A deep national revulsion toward President Donald Trump has sent Canadians’ opinions of the United States plummeting to a level of antipathy never before seen in the 35 years a pollster has been asking.
A major Pew Research survey released on Monday found that just 43 per cent of Canadians hold a favourable view of the U.S., with 51 per cent holding an unfavourable view.
That is a steep decline since last year, the final year of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, when Pew found 65 per cent of Canadians favourably disposed to the U.S. And it is lower than even the low point of the unpopular presidency of Republican George W. Bush, when 55 per cent of Canadians were favourable.
At no time since at least the early 1980s, and likely much earlier, has a majority of Canadians held a negative view of our neighbour and ally.
“Maybe it was pretty bad in 1812,” joked Environics Institute executive director Keith Neuman, “but there’s no data for that.”
The rise of Trump has almost certainly caused the precipitous fall. Under Obama last year, 83 per cent of Canadians had confidence in the president to do the right thing in world affairs. Under Trump this year, it is a mere 22 per cent.
Perceptions of the U.S. have worsened dramatically on every continent since Trump’s election. Only in Russia has there been a significant improvement — 26 percentage points.
Pew has never found Canadians so displeased with the U.S. since it launched the survey in 2002. A recent Environics survey found a similarly historic result: 53 per cent of Canadians were unfavourable, the first majority disapproval since the firm started polling the issue in 1982.
“I don’t imagine it would have been lower in the ’60s or the ’70s,” Neuman said.
In the 1980s and 1990s, during the tenures of Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton, Environics found more than 78 per cent of Canadians favourable to the U.S. In lower-quality polls in the early 1940s and early 1960s, more than 30 per cent of Canadians said they wanted Canada to join the U.S.
Canada, of course, also has a long tradition of anti-Americanism. Historian Jack Granatstein calls it “the Canadian secular religion,” with roots as far back as the U.S. Continental Army’s 1775 invasion of Quebec.
So it is theoretically possible that a Canadian majority disliked the U.S. at some point between Confederation and today. There were no reliable surveys for most of Canada’s first century in existence.
“Most Canadians think, I believe, that the Americans go into periodic episodes of utter craziness, and they’re in one now,” said Granatstein, author of a book on Canadian anti-American sentiment. “So it’s not surprising that Canadians would reach back to their tribal beliefs and assume that. It’s a long history.”
Canadians dislike Trump for both his personality and his policies.
Ninety-two per cent think he is arrogant, 78 per cent think he is intolerant, 72 per cent think he is dangerous, Pew found. Just 16 per cent think he is well qualified to be president.
Many countries that strongly dislike Trump still believe he is a strong leader. In Mexico, for example, 77 per cent say he is strong. But Canadians differ: 38 per cent say Trump is strong, his third-lowest score of the 37 countries polled.
Eighty-four per cent of Canadians oppose Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border. Seventy-eight per cent oppose his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Sixty-four per cent oppose his proposed ban on travellers from some Muslim-majority countries.
Perhaps most notably, 78 per cent oppose the idea of “withdrawing” from trade agreements. (Trump, in fact, has said he prefers to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement than cancel it.) The survey comes two months before the likely launch of Trump-initiated NAFTA talks.
Aware of Trump’s toxicity in Canada but determined to avoid economic harm, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has attempted to strike a delicate balance: making nice with the president while finding diplomatic ways to show disagreement. The NDP has sometimes urged him to take a harder line.
“Every Canadian prime minister has to pull off a Goldilocks act. Canadians never like it when their prime minister is too warm or too cold with the president. This is a particularly difficult set of circumstances,” said Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor and a former senior Trudeau foreign policy adviser.
Canadians, Paris said, “clearly dislike Trump and what he stands for, and they want their government to pursue an independent path that reflects their values. But on the other hand, Canadians expect their government to maintain an effective relationship with the United States, including the president.”
A majority of Canadians, 52 per cent, said they expect the relationship to stay the same. But 37 per cent said it would get worse, while only 9 per cent said it would get better.
Canadians are still fans of their everyday counterparts across the border, though a bit less than during the Obama era. Sixty-five per cent said they have a favourable view of Americans, down from 71 per cent in 2013.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has replaced Obama as Canadians’ favourite world leader. Sixty-six per cent said they have confidence in her to do the right thing. Canadians have more confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping (30 per cent) than in Trump, with Russian President Vladimir Putin (19 per cent) almost tied with Trump.
World confidence in Trump is far lower than it was in Obama. By country, a median of 22 per cent have confidence in Trump; it was 64 per cent for Obama. Opinions of the U.S. have “plummeted in a diverse set of countries from Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa,” Pew wrote.
The Pew phone survey of 1,022 Canadian adults was conducted between Feb. 16 and March 3. The margin of error is 3.6 percentage points.