They Like Us, They REALLY Like Us

(Map based on Gallup data,

A recent report by Gallup based on a two-year rolling survey in 154 countries places the United States as the number one immigrant destination in the world.

Based on Gallup’s data, 138 million people worldwide would voluntarily leave their country to immigrate to the United States. If that happened, it would increase the American population by 46 percent. The number of people expressing a desire to immigrate to the United States is triple the number desiring to immigrate to the next most-desired immigrant destination, Great Britain. This is a stunning rebuttal of anti-Americanism, cultural and political, as seen in other surveys.

Unfortunately the data set released by Gallup is only a small piece of what the company holds relating to global opinion relating to the intent to immigrate. This is an important piece of opinion because it closes the ground between global public opinion about the United States and actual public practice.  An example of what I’m talking about — which will be more fully examined in my forthcoming book — is demonstrated in the partial data set Gallup released. Gallup lists, among others, the “likeliest” US-bound immigrants to originate from China, India and Brazil, in that order (among others) — that is, three of the self-styled most dynamic economies in the world. Based on Gallup’s data, 1.5 percent of the Chinese population would leave China for the United States, not including other destinations. To fill out the BRICs, I would like to see the numbers on Russia — which has faced a duel problem of population decline and emigration increase — where much official and semi-official anti-American sentiment has originated.

As a friend (I met the report’s author, Jon Clifton, as part of my work for NATO) I would question the data on China and Iran. The Gallup reports low desire among Iranians to immigrate to the United States. This may be artificially low in part because most of those who wanted to immigrate and could have already left (an estimated 1.2 million Iranians live in the United States alone, representing about 1.6 percent of Iran’s population) and because of the fraught political state of the country. It may simply not be safe for Iranians to offer anything other than officially approved anti-American opinions to anyone. While China is probably less strictly policed politically, I would suggest the same conditions apply there. It’s probably higher than it already is.

The most politically interesting and contentious data sets, therefore, are those not released publicly by Gallup so far — e.g., Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, and Russia (see map, above). I recognize the desire for Gallup to monetize its surveys. But in the interest of American public diplomacy, I would ask Gallup to release the entire data set relating to international immigration. We can only learn more from it.


Winning the Long Game – Public Diplomacy, Public Opinion and the U.S. Elections

What winning looks like (MCT/ZUMA via Mother Jones)

Tuesday’s reelection of Barack Obama confirmed few people’s confidence in American democracy – least of which was the utter failure of $3 billion in “outsider” Super PAC money to effect the overall makeup of the federal government. But the election results did confirm the general accuracy of much-maligned public opinion polling which, with appropriate aggregation and correctly applied judgment, could accurately forecast much of the election results.


This brings me to the importance of international public opinion to public diplomacy practice. In many respects, public opinion is public diplomacy, or to be more precise, the entire point of public diplomacy: we engage with the public to change minds and mold opinion. We ask and check and monitor opinion through public opinion polling and surveys, both public and private, in order both to know what people think but also to determine how to change what they think.  It is impossible to think about public diplomacy without understanding and caring about public opinion, polling data and methodology in great detail.

This information does not exist in nearly the kind of depth and sequence that it does for something like a national race or for presidential approval ratings. For a national race, high-quality public tracking data can be produced on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Information on presidential approval ratings can be produced on a monthly or weekly basis and on a variety of issues. This sort of information, about the United States and a variety of issues, is not available nearly as regularly, nor for as many countries, nor in as much depth.

But they do exist: GallupPew, and (to a lesser extent) the German Marshall Fund all produce regular, multi-national surveys of public opinion on a variety of issues. The data is fascinating and rich and worth spending quite a lot of time reading and absorbing.  Sinking down into the data, as I have, will demonstrate the astonishing diversity and dynamism of public opinion not just around the world, but within demographics, relating to the United States and on a variety of different issues.

But if public diplomacy is about affecting public opinion, then two ready questions come immediately to mind.  Why aren’t those in charge of public diplomacy held to account for the global public esteem of the United States? And, if they are, then why isn’t the public diplomacy apparatus organized and equipped better to change global public opinion?

I found these unanswered questions – or rather, the questions disconnected from solutions – during my time at NATO.  We were interested in public opinion but lacked the resources and tools to understand it in greater depth. We didn’t really know what we wanted people to know or think about us, other than generally to understand and support us.  And we had no real way to gauge how to resource that mission in any event.  I suspect the State Department is in a similar position.

It’s important to note there are imperfect comparisons between public diplomacy and an election campaign. There is no “vote” in public diplomacy, only a continuing series of referenda on U.S. foreign policy and our leaders. And there is little compromising on matters of national interest and prerogative and certainly none when it comes to those whom our people choose as our leaders.

If we told the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy that her job performance was contingent on public opinion ratings, that would certainly tighten her job description and focus her resources. (There are, for example, about 1,000 qualified public diplomacy officers in the State Department. The Pentagon has probably 10 times that number.)  It certainly argues for an organization within the State Department such as the U.S. Information Agency, whose dedicated mission is entirely focused on foreign publics. Unfortunately, it might also lead to the elimination of some of the more popular (and necessary) programs in the State Department, such as the Fulbright fellowships, that have long-term benefits for the United States but less immediate impact.  It might also lead to the accusation of propaganda, if not its outright activity.  Just as with the “air game” during an election at home, the obsession with public opinion may lead us to find an “easy way” to influence foreign “voters”.  An undue focus on public opinion could force our diplomats to succumb to these temptations, like studying to the test.

Perhaps we need to return to the recent election for another model for public diplomacy. It is becoming clear that the Obama campaign won the election through a gritty application of the ground game – a serious, methodical application of organization that found committed supporters and got them to the polls. There is something to be learned from that example. The ground game is also the best public diplomacy: building rapport, strengthening the organization, mobilizing allies, reaching out to the undecided. In the long game, it’s what wins.