A Misaligned Alliance?

In October 2017, the Pew Research Center and Körber-Stiftung conducted surveys on US and German public perception of transatlantic relations

By Michael Dimock, President, Pew Research Center, Washington DC


Germany and the United States are each grappling with a new emerging world order, and what it means for the future of transatlantic ties. Will Germany and the US grow closer or drift apart?

The surveys find Americans more upbeat than Germans about ties between their countries (68 % vs. 42 % say “relations are good”). With respect to the most important pillars of the German-US relationship, Americans tend to place equal emphasis on security and defense (34 %) and economic and trade ties (33 %). While 45 percent of Germans also consider economic and trade links to be the most important pillar, only 16 percent choose security. 35 percent of Germans see relations rooted in shared democratic values, but only 21 percent of Americans share this view. The two publics also diverge in their assessments of NATO. A plurality in the US (48 %) think the transatlantic alliance does too little to help solve global problems while 31 percent think it is doing the right amount. In Germany, more are satisfied with NATO’s current role in world affairs (49 %) than say it does too little (29 %). US attitudes toward NATO coincide with the prevailing view that America’s allies in Europe should spend more on defense (45 %). A substantial share of Germans (32 %) support an increase in national defense spending, but far more (51 %) are content with current expenditure levels.


Nonetheless, both publics back closer bilateral ties: 65 percent of Americans and 56 percent of Germans favor increased cooperation. Neither country, however, sees the other as its top ally. Over half of Germans (53 %) consider France their country’s most important foreign-policy partner, distantly followed by the US (17 %). Americans name Great Britain (18 %) as their country’s key partner in world affairs, then China (15 %), Israel (9 %), and, still further back, Germany( 5 %). 

General public opinion is a key factor influencing how elected officials approach foreign policy. But it is, of course, not the whole story. Particularly partisan and social-economic differences shape people’s views of German-US ties. These divisions should not be overlooked as factors affecting how elected officials balance representing their constituents, as opposed to their nations, when it comes to foreign policy and international engagement.