The U.S. Jumps to the Top of the World’s ‘Soft Power’ Index

June 14, 2016, 12:07 PM UTC
Photograph by Getty Images

In an interview on Fox News on Monday, Donald Trump suggested that President Barack Obama was either weak, dumb, or nefarious, saying, “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind.”

But President Obama’s work over the last eight years to reposition the U.S. as more diplomatic and less belligerent seems to be paying some dividends, at least according to a survey released today by the London PR firm Portland in partnership with Facebook.

In the Soft Power 30 report, an annual ranking of countries on their ability to achieve objectives through attraction and persuasion instead of coercion, the U.S. leapfrogged the U.K. and Germany to claim the top spot, while Canada, under its popular and photogenic new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, jumped France to claim fourth place.

Based on a theory of global political power developed by Joseph Nye, a Harvard political science professor, the survey uses both polling and digital data to rank countries on more than 75 metrics gathered under the three pillars of soft power: political values, culture, and foreign policy.


According to survey author Jonathan McClory, the U.S.’s jump to the top spot had a lot to do with the fact that President Obama’s last year as Commander-in-Chief was “a busy one for diplomatic initiatives.”

“The President managed to complete his long-sought Iran Nuclear Deal, made progress on negotiating free trade agreements with partners across the Oceans Atlantic and Pacific, and re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba after decades of trying to isolate the Communist Caribbean Island. These major soft power plays have paid dividends for perceptions of the U.S. abroad,” the author wrote.

The report also praised U.S. contributions in the digital world, via Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and the like, and the fact that it has more universities in the global top 200 than any other country.

The report did admit that U.S.’s rise was a bit odd, though, at least under current circumstances.

“America topping the rankings this year is perhaps a strange juxtaposition to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, currently threatening to tear up long-held, bi-partisan principles of American foreign policy—like ending the U.S.’s stated commitment to nuclear non-proliferation,” the author wrote.


The U.K.’s slip from the top spot seemed to have more to do with U.S. strength than its own weakness. “The U.K. continues to boast significant advantages in its soft power resources,” the report notes. Indeed, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron cited last year’s No. 1 ranking in the report as proof of his country’s international influence, the Financial Times reports.

But, the survey adds, Brexit could have devastating effects: “No other country rivals the U.K.’s diverse range of memberships in the world’s most influential organisations. In this context, a risk exists that the U.K.’s considerable soft power clout would be significantly diminished should it vote to leave the European Union.”

The ranking includes several surprising countries, like Russia (27th place). “With its annual military parades and occasional encroachments into European air and naval space, soft power might not spring to mind when thinking about the Russian Federation,” McClory writes. But, the report notes, Russia’s investment in the global, multilingual TV channel RT, as well as its diplomatic work in Syria, seem to be paying dividends.

Argentina climbed onto the list in the 30th and final spot, spurred by optimism that new, reform-minded President Mauricio Macri would further integrate it into the global diplomatic community. It was the only Latin American country other than Brazil to make the list.

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