U.S. Trustworthiness Rating Dives in 2020 Best Countries Report

Kevin Drew

The world's trust in the United States, a country entering an election year with its impeached president facing trial in the Senate and stirring global alarm over the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, has dropped by more than 50% since 2016, the sharpest drop of any country assessed in the 2020 Best Countries report.

Additionally, the United Kingdom has experienced the second-greatest drop in the world's trust since 2016, according to Best Countries data. Last December's elections firmly entrenched Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his vow to push forward with Brexit and take the country out of the European Union.

By contrast, America's neighbor to the north, Canada, is seen as the world's most trustworthy country, according to the report, a position the nation has held since the annual global survey first released in 2016.

In 2016, the U.S. had a score of 33.5 on a 100-point scale. This year, the country's score is 16.3, placing the country at No. 24 of the 73 countries assessed, just behind No. 23 Greece and barely ahead of No. 25 Israel. The U.K. ranks No. 14 for trustworthiness in 2020, but still outperforms the U.S. by nearly 50 points on a 100-point scale. Canada, meanwhile, has registered a perfect 100-point score for trustworthiness each year since the report's 2016 debut.

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"Trustworthiness" is one of 65 metrics that survey participants were asked how closely they associate that attribute with a nation. Canada was followed closely by Switzerland and Norway. Finishing last this year is Kenya, which drew a score of 0. The African country was just below Eastern European nations Serbia and Belarus.

In the U.S., young adult Americans -- defined as people under 30 -- are expressing less trust in individuals and institutions than their older counterparts, a Pew survey found last year.

The impeachment of President Donald Trump may be affecting the world's view of America, as well. Last month the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with a Ukraine pressure campaign. Trump is awaiting trial in the U.S. Senate.

The president's own actions on the world stage also may be shaping global public opinion. Early in 2019, reports emerged that Trump discussed withdrawing the U.S. from NATO. Later in the year he abruptly announced a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, a move that left Kurdish allies in the fight against terrorists in that country feeling abandoned. Trump last year also instigated more trade wars with countries and freely criticized various world leaders.

Those foreign policy moves only reinforced new global worries over U.S. foreign policy after Trump ordered the Jan. 3 killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani by a drone strike in Baghdad, a move that immediately drew criticism from U.S. opponents and concern from America's allies. The reaction in the Middle East was immediate. Iraq's Parliament called for the expulsion of all U.S. forces from the country and Iran, vowing to retaliate against the U.S., said it would abandon the 2015 nuclear deal.

The past year has witnessed a growing global pushback against Trump. Former Irish president Mary Robinson chastised Trump for showing poor global leadership. And 2019 closed with leaders of U.S. allies appearing to joke about the U.S. president at a NATO summit.

"His (Trump's) behavior has raised many eyebrows," says Karel Lannoo, CEO of the Centre for European Policy Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Brussels.

Statements by Trump had raised concern in Japan and South Korea, America's closest allies in East Asia. But it is clear now that Washington will remain highly engaged in the region, says Zhang Baohui, professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian-Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. "They understand that the new China policy of the U.S. should imply that Washington will not vacate the region," Zhang said in an email.

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Canada Is Most Trusted Country

In Canada, elections last autumn revealed a divided country, as Justin Trudeau overcame a photo scandal from his past to remain the country's prime minister. But despite the turbulence at home, the world's view of Canada is positive, perhaps influenced by its foreign policy at a time of record numbers of displaced people around the world. Canada welcomed more refugees in 2018 than any other country, according to the U.N., marking the first time since 1980 that the U.S. did not lead the world in accepting refugees.

The 2020 Best Countries report is the fifth annual version of the survey and rankings. Among other notable trends in countries' trustworthiness scores evolving from 2016 to 2020:

-- Though scoring low on the 100-point scale, India (5.9) in 2020 ranks No. 39 for trustworthiness, Russia (5.0) is No. 43 and China (3.5) ranks No. 51.

-- Singapore, Germany and Denmark each lost more than five points over five years.

-- Greece, Portugal, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Spain each gained more than 10 points in this attribute over five years, though the Czech Republic and Portugal fell 7 points from where they were last year. All outperform the U.S., with Greece gaining nearly 21 points over five years (jumping from 5.2 points in 2016 to 25.9 in 2020).

-- Singapore saw a spike in trustworthiness in 2019, but dropped 12.6 points between 2019 and 2020, resulting in an overall drop of 10.9 points over five years. Similarly, Japan dropped 7.8 points from 2019 to 2020.

The Best Countries report is an annual global survey of more than 20,000 people in 36 countries, including in the U.S. The report and subsequent rankings are based on how people's perceptions define countries in terms of a number of qualitative characteristics. The 2020 report focuses on perceptions of 73 nations. The overall No. 1 country in the 2020 Best Countries report is Switzerland, a position it has held since it entered the the report in 2017.

The trustworthiness attribute does not carry a specific description and is left to survey respondents to interpret. It is one of eight equally weighted attributes used to form the Citizenship sub-ranking.

At its highest point, the U.S. reached No. 17 in the trustworthiness ranking in 2016 -- though the Best Countries rankings only assessed 60 countries that year. In the following three years, the U.S. lost ground, ranking No. 23 in 2017, No. 25 in 2018 and landing at No. 27 in 2019. All three of those years the Best Countries report assessed 80 nations.

Below are the 10 countries perceived to be the most trustworthy and the 10 countries seen to be least trustworthy.

Most Trusted Countries

Country Trustworthiness Rank Best Countries Overall Rank
Canada 1 2
Switzerland 2 1
Norway 3 10
Sweden 4 8
Denmark 5 13
New Zealand 6 11
Finland 7 14
Australia 8 5
Netherlands 9 9
Germany 10 4

Least Trusted Countries

Country Trustworthiness Rank Best Countries Overall Rank
Kenya 73 53
Serbia 72 72
Belarus 71 70
Ghana 70 67
Guatemala 69 65
Tunisia 68 69
Lebanon 67 73
South Africa 66 39
Myanmar 65 57
Ecuador 64 63

Senior Data Editor Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.

Kevin Drew is the assistant managing editor of Best Countries, which he helped develop and launch for U.S. News & World Report in 2016. His recent projects include an exploration of the global impact of pediatric cancer, made possible by a grant awarded by the Solutions Journalism Network. Before joining U.S. News, he worked in Asia, Europe and the U.S. for The New York Times, CNN, The Associated Press and other news organizations. He is a recipient of a DuPont Award for Excellence in Journalism as a supervisor for CNN's digital coverage of the South Asian tsunami, and a Peabody Team Award for CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Follow him on Twitter or email him at kdrew@usnews.com.