Under President Trump, the U.S.’s ‘Soft Power’ Is Waning
Global American influence is dropping—significantly.
And it’s not just due to President Donald Trump upending the international order with threats to withdraw from NATO, the WTO, the UN Human Rights Council, and starting trade wars with China and the EU.
According to an annual global ranking of nations’ soft power by London-based Portland Communications and USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy, the U.S. has dropped three places since Trump became president. In 2016, the U.S. ranked No. 1. It dropped to third last year, and fourth this year.
Here are the Top 10:
1. United Kingdom
4. United States
The study draws on the concept of soft power first outlined by political scientist Joseph Nye, which has three pillars: political values, culture, and foreign policy. Essentially, soft power is the ability to attract and influence via means other than hard power, which is typically defined as military might and economic incentives or sanctions.
In order to measure the soft power of individual countries, the index relies on objective data across six categories:
- government: commitment to freedom, human rights, and democracy, and the quality of political institutions
- culture: the global reach and appeal of a nation’s cultural outputs, both pop-culture and high-culture
- education: the level of human capital in a country, contribution to scholarship, and attractiveness to international students
- engagement: the strength of a country’s diplomatic network and its contribution to global engagement and development
- enterprise: the attractiveness of a country’s economic model, business friendliness, and capacity for innovation
- digital: a country’s digital infrastructure and its capabilities in digital diplomacy
It also draws subjective data from international polling, which surveyed 11,000 people in 25 countries covering each region of the globe.
Particularly noteworthy are the areas in which the U.S. did not perform well. While improving from the two previous years, the U.S. came in 5th in the enterprise ranking, trailing Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark.
The U.S. ranked 15th in polling, showing a sustained international distaste for Trump’s “America First” agenda. The U.S. came in 16th in polling last year, a nearly 10% drop from the year prior. Looking specifically at polling data that determined favorability toward a country, the U.S. now ranks 21st, putting it in the bottom third of the list.
Most significantly, however, is the government ranking. The U.S. came in 16th this year, dropping four places from 12th place last year, demonstrating how objective metrics are beginning to register a decline in American soft power. A shift away from multilateralism toward zero-sum unilateralism under the banner of “America First” has significantly undermined American diplomatic capabilities and shaped the U.S.’s poor government ranking this year, according to the report.
As Trump meets with Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, it is worth noting that the U.K., despite struggling under the pressure of Brexit negotiations, topped this year’s ranking at No. 1. The U.K. earned this top spot largely due to strengths in cultural and educational engagement, as evidenced by the popularity of British music, the international trust of the BBC World Service, and the appeal of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, which drew nearly two billion viewers around the world.