Starting in 2007, Gallup began looking at how 134 countries rate world leadership. The latest results show the U.S. registering low marks. Yet our leadership is most popular in the Muslim country Kosovo. Jon Clifton of Gallup has some possible reasons.
Sharyl: When you ask people how they feel about US leadership, does that mean our leaders in particular like Congress and the President or does that mean the actions we take on the global stage?
Jon Clifton: They usually have the leader of the country in mind. So we've actually done testing in countries around the world and we've said, how do you feel about Trump or in the past we've asked how do you feel about Obama and they highly statistically correlate.
Sharyl: What are the trends?
Jon Clifton: The trends are not very good for the United States. So two years ago, 48% of people around the world said that they approved the job performance to the leadership of the United States.
Sharyl: Would that have been President Obama?
Jon Clifton: That would have been President Obama. Over the past years though, they've virtually collapsed. And now 31% of people say that they approve of the job performance of the United States. And that puts us on par if not slightly behind China's leadership and slightly above Russia’s leadership.
Sharyl: Is there any way to know what it is about our leadership in particular that they don't like or is it just the mention of the president?
Jon Clifton: I think if you asked someone in the Trump administration what exactly is going on is they would say, this is a byproduct of “America First” policy, which is we want to do what's right, not necessarily what's popular, and so whether it's re-negotiating trade agreements or breaking with climate change or the deal with Iran, they believe that that's something that's right and not necessarily popular.
Sharyl: Who is the most well regarded leadership in the world according to your poll?
Jon Clifton: The country with the highest approval ratings in the world comes in at about 38%, which is Germany. And Germany has had among the highest approval ratings over the past two years. But America had the highest approval ratings over about an eight year period of time when Obama was in office.
Sharyl: And who's at the bottom?
Jon Clifton: The bottom is Russia. And Russia's just one point below the United States. 30% of people around the world say that they approved the leadership of, of Russia.
Sharyl: According to your polling, which countries like us the most?
Jon Clifton: So the country where America receives its highest approval ratings is Kosovo. 80% of people in Kosovo say they approve of the job performance of the leadership of the United States. One of the reasons that that might be true is because the day in 2008, after Kosovo declared independence, America recognized that independence the day after. So that might be one of the reasons.
Sharyl: Where are we the least popular?
Jon Clifton: So a few countries where were the least popular? One is Iran. So two years ago, just less than 20% of people said that they approved of the job performance. That collapsed down to 8% most recently. You could probably be mostly attribute that to us leaving the Iran deal.
Sharyl: Should we here in the US care about what the rest of the world thinks about our leadership?
Jon Clifton: There’s a lot of research that says we should care about what people around the world thinks about US leadership. And this is a concept known as soft power, which has been popularized by a Harvard academic, Joseph Knight. And what that concept means is that if hard power is our economic and our military might then soft power is this sort of power where people go along with you, not because they have to, but because they want to. Another thing that was found by a researcher at Berkeley recently using Gallup’s world poll data was, he found that when leaders are unpopular, it also impacts trade. So over Obama's eight years in his administration— trade dropped after Trump came into office. Now that could be attributed to the trade wars, but he attributed to our, he attributes it to our own popularity.
Clifton points out that low popularity isn’t entirely a bad thing. He says doing what's right isn't always popular and that President Trump's America First foreign policy is intended to benefit America, not make the country more popular.