Fewer Australians are trusting the United States to act responsibly in the world, and they have scant regard for Donald Trump, but this is not translating into people losing faith in the American alliance, according to the Lowy Institute’s 2017 poll.
Only 20% trust the US “a great deal” to act responsibly. This is a big fall from the 40% level in 2011, when the question was last asked.
Overall, 61% trust the US “somewhat or a great deal”, 22 points lower than 2011. The contrast is stark when attitudes to other countries are compared - 90% trust Britain and 86% trust Germany and Japan. China is trusted by 54%.
The poll found that 60% of Australians say Trump causes them to have an unfavourable opinion of the US, with younger adults and women being especially likely to be unimpressed. Still, this figure is lower than the proportion who said this about George W Bush in 2007.
Despite people’s feelings about Trump, support for the alliance has actually increased six points since 2016 – 77% say it is “very or fairly important” for Australia’s security. Just 29% believed “Australia should distance itself from the United States under President Donald Trump”.
The institute’s executive director, Michael Fullilove, said that while Australians had come to terms with the Trump presidency, the relationship was not unaffected by him. “The President is not popular in Australia. And Australia’s trust in the United States to act responsibly has declined”.
The survey of 1200 people was conducted in March. The release of the results comes a week after Malcolm Turnbull’s parody of Trump at the federal press gallery’s midwinter ball. So far there has been no response from the President.
The poll found considerable suspicion of China, mixed with strong pragmatism.
Some 46% believe it is likely China “will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years”. But 79% see China as more of an economic partner than a military threat.
Only a third (34%) would favour using Australian military forces “if China initiated a military conflict with one of its neighbours over disputed islands or territories”. But 68% favour Australia conducting “maritime operations designed to ensure freedom of navigation in the region”.
Nearly eight in ten people (79%) are dissatisfied with the direction of the world, but despite the international rise in protectionist and nationalist sentiments, 78% believe globalisation is “mostly good” for Australia.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra