Since entering mainstream discourse, the term “soft power” has become more popular than ever. The last ten years has seen the emergence of a number of international polls that rank countries based on their soft power. These rankings have not just coincided with the rise in significance of soft power; they have actively shaped how the term is used and understood. Yet they remain unexamined. This article critically analyzes two of these polls: the Monocle Soft Power Survey and the Portland Soft Power 30 Ranking. While the analysis reveals substantial methodological flaws, this article ultimately concludes that these flaws are irrelevant. The polls neglect the broader context within which they sit and only partially engage with. Further, the polls overstate the primacy of the Western liberal order, while underplaying a creeping authoritarian threat at a time when liberal democracy is in peril. What is more, by recognizing and even celebrating the soft power gains of autocratic regimes, the polls give exposure and airtime to tyrants and autocracies, thereby legitimating them both domestically and overseas. The polls therefore demonstrate, inadvertently, that soft power has relevance beyond the West but do not recognize that it can be used strategically against the West for geopolitical gain. These polls have real-world consequences in shaping soft power at a time of both growing authoritarianism and liberal retreat, and, as such, they are implicated in the future and fate of Western democracy.

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