Interpreting approval ratings of two global powers
By Harvey Dzodin
Many people, myself included, have felt in their gut that Donald Trump's neo-isolationism and erratic "leadership" has done profound damage to America's longstanding position at the pinnacle of the world in his first tumultuous year in office. Now we have two just-released methodologically-sound research studies that objectively confirm this shocking freefall, with much of the benefit inuring to China's benefit.
Last January during a state visit to Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, Chinese President Xi Jinping said: "countries have the right to development, but they should view their own interests in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others." He also said that "no one will emerge as the winner in a trade war." Contrast this with the remarks of President Donald Trump less than a week later at his inauguration: "From this day forward, it's going to be only America first." To show that he was serious about de-globalization and neo-isolationism, shortly thereafter Trump not only pulled out of the hard-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership but also withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords.
Tourists visit the Qianmen Street, a landmark commercial street, in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 5, 2017.[Photo: Xinhua]
In the span of that week, the torch of world leadership and the championing of multinationalism and globalization held high by two generations of American leaders of both political parties started to pass from the US to China and other nations