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The decline of US soft power? Last year’s ranking leader, America plummets down the Global Soft Power Index

03 March 2021
  • US loses position as the world’s soft power superpower – dropping to 6th, as Germany claims top spot in the Brand Finance Global Soft Power Index 2021
  • Perceptions of former President Trump and handling of the pandemic to blame,as US ranks last on COVID-19 metric, among 105 nations in the study
  • Well-governed nations climb ranks in top 20 – Japan is top-performing Asian nation and second overall, just behind Germany
  • Australia is only new entrant in top 10 as traditional powerhouses – UK, France, China, Russia, India – see mixed perceptions of pandemic responses
  • Hailed as global success story in response to COVID-19, New Zealand is fastest-improving in ranking, climbing to 16th

A year of widespread turmoil is starkly reflected in America’s steep drop in the Global Soft Power Index 2021, making the US the fastest-falling soft power nation globally. Defined as ability to influence the preferences and behaviors of other nations around the world, soft power is linked to attraction or persuasion, rather than coercion.

Between a turbulent election campaign and a haphazard COVID-19 response, the US lost its position as the world’s soft power superpower, falling from last year’s 1st to 6th position in 2021. With an overall Index score of 55.9 out of 100, down by -11.2 points on last year’s 67.1 – the US recorded a more significant decline than any other nation in the ranking.

With former President Donald Trump’s hesitance to acknowledge the scale and severity of the pandemic criticized at home and abroad, the US places at the very bottom of the Index’s COVID-19 metric, ranking at an abysmal 105th place among all nations rated in the study.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:

“The raging of the virus across the US combined with President Trump’s rebuke of medical expertise and touting of reckless home-remedies is the most likely culprit for the waning of America’s long-held role model status internationally, at a time where sensible global leadership has arguably been most needed.”

Unveiled at the virtual Global Soft Power Summit 2021, hosted by leading brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance in partnership with BBC Global News, the Global Soft Power Index 2021 represents the most comprehensive research study on perceptions of nation brands – capturing the opinions of 75,000 respondents across 100 countries.

Playing host to various speakers, the Summit also included inputs from David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee, as well as Joseph Nye – the Harvard University Professor originally responsible for coining the phrase ‘soft power’.

According to Professor Nye, the demise of US soft power began as early as 2017 under the Trump administration, but there is hope for recovery:

“Trump’s narrow view of international allies, withdrawal from global agreements like the Paris Climate Accord, and lack of support for the WHO were already damaging American soft power before COVID-19 even hit.

Trump was the first president that did not place a high emphasis on values. When America emphasized values, it made the nation more attractive to society, hence our soft power was unrivalled.

The question is if we can recover our soft power, and I think the answer is yes. If America continues making progress on vaccines and can get the pandemic under control, coupled with a sharp economic recovery, then our prospects look good. So, if I were to comment on what the Global Soft Power Index will say next year, I believe the US will be back on an upward trend.”

David Miliband, in turn, warned of the challenges ahead and underlined the importance of integrity and internal unity for soft power:

“There are more power centers today than ever before, and this increased competition for soft power means reproducing past results is going to be much tougher. In this regard, I think the US is going to have to work a lot harder to re-establish its reputation in the next four years.

If a nation is divided, it becomes harder to attract others, and soft power will suffer as a result. Every government lives in coalition with its own people, regardless of the type of rule in place, and the greatest threat to the soft power of a country is dissonance between what it says it stands for and what its actions reveal it to stand for.”

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Konrad Jagodzinski
Konrad Jagodzinski
Communications Director
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Florina Cormack-Loyd
Florina Cormack-Loyd
Senior Communications Manager
Brand Finance
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