Western countries rank at the top of the Global Soft Power Index, an annual study from brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance.

The US took first place in the ranking, with its global influence undented despite US president Donald Trump’s unilateralism in international relations. With a Soft Power Index score of 67.1, the US scored five points higher than runner-up Germany.


Having pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iranian nuclear policy, the US ranked a lowly 28th for ‘climate action’ and 44th for ‘relations with other countries’. These shortcomings were outweighed by top scores in ‘familiarity and influence’, as well an unchanged ‘economic and socio-cultural pull’.

The UK ranked third in the index despite uncertainty around its withdrawal from the EU. The UK performed consistently across metrics, placing in the top five in media and communications, education and science, international relations and culture and heritage.

The enduring popularity of Queen Elizabeth II, the royal family and the commonwealth remain powerful symbols of UK soft power in what the index calls ‘familiarity and reputation’. 

Soft power in Asia is still led by Japan, which boasts strong brands, consumer spending and attraction of business investment. South Korea has also scored highly, especially in business and trade.

“Soft power transcends borders and builds bridges,” said the UN’s former general-secretary Ban Ki-Moon in a speech at Brand Finance’s inaugural Soft Power Summit 2020 in February. “K-pop music, Korean food, and Oscar-winning film Parasite are increasingly popular. Korean Wave has captivated foreign publics the world over.”

China and Russia witnessed a significant rise in the rankings, ranking in the overall top 10 countries thanks to high scores for influence. Nonetheless, their reputation still falls short, with China ranked 24th and Russia 26th. 

Chinese soft power is bolstered through its FDI and cultural expansion. The world’s second-largest economy has invested more than $100bn in infrastructure and development in more than 70 countries as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Tourism hotspots Italy and Spain ranked in the top 10 for familiarity, reflecting the importance of tourism, a key driver of soft power. Attracting more than 60 million tourists per year, Italy was ranked as the nation with the best cuisine and as third for high-quality brands.

Sweden, Demark, Norway and Finland all ranked in the top 10 for reputation and governance. The world’s perception of Nordic countries is favourable due to their continued efforts in climate change, social welfare and employees’ rights. Sweden ranked first in the climate-friendly ranking, in large part thanks to activist Greta Thunberg.

The Global Soft Power Index is a comprehensive research study that surveys more than 55,000 people from more than 100 countries. Those surveyed included experts as well as members of the general public. 

Soft power is defined as “the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction… the currency of soft power is culture, political views and foreign policies”.

The index ranks nations on familiarity, influence and reputation, and more specifically on business and trade, governance, international relations, culture and heritage, media and communications, education and science, and people and values.