The US is the world's top 'soft' power — but Trump has damaged its reputation, survey says

The American Flag flying in front of The White House in Washington D.C.
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The U.S. is seen as a global force in terms of its "soft power" and influence, despite controversy around President Trump's administration, which has damaged the country's reputation, according to new research.

The Global Soft Power Index, by consultancy Brand Finance, surveyed more than 50,000 consumers in 87 countries to rank countries in terms of their familiarity, reputation and influence, among other measures.

The U.S. came in top, with Germany, the U.K., Japan and China following. France, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia make up the rest of the top 10.

The term "soft power" was coined by political scientist Joseph Nye in the late 1980s and relates to a nation's ability to attract or persuade other nations, rather than coerce using military or economic means.

But while the U.S. was ranked highly by respondents in terms of its influence in entertainment, media, sport and science, its reputation, governance and political stability are seen less positively by people around the world.

"The mixed international reception of controversies surrounding President Trump's administration is likely to be the reason behind relatively low ratings for reputation," the report authors noted.

The U.S. came 13th for reputation, 13th for ethical standards, 19th for political standards and 44th for relations with other countries. People also ranked it low for climate action (28th) and trustworthiness (23rd), according to the study, published Tuesday.

"This is perhaps understandable given America's decisions to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iranian nuclear policy, undermining the nation's reliability as a partner on the world stage," the report stated.

Trump's impeachment trial also had an impact, according to David Haigh, chair and CEO of Brand Finance, but other measures helped it to the top spot.

"Soft power cannot be rapidly achieved, nor lost. The United States has shown that ultimately, despite the reputational challenges of impeachment and unpredictable foreign policy, its position as the rule-maker in the international system … is unrivalled," Haigh said in a release.

A spokesperson for the White House was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Like the U.S., China and Russia rank higher for influence than for reputation. China is ranked as the world's second-most influential country but comes in at 24th for reputation. Russia ranks 7th for influence and 26th for reputation.

"China and Russia are the nexus of change for global political, economic, and social world order. Western democracies can no longer rely on the end-of-history assumption that liberal values have won globally and have to adapt to a world shared with these new colossal soft power players," the report states.

Despite leaving the European Union, the U.K.'s reputation appears undented, due in part to the importance of Queen Elizabeth II, its standing in media (which the report attributes to the BBC's reputation) and culture.

Peter Fisk, professor of leadership and strategy at Madrid's IE Business School, said that soft power is likely to continue to have an impact on nations, describing it as "meta power." "Meta power is not about having the largest army, it is about having the best story," he stated in the report.

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