America In The World's poll of almost 2,000 Britons, asking their views of the United States, drew much attention. The greatest response we received was to the section of the poll testing Britons' knowledge of America. Is anti-Americanism grounded in a good understanding of the country or a level of ignorance? The answers to the poll suggested some of the latter.
But one fair question kept arising in the responses: do Americans know that much about Britain? Even if Britons do wrongly think that polygamy is legal in some states or that America played a major role arming Saddam Hussein, don't Americans entertain similar misconceptions? Isn't it simply the case that no people can know other countries better than their own?
But there is a key difference. While polls show anti-Americanism to be rife among many in Britain, polls of Americans demonstrate exceptionally pro-British attitudes. Even if Americans are uninformed about Britain, it does not lead to anti-British sentiment.
In February 2006, the BBC World Service released the results from its poll of just under 40,000 people in 33 countries. It found that Americans thought Britain's influence on the world is mainly positive rather than mainly negative by a margin of 71% to 14%, or about five to one. Most surprisingly, Americans said they thought their own country's influence on the world is mainly positive rather than mainly negative by a margin of only 63% to 30%, or about two to one.
In some ways, this is a discouraging result for America In the World. We're unambiguously with the 63%, and wish that figure to be higher. But that Americans when polled can think more highly of Britain's influence than their own country's certainly acquits Americans of any charge of ignorant chauvinism towards Britain. If Americans aren't well-informed about Britain, then they like Britain in any case. By contrast, Britons in the same poll said America had a mainly negative influence by a margin of 57% to 36%.