Israel, along with North Korea, ranks third behind only Iran and Pakistan in the latest annual Country Ratings Poll of the BBC World Service. Bucking the global norm, a growing proportion of Americans — 50% in the latest survey – have a favorable view of Israel in 2012.

The 22-country survey, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA among 24,090 people around the world, asked respondents to rate whether the influence of each of 16 countries and the EU is “mostly positive” or “mostly negative.” The most negatively rated countries were, as in previous years, Iran (55% negative), Pakistan (51% negative), and Israel and North Korea (both 50% negative).

Japan (58% positive) was ranked as the world’s most positively viewed major nation, overtaking Germany (56%). Canada (rated positively by 53%) and the UK (by 51%) were the third and fourth most positively viewed countries. The US ranked eighth — perceived positively by 47% and negatively by 33%.

The survey found evaluations of Israel’s influence in the world — already largely unfavorable in 2011 — have worsened in 2012. On average, in the 22 tracking countries surveyed both in 2011 and 2012, 50% of respondents have negative views of Israel’s influence in the world, an increase of three points from 2011. The proportion of respondents giving Israel a favorable rating remains stable at 21 percent.

In the Western countries surveyed, views of Israel show improvement only in the US. Fifty percent of Americans have a favorable view of Israel in 2012, and this proportion has increased by seven points. At the
same time, the proportion of negative ratings has gone down six points to 35 percent and, as a result, the US has gone from being divided in 2011 to leaning positive in 2012. These are the most positive views on Israel’s influence expressed in the US since tracking began in 2005.

Apart from the US, the most favorable views of Israel are found in Nigeria and Kenya, where views have also shifted since 2011. A majority of 54% of Nigerians (up 23 points) rates Israel positively, and the country has moved from being divided to leaning positive in 2012 (54% positive vs 29% negative). In Kenya, negative ratings have fallen 10 points (to 31%), while positive views have risen by 16 points (to 45%).

Among the Muslim countries surveyed, perceptions of Israel have deteriorated in Egypt (85% negative ratings, up seven points and the highest negative percentage in the survey), and remained largely negative but stable in Pakistan (9% positive vs 50% negative) and in Indonesia (8% vs 61%).

In the EU countries surveyed, views of Israeli influence have hardened in Spain (74% negative ratings, up eight points) and in France (65%, up nine points) — while positive ratings remain low and steady. Negative ratings from the Germans and the British remain very high and stable (69% and 68%, respectively). In other Anglo-Saxon countries, views have worsened in Australia (65% negative ratings, up seven points) and in Canada (59%, up seven points).

This hardening of opinion towards Israel’s influence in the world is strongly apparent in South Korea, where negative views have risen (69%, up 15 points) while positive views have decreased by 11 points (to 20%).

Negative attitudes have also increased among the Chinese, the Indians, and the Russians.

In Latin America, perceptions are negative overall, with pluralities giving negative ratings in Chile (34%, stable), Peru (35%, stable), and Mexico (44%, up 15 points). Brazilians continue to be strongly unfavorable to Israel’s influence, with a stable majority of 58% who rate it negatively.

For those who held negative views of Israel influence in the world, Israeli foreign policy is by some distance the main reason explaining their negative rating (45%). The way Israel treats its own people stands out as the second most important reason (27%). Of those holding positive views, Jewish traditions and culture are cited by 29% globally, closely followed by foreign policy (26%).

Iran continues to be the most negatively viewed of all countries rated. On average, in the 22 tracking countries, 55 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Iran’s influence, while just 16 percent have a favorable opinion.

The most unfavorable ratings are found in the Western countries, where negative ratings remain overwhelming and largely stable. Eighty-five percent of respondents in the UK rate Iran’s influence negatively (up 6 points), while negative ratings sit at 82 percent in France, 81 percent in Canada, 80 percent in Australia and in the US (the latter of which has come down 7 points from last year), 79 percent in South Korea, and 78 percent in Spain. In Germany, the decrease in negative ratings has been slightly more significant, but three-quarters continue to hold unfavorable views (74%, down 11 points). Japan is the remaining country where a majority leans negative (52%).

In Mexico, the proportion of negative ratings has surged to 48% (up 23 points), while positive ratings have simultaneously dropped nine points. Somewhat negative in 2011, Mexican opinion thus has hardened dramatically to lean strongly negative in 2012, similarly to all other OECD countries surveyed.

In China, while negative ratings remain high (46%), positive ratings have dropped nine points (29%). A similar 9-point drop has occurred in India, shifting the country from being divided in 2011 to leaning negative this year (18% vs 29%).

Respondents in a handful of countries have softened their views on Iran, especially in South America; the proportion of negative ratings has decreased in the three countries surveyed (62% in Brazil, down 13 points; 41% in Chile and Peru, down 8 and 6 points, respectively). Brazil also displays an increase in positive ratings (15%, up eight points). The pattern is similar in Sub-Saharan Africa: significant decreases in negative views have occurred in Ghana (22%, down 24 points) and in Kenya (47%, down 10 points), the latter of which has increased its proportion of positive views by 12 points (29%). Forty percent of Nigerians rate Iran positively — the largest proportion to do so for Iran this year — experiencing an 18-point increase since 2011, thereby coming close to the stable 48 percent plurality that holds unfavorable views.

Those in neighboring Pakistan continue to lean positive (38% vs. 28%) despite a 10-point rise in negative ratings. While Indonesians’ opinions of Iran have been divided since 2008 — except in 2011, where it leaned somewhat negative (35% vs 40%) — Indonesia has finally shifted to lean firmly positive in 2012 (38% vs 24%). However, this is not true in another Muslim country, Egypt, where perceptions are much more unfavorable: positive views are stable (27%) while negative ratings went up 12 points (44%).

Globally, among those who rated Iran’s influence in the world negatively, four in ten (40%) mentioned the foreign policy of Tehran as the top reason to justify their negative rating, while 31 percent pointed at how the regime treats its own people.

A total of 24,090 citizens across 22 countries were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 6, 2011, and February 17, 2012. The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 2.9 to 4.9 percent, 19 times out of 20.