A nationalistic Japanese person pointed me to a survey on perceptions of various countries on each other, and that Germany had the most negative views about South Korea out of all of the countries surveyed.

The survey can be seen at PDF, and South Korea is on page 33.

Germany has 17% mainly positive, and 65% mainly negative, views on South Korea.

By comparison, Japan, which has had the Liancourt Rocks and the Comfort Women issues argued about in recent times, has 19% mainly positive and 28% mainly negative views on South Korea.

Are polls about public opinion by various countries about other countries reliable? If so, why does Germany have particularly negative views on South Korea?

  • 3
    Reliable in what way? It has been shown that the way a question is asked can have considerable impact on the results of the poll. And since it is an aggragate there is no way of knowing why people have such negative views based on the general poll alone. Aug 29, 2013 at 13:43
  • I think this is an excellent question Aug 29, 2013 at 14:02
  • 21
    never attribute to malice what could be adequately explained by stupidity. I'd not be surprised if polled people simply mistook South Korea for North Korea.
    – user4012
    Aug 29, 2013 at 14:32
  • 3
    @DVK I wonder if people from East Germany or West Germany made that mistake? :) FWIW, North Korea is on page 35, and according to page 6, was asked in a different set of questions from South Korea. Aug 29, 2013 at 23:08
  • 3
    @AndrewGrimm - ex-commies tend to be more politically astute, so I'd guess West was more likely to make the mistake :)
    – user4012
    Aug 30, 2013 at 2:38

5 Answers 5


Unfortunately, your link 404’s. Equally unfortunately, I have not found any helpful statistics in a quick Google search.

In my experience as a German, however, South Korea is not seen particularly negatively (and was not at the time the question was posted). If I had to brainstorm words I connect with South Korea that would probably be East Asia, exotic, economy, high-tech or similar. It is not seen as a particularly bad place, if you go there on holidays it’s seen as practically no different from going to Japan instead and so on.

To put this in perspective, Japan is probably seen similar in most regards while China is seen somewhat more negatively for being a dictatorship, for attempting industrial espionage, for Tiananmen and so on and so forth – irrespective of whether any of these views are substantiated. All three of these, however, are pretty far away so all public perception is somewhat weak – quite unlike the European neighbours on whom we typically have rather strong and lasting perceptions or prejudice.

  • The problem of anecdotical information in this situation is that there a lot of variability about what one knows about foreign countries. Globally, your perception is pretty accurate, in the sense that South Korea and Japan are quite similar (as similar as France and Gemany for example, or France and the UK) and they could be good partners if it was not for a difficult history. But other people may have different visions about South Korea. Source: I am French living in South Korea.
    – Taladris
    May 13, 2019 at 0:00
  • 6
    @Taladris And I tried to capture that little is known about these faraway countries in Germany altogether. On the other hand, to a German France and the UK are seen rather differently and with much more background knowledge just because they’re close.
    – Jan
    May 13, 2019 at 6:47
  • It is the survey by BBC and you can see the result here.
    – Blaszard
    May 13, 2019 at 18:59
  • @Blaszard Thanks for giving me a non-404 link. Now that I can see the entire survey, I might add a different answer because I noticed a different pattern in the results which questions the assertions made by the nationalistic Japanese person even more.
    – Jan
    May 14, 2019 at 3:50

South Korea is a very aggressive exporter, particularly cars, electronics, steel, and shipbuilding, which Germany is often competing against. Were one to look at the arguments between Samsung and Apple, for instance, one sees individual companies operating aggressively, and when the lawsuits start flying, 'unfairly'. There are a number of experiences within the US where a Korean employer instructed American recruiters 'not to hire blacks' - blatantly illegal. Other Korean companies use their workers in ways that the European Union in general would not tolerate. One can go on to recruiting/resume sites in the US where current and former employees of various companies rate their employers - often companies with Korean ownership get bad marks. Quite likely this is due to the behavior for SK companies operating in Germany, particularly in their relationships with German unions.


Are polls about public opinion by various countries about other countries reliable?

Trying to answer this question as a mathematician with training in probability and statistics (but not a professional statistician, nor a political scientist).

Note first that the figures are about countries' influence, which is different from the country itself. Some countries are really bad places with awful leaders but have no influence on world politics. On the other hand, most people would consider the USA as a fine country (there is no secret why so many people want to emigrate there) but you can easily find people that think American intervention has bad consequences.

That said, let's have a look at how the poll was conducted (all quotes from the source in the OP):

A total of 26,299 citizens across 25 countries were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 10, 2012, and April 9, 2013. Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country, together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. Countries were rated by half samples in all countries polled except for Egypt, India, Japan, and Poland.

This means that in average about a thousand people per country were interviewed during the study. Countries were rated by half samples in most cases. I guess you can still make relatively accurate estimations, if the sample is well-chosen, that is randomized. My main concern is that there may be biases in the sampling:

  1. Availability bias, since only people that could be reached on the phone, or have time for interviews are participating in the study. This is known to introduce a bias in the socio-economical structure and demographic structure of the sample.

  2. Volunteering bias: the study is based on people agreeing to answer the questions, and it is known this can introduce biases. People with strong opinions are more likely to accept to answer.

