regarded by 2% of Australians as our best friend.
North Korea has consistently dominated the coldest end of thermometer. In 2019, North Korea maintains its position as an outlier, with Australians’ sentiments at a very cold 25° in 2019, a five-point drop from 2017 and stable from 2018. North Korea’s position appears to have been unaffected by high-profile meetings between North Korea’s leader and US President Donald Trump in 2018. Kim Jong-un also receives the fewest votes of confidence from Australians, with only 7% expressing ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of confidence in him.
South and Southeast Asia
Australian sentiment towards Indonesia has stabilised in the past three years following one of its lowest-ever results in 2015. In 2019, Indonesia registers just warmer than neutral at 51°. Indonesia’s eight-degree warming to 54° in 2016 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°.
First polled in 2006, Australians’ attitudes to India have been relatively lukewarm but stable, ranging from 55°-62°. India’s reading in 2019 is 53°, five degrees cooler than last year. Indians hold similarly temperate feelings towards Australia, with Australia scoring 56° on the India thermometer in the India-Australia Poll 2013.
Other Southeast Asian Countries
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 fell four points in 2018 to 50°. These concerns may still be affecting Myanmar’s rating, which has fallen to 46° in 2019. In a corresponding finding in this year’s Poll, only 25% of Australians have ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence in Aung San Suu Kyi to do the right thing in world affairs.
Thai elections appear to have had no effect on Australians’ feelings towards Thailand, which receives a stable 61° in 2019. Feelings towards Malaysia have been similarly stable since we first asked in 2006, ranging from 57° to 60°. In 2019 there is no change, with Malaysia registering 57° on the feelings thermometer.
Fiji has consistently enjoyed warm feelings from Australians since we first asked in 2008. This year, Fiji recorded a warm 68°, which places it fourth on the feelings thermometer, and ahead of the European Union and the United States.
Papua New Guinea is consistently lower on the thermometer than Fiji. Increased attention on Papua New Guinea while it hosted APEC in 2018 did not boost Australians’ feelings, and it received 59° in 2019.
Australia’s pessimism about Brexit may have affected sentiment towards the United Kingdom more generally, with the Lowy Institute feelings thermometer registering a six-point fall for the United Kingdom since 2018 (to 76°). Feelings towards the European Union have remained steady at 66°, three degrees warmer than the United States.
Feelings towards Russia have cooled further to the lowest point in the history of our polling at 43°. It is possible that this has been influenced by focus on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 US Presidential election. The previous low point for Russia was in 2015, following the downing of flight MH17.
In 2019, feelings towards Israel are cooler than neutral on the feelings thermometer, at 48°. Before this year, Israel had dropped below 50° only once, in 2010.
Saudi Arabia is ranked second from the bottom of the feelings thermometer, at a frosty 34°. While this is still nine degrees above North Korea, Saudi Arabia has dropped six degrees since 2018.
While not included on the 2019 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 in past Lowy Institute polling