The poor image persists even though the Bush administration has been promoting freedom and democracy throughout the world in recent months and has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in relief aid to Indian Ocean nations hit by the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami.
"It's amazing when you see the European public rating the United States so poorly, especially in comparison with China," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Eleven of the 16 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center — Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and Indonesia — had a more favorable view of China than the U.S.
India and Poland were more upbeat about the U.S., while Canadians are as likely to see China favorably as they were the United States.
The poll, which was released Thursday, found suspicion and wariness of the United States in many countries where people question the war in Iraq and are growing wary of the U.S.-led war on terror.
"The Iraq war has left an enduring impression on the minds of people around the world in ways that make them very suspicious of U.S. intentions and makes the effort to win hearts and minds far more difficult," said Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The overseas image of the United States slipped sharply after the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Pew polling found, and it has not rebounded in Western European countries like Britain, France, Germany and Spain. The U.S. image remains relatively poor in Muslim countries like Jordan and Pakistan, but has bounced back in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country which benefited from U.S. aid to tsunami victims, as well as in India and Russia.
"There is a general recognition that terrorism is a terrible problem that strikes home in countries all over the world," said John Danforth, the former Republican senator from Missouri who also was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"The position of the United States as the one surviving superpower is to be assertive in responding in a world of terrorism. But in the rest of the world, there is a great wariness about that," said Danforth, now a St. Louis attorney.
The poll found a positive reaction in European countries to President Bush's campaign for more democracy in countries around the world. People in Muslim countries were wary of the U.S. campaign, but supportive of the idea of democracy in their own countries.
Danforth said the attitudes in the Mideast about democracy were a bright spot.
"We should keep plugging away on democracy," he said. "But we need to do a better job of communicating what we're trying to do."
The survey found that a majority in most countries say the United States doesn't take the interests of other countries into account when making international policy decisions. It also found most would like to see another country get as much military power as the United States, though few want China to play that role. People in most countries were more inclined to say the war in Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place.
People in other countries who had unfavorable views of the United States were most likely to cite Mr. Bush as the reason rather than a general problem with America.
Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state when Bill Clinton was president, said big majorities of the public in these countries are discontented with President Bush "and say Bush's re-election has made them view the United States less favorably."
The polls were taken in various countries from late April to the end of May with samples of about 1,000 in most countries, with more interviews in India and China and slightly less than 1,000 in the European countries. The margin of sampling error ranged from 2 percentage points to 4 percentage points, depending on the sample size.