How important is the bias depends on how the study was done concretely: how many time did they call households? Who in the house did they interrogate? When did they call? How long was the interview (1)? Where and in which conditions?...

I am not saying that the study is biased. For example, the availability bias could be compensated by keeping track of the age, gender, education level, socio-economical level of the respondent, and trying to get a sample that matches the composition of the general population for these variables. But this method does not eliminate any possible bias or confounding variable, as well as being able to pick a uniform random sample from the population. Not sure how well this study can be generalized to the whole population.

In six of the 25 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas.

That's another potential bias. The demographics of urban areas and rural areas are often very different. Also, people from these areas often have different political opinions. The gap between cities and country was obvious during Donald Trump's election, during the vote for Brexit,...

The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 3.0 to 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

That sounds quite large. I don't know the error margin people usually find acceptable in political science but it would be way too large in other sciences like medical science.

The last point is the question " Please tell me if you think each of the following countries is having a mainly positive or mainly negative influence in the world." which may be a bit open to interpretation. I leave to experts in political science the task to discuss the meaning of "neutral influence".

(1) From the questions, I guess the interview was quite short. I guess "face-to-face interview" here means interrogating random passers-by in the streets.

  • I’ll note that voting opinion polls conducted prior to votes in Germany usually report an error range of ±3 % usually based on 1000–3000 interviews. So 3 % seems acceptable in political sciences in at least some cases.
    – Jan
    May 13, 2019 at 6:51

Thankfully, a commentator provided a non-404’ing link to the study in the comments to my previous answer. Studying it gives some interesting insights that, in my opinion, are sufficient to open another answer with a different general tone.

As a zeroth point, the survey actually asked for the perception on a country’s influence in the world. The text the interviewers read reads:

Please tell me if you think each of the following countries is having a mainly positive or mainly negative influence in the world.

The answers mainly positive and mainly negative were offered but participants could also choose to answer depends, don’t know and neither/neutral if they so chose.

Thus, the results are not a perception of the country but rather of that country’s influence on the world; a small but possibly important decision. However, back to the main point.

The study itself focused on the country that was being rated and listed how different countries’ populations thought of the rated country. This was condensed into a rated average. However taking a look at the results I immediately noticed that another view should be considered: that focusing on the rating countries.

Results were collected from 25 countries, I identified 11 countries which were both rated and rating countries (China, India, the UK, Japan, the USA, Germany, Canada, France, Brazil, South Korea and Russia). In Brazil and China the survey was conducted by in-person interviews in cities, in all other countries a randomized telephone survey was used. From across these 11 countries, I checked the average values for positive and negative influence that were given to the other ten countries in the sample. (So for Germany, the average across their perception of China, India, the UK, Japan, the USA, Canada, France, Brazil, South Korea and Russia.)

Country      +    0    -
USA          53   16   31
France       52   11   37
UK           51   15   34
South Korea  50   20   30
Canada       48   18   34
Brazil       45   32   23
Russia       41   42   18
China        38   27   35
Japan        33   52   15
India        31   50   19
Germany      28   30   42

The survey’s results are presented by geographic region followed by decreasing approval; for this table I chose to use only decreasing approval. The central, ‘neutral’ column is actually 100 % minus positive and negative responses and thus also encompasses depends and don’t know.

It is immediately obvious that in Germany, on average, only 28 % of people thought an other country had a positive influence in the world while a negative influence was seen by 42 % of people on average. With these numbers, Germany has both the lowest ‘positive’ responses and the highest ‘negative’ ones. By contrast, in Japan only 15 % of people would respond that a country had a negative influence in the world—the lowest number across all countries. This does not coincide with the highest positive-response average which belongs to the respondents from the United States.

Obviously, these results are not fully comparable. Public opinion and government are very different in China and Russia compared to most other countries. However, Germany, France and the UK are culturally, economically and politically very similar and should respond similarly; likewise one might assume that South Korea and Japan respond similarly where they clearly do not.

The numbers I have presented herein are only the most basic of any possible statistical analysis. I only have a basic knowledge of statistics, so digging deeper is certainly possible. However, even this crude analysis uncovers disparities that just looking at the per-country raw data suggested.

One obviously has to read the responses concerning a single country in the light of what the average response is. A 28 % negative response from Japanese on South Korea is unusually high—almost twice the average. A 65 % negative response from Germans on South Korea is not that exceptional. The same can be said about the positive responses. Conclusion: South Korea is seen much more negatively in Japan than in Germany upon closer inspection even if the raw numbers do not say that directly.


It seems that the Germans have a very negative opinion about all countries outside Western Europe and North America, including Brasil, India, China, Japan and Russia.

Their opinion about Japan and Brasil is the most negative of all European countries, and their opinion about Russia and India is the worst of all other polled countries.

  • 4
    Please provide sources. Sep 4, 2013 at 13:09
  • 1
    @Steve Melnikoff this is from the linked source.
    – Anixx
    Sep 4, 2013 at 15:33
  • 4
    OK, but this doesn't answer the question, regarding the reliability of such polls, and the reasons for Germany's views. Sep 5, 2013 at 11:16

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