from The Water's Edge

Transition 2021: Do Germans Believe America Is Back?

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel walk together in Berlin on February 1, 2013.
Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel walk together in Berlin on February 1, 2013. Tobias Schwarz/Reuters

President-Elect Joe Biden has his work cut out for himself in his effort to restore allies’ trust in U.S. foreign policy.

November 23, 2020

Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel walk together in Berlin on February 1, 2013.
Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel walk together in Berlin on February 1, 2013. Tobias Schwarz/Reuters
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Joe Biden said he tried to convey in his calls with European leaders last week that “America is back….I feel confident that we’re going to be able to put America back in the place of respect that it had before.” A new Pew Research poll suggests that the president-elect has more work ahead of him on that score than he might imagine.

Working with Körber-Stiftung, Pew asked Americans and Germans to assess the state of relations between the two countries. The divergence in views is eye-opening. More than seven-in-ten Americans see relations with Germany as good. Conversely, nearly eight-in-ten Germans think relations with the United States are bad.

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Transition 2021

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Joe Biden

Chart showing that Americans see relationship with Germany in good standing, but more Germans now see it as bad

Given these results, it’s not surprising that Americans see Germany as a major partner for U.S. foreign policy while Germans don’t return the favor. Pew asked about six specific global issues. A majority of Germans saw the United States as a partner on only one of them: “protecting European security.” Even there, just 54 percent said the United States was a partner for Germany. And when it comes to dealing with China, which may be the Biden administration’s top foreign policy priority, less than three-in-ten Germans see the United States as a partner.

Chart showing that Germans less likely than Americans to see other country as a partner on key issues

If there is a silver lining in these polls, it’s that they were conducted in September, well before Biden made Donald Trump a one-term president. In a survey conducted immediately after Election Day, the percentage of Germans saying that the United States is Germany’s most important partner more than doubled, jumping from 10 to 23 percent. This is consistent with shifts in public opinion after past presidential elections. Confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing famously surged across Europe after Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush.

Low confidence in Trump in Western Europe

More on:

Transition 2021

U.S. Foreign Policy

Germany

Joe Biden

Future surveys will likely show a similar jump. But as the old saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.” Many Germans, like publics in other allied countries, worry that Biden won’t deliver on his promises of a more cooperative U.S. foreign policy. Or if he does, they worry that those advances will be junked by his eventual successor, as happened with the succession from Obama to Trump.

In all, it looks as if Biden, his secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken, and the rest of the incoming foreign policy team have a lot of work ahead to persuade Germans, and many other Europeans, that America really is back.

Margaret Gach assisted with the preparation of this post.

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