Americans Saw Their Country As More Politically Stable After the Capitol Assault. Why?
PHILADELPHIA — ON JAN. 6, 2021, a group of then-President Donald Trump supporters broke into the Capitol building during a joint session of Congress that was certifying Joe Biden as the next president. This event was met with shock, anger, and embarrassment by Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. In addition, the images of Jan. 6 were spread all around the world as news outlets were quick to comment on such a significant American event.
Subsequently, there has been an abundance of commentary on the effects of Jan. 6 on our country, our citizens and the rest of the world. However, most of this has just been speculation … until now. In collaboration with the U.S. News & World Report Best Countries Rankings and BAV Consulting, we annually survey people around the world on their views of various countries. This year’s survey was delayed to capture the influence of the U.S. presidential election. It was fortuitous that Jan. 6 fell in the middle of our data collection. This allowed us to compare the differences in perceptions of the United States before this historic protest and after.
We divided these results into perceptions that the world had of the United States pre- and post-Jan 6, and perceptions that U.S. citizens had of their own country before and after Jan. 6. In effect, any changes we see of the American image can be said to be caused by the protest — a true incident analysis.
The results may surprise you.
In the tables below we show three characteristics and how the ranking of the United States on those characteristics changed over the course of the protests.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/OBSkg/4/
As many of the United States’ internal grievances are often on public display in media outlets globally, the U.S. never ranks in the top half of countries in terms of “happiness.” After Jan. 6, the world viewed the United States as an even less happy country. Its ranking of happiness went down from No. 45 to No. 53 (a change of eight spots) out of the 78 countries ranked. That’s not surprising, as people around the world saw firsthand the anger that many Americans embodied.
What is surprising is the change in happiness that U.S. citizens perceived. The country’s happiness as rated by its own people dropped from No. 36 to No. 59 after the event. This is more than a 20-country ranking drop in happiness rankings! It is extremely rare to see such a dramatic shift in a perception. It’s clear from this characteristic that the events of Jan. 6 harmed the U.S. internally and rightly convinced citizens that their own country was hurting.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/0CXsu/2/
We see a similar pattern when we look at how transparent the United States government is seen to be. The Jan. 6 protests decreased the perceptions of transparency both globally and at home. Like the perceptions of happiness, this decrease in transparency was larger for U.S. citizens than the rest of the world. That means that internally, U.S. citizens really lost confidence in their government’s transparency due specifically to the protests at the Capitol. As rated by its own citizens, the United States, once a beacon of democracy and transparency, went from being ranked No. 37 to No. 64 after the protests — again an unprecedented shift in perceptions.
Although these results may not be surprising to U.S. citizens or really to the rest of the world, the perceptions of how politically stable the U.S. is provide an interesting nuance to the results above.
When looking at the U.S.’s political stability, we first see that the country overall is perceived to be politically unstable … which itself should be a wake-up call to legislatures and politicians. In particular, the country is perceived significantly less politically stable by its own citizens than the rest of the world.
But the Jan. 6 protests changed that to some degree. As expected, the world perceives the U.S. as even more politically unstable after the attempt by its citizens to change the election using violence — its ranking dropped from No. 25 to No. 38. However, surprisingly, U.S. citizens perceive their own country to be more politically stable due to the protests. At first this may be shocking, why would the images of large groups of people violently breaking into the U.S. Capitol building to overturn an election creates a perception of more stability?
As it turns out, the joint sessions, after the deadly protests, came back at night to finish certifying the results. Doing so ensured a peaceful transition of power, even in the face of an insurrection. The aftermath of the protests only reinforced the tradition of the United States respecting its Constitution and therefore likely gave U.S. citizens more confidence that the government can withstand these types of attacks. In effect, the protest and Congress’s response may have actually helped promote U.S. governance to its own citizens.[
These results matter. When historic events change the brand of a country, this can have drastic ramifications to that country including whether tourists want to visit, foreign students want to come study, foreign businesses want to invest, and even whether other countries want to engage in treaties and diplomacy. Even more so, changing the internal brand of a country can affect whether people want to vote in subsequent elections, serve their country, and even whether they promote their country abroad.
Understanding how events like the Jan. 6 protests affect a country’s brand is an important part of effectively and efficiently building a prosperous nation.