Putin and Xi Outrank Trump in Global Confidence Poll

Merkel and Macron come out far ahead in a new Pew Research survey.

Chinese President Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and U.S. President Donald Trump pose with other Asian leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam on Nov. 11, 2017.
(Jorge Silva/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese President Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and U.S. President Donald Trump pose with other Asian leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam on Nov. 11, 2017. (Jorge Silva/AFP/Getty Images)

Global opinion of U.S. President Donald Trump has sunk so low that the world now appears to have more confidence in the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of some 26,000 people across 25 countries.  

The survey showcases the sharp decline in America’s image and standing abroad since Trump took office nearly two years ago and began a series of unilateral trade wars and a campaign of harsh criticism of global institutions, including the United Nations.

When asked about their confidence in specific world leaders to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” a median of 30 percent of respondents across the surveyed countries expressed confidence in Putin, compared to only 27 percent who had confidence in Trump.

Both Trump and Putin lagged behind Xi, who came in at 34 percent. And other prominent world leaders ranked far ahead of those three, among them French President Emmanuel Macron, who was rated favorably by a median of 46 percent of respondents, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in whom 52 percent expressed confidence.

A median of 70 percent of respondents across the 25 countries surveyed said they have no confidence in Trump. Strikingly, however, that has not translated directly into a lack of support for the United States. A median of 63 percent among all countries preferred the United States as the world leader, while only 19 percent preferred China.

The poll comes as Trump nears his two-year mark in the Oval Office, an era defined by a U.S. retreat from multilateralism abroad and dramatic chaos within, from top advisors being indicted on criminal charges to Cabinet members being sacked on Twitter. As he grows more comfortable in the role of president, Trump also appears to be doubling down on controversial stances on trade and defense that have alienated some allies, as well as leaning more heavily on foreign-policy aides who reinforce his own instincts—such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and policy advisor Stephen Miller—rather than ones who put a check on them, namely former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump’s performance last week at the U.N. General Assembly, an annual meeting of the world’s top leaders and diplomats, exemplified many of the results of the survey. Macron, Merkel, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, and other Western leaders panned Trump’s fiery speech before the U.N. in which he outlined his world vision, bashing multilateral institutions, a rigged global trade system, and “globalism.” At one point during the speech, when Trump bragged he accomplished more in his first two years than any other U.S. president in history, the audience of foreign diplomats erupted into laughter.

All the while, the world was watching.

According to the Pew poll, U.S. standing has taken hits across the world. But the decline is most stark in Canada and Europe, which have borne the brunt of Trump’s brash public tirades and fierce diplomatic fights including trade policies and the Iran nuclear deal. In Germany, for example, 80 percent of respondents said bilateral relations with the United States have gotten worse over the past year, and only 4 percent believed they have improved. Among the 10 European Union countries surveyed, a median of 82 percent said they have no confidence in Trump to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Plummeting U.S. popularity in Europe is music to Putin’s ears, said Andrea Kendall-Taylor of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank. She noted that some countries in Central Europe, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, have begun cozying up to Russia as U.S. influence and stature in Europe wanes. “This is exactly what the Russians and President Putin would hope for,” she said.

One distinct outlier in the poll is Israel, where confidence in the U.S. president’s leadership has shot up from 49 percent in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama to 69 percent in 2018 under Trump. Over half of Israelis said the United States is doing more to address global challenges, even while much of the rest of the world, particularly Canada and Western Europe, believe the United States is doing less.

Since he has taken office, Trump has elicited Israeli support by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and cutting aid to the Palestinians, among other moves.

Despite a plunge in confidence for the United States, other countries are still pushing through major foreign-policy measures with Trump. Canada and Mexico are case in point: On Monday, Trump announced the three countries reached a deal to revamp NAFTA in a breakthrough after over a year of grinding negotiations. But the deal came after Trump spent the 2016 campaign and much of his presidency criticizing both Mexico and Canada; in Canada, favorability of the U.S. president has plummeted from 83 percent under Obama in 2016 to 25 percent under Trump in 2018, and in Mexico it dropped from 49 percent to 6 percent.

The 25 countries surveyed were: Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Israel, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

Richard Wike, the director of global attitudes research at Pew, said in a phone interview that the polling process took roughly a year and the questions were fielded to participants over the summer, from May through August.

Besides the low favorability ratings for Trump, another clear trend line emerged from the poll: As favorability of the United States under Trump dwindles, China’s power and prominence is on the rise. A median of 70 percent of the survey respondents said Beijing plays a more important role in the world than 10 years ago, while only 8 percent believed the United States does.

China’s rising power “is something that registering with average citizens around the world pretty clearly,” Wike said. “It isn’t only registering with elites and those who follow on foreign policy anymore.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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