US Leadership, Commitment to Democracy Tumble Under Trump: Surveys

Print Email

Two new surveys released Thursday, one from Gallup and the other from Freedom House, offer global views on U.S. world leadership under President Donald Trump and the country’s long-time commitment to promoting and supporting democracy around the world. Both reveal sharp declines.

Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2018” survey shows a dip of 18% in approval of U.S. global leadership, from 48% in 2016 to 30% in 2017. That’s the lowest approval rating since Gallup’s first global leadership survey in 2007.

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization “dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world,” chides the United States and its president for being unable or unwilling “to lead democracies in effectively confronting the growing threat from Russia and China, and from the other states that have come to emulate their authoritarian approach.”

According to Gallup, Germany, with a leadership approval rating of 41%, replaced the United States as the top-rated global leader. China, with a rating of 31% also edged out the United States (30%), which managed only to get a higher rating than Russia (27%). These were the four choices respondents were asked to rank in every country surveyed.

U.S. leadership approval ratings declined by 10 percentage points or more in 65 counties, including such one-time friendlier countries like Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Leadership approval ratings rose by 10 points or more in just four countries: Belarus, Israel, Macedonia and Liberia.

In the Americas — North and South America, Canada and Mexico — leadership approval ratings were highest for Germany (31%), followed by China (28%) and the United States and Russia (tied with 24% each). Disapproval was highest for the United States (58%), followed by Russia (38%), China (35%) and Germany (29%). U.S. disapproval ratings in the Americas topped 40% in every country. The highest disapproval rating was posted in Canada (76%).

In Europe, approval of U.S. leadership fell from 44% in 2016 to 25% in 2017, while the disapproval rating rose from 36% to 56%. Russians and Icelanders are the most likely people in the world to disapprove of U.S. leadership, with an approval rating of just 8%. Only 13% of Norwegians approve of U.S. leadership, compared with 83% who disapprove. Germany (54%) gets the highest approval ratings in Europe, more than double second-place China (25%).

Approval ratings of U.S. leadership from Asian nations dropped from 38% in 2016 to 30% in 2017. Germany gets the highest approval rating (35%), followed by China (32%). Pakistan leads the U.S. disapproval ranking (76%), followed by the Palestinian Territories (72%) and New Zealand (71%).

U.S. leadership gets its overall highest approval score (51%) and its overall lowest disapproval score (21%) in Africa. On the approval side, China is a close second with 50% rating, followed by Germany (45%) and Russia (36%). China’s leadership gets the lowest disapproval score (15%), followed by Germany (17%). Russia’s disapproval score is 22%, only one point worse than the U.S. score.

Gallup cited Trump’s “America First” foreign policy as the key to the decline in America’s leadership role. Abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), withdrawing from the global climate agreement, threatening to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and insisting that Mexico pay for a border wall are instances of policies that rankled respondents.

In its report, “Freedom in the World,” Freedom House writes that democracy “finds itself battered and weakened” today and that the number of countries that suffered setbacks to democracy outnumbered those that registered gains for the 12th consecutive year. The report elaborates:

The retreat of democracies is troubling enough. Yet at the same time, the world’s leading autocracies, China and Russia, have seized the opportunity not only to step up internal repression but also to export their malign influence to other countries, which are increasingly copying their behavior and adopting their disdain for democracy. A confident Chinese president Xi Jinping recently proclaimed that China is “blazing a new trail” for developing countries to follow. It is a path that includes politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections.

The report also points to the further and faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards:

The United States has experienced a series of setbacks in the conduct of elections and criminal justice over the past decade—under leadership from both major political parties—but in 2017 its core institutions were attacked by an administration that rejects established norms of ethical conduct across many fields of activity. President Trump himself has mingled the concerns of his business empire with his role as president, appointed family members to his senior staff, filled other high positions with lobbyists and representatives of special interests, and refused to abide by disclosure and transparency practices observed by his predecessors.

According to Freedom House, of the 49 countries it designates as “Not Free,” the 12 worst are:

  • Syria
  • South Sudan
  • Eritrea
  • North Korea
  • Turkmenistan
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • Uzbekistan
  • Sudan
  • Central African Republic
  • Libya

Methodology: Gallup based its report on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults conducted between March and November 2017. In 134 countries or areas, residents were asked to rate U.S., German and Russian leadership, and residents in 135 countries or areas were asked to rate the leadership of China.