The Emotions Behind America’s Reputation Problem

Canada is the most reputable country in the world this year, but its neighbor the United States only ranks 22nd. So, why the disconnect?

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Reputation Institute just released the results of the Country RepTrak® 2015 survey, announcing the world’s most reputable countries. It turns out that when we surveyed thousands of people across the globe about the largest countries by GDP that survey respondents didn’t give high marks to the world’s superpowers. China and Russia came in particularly low in the ranking, with scores of 46 and 52, respectively. The United States came in with an average reputation and only ranked 22nd. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people harbor negative feelings towards Russia given the recent events in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. But, why don’t people feel more positively about the U.S.?

Emotions are at the root of America’s reputation problem and they’re measurable. Reputation Institute’s RepTrak® model is the gold standard for reputation measurement. RepTrak® is made up of an emotional indicator called the Pulse as well as three dimensions (advanced economy, appealing environment, and effective government). The Pulse can be broken down further into 17 attributes and that’s where things get really interesting.

The U.S. scores very well in certain attributes, but not well in others. Where the U.S. is lacking is in the following attributes: “a safe environment,” “effective government,” “ethical country,” “progressive social and economic policies,” “friendly and welcoming people,” and “responsible participant in the global community.”

The attributes are a good starting point, but what’s most telling about the reputation of the U.S. is the negative emotional halo around the country. Statistically, we are able to calculate a country’s emotional halo by measuring the difference between its Pulse score and its scores in the three dimensions. The Country RepTrak® study shows that the countries with the most negative emotional halos are the U.S., Russia and China, with the negative emotional halo for the U.S. the highest at -7.9 points.

All of this is to say that people around the world don’t have a positive emotional connection to the U.S., but, all in all, they don’t see the U.S. entirely negatively. They do ascribe positive attributes to the country, such as “technologically advanced,” “well-known brands,” and “high-quality products and services.”

The message to the U.S. is that things aren’t always as they seem. Or better yet, perceptions aren’t always reality. The U.S. can improve its reputation by tackling negative perceptions head-on through improved communication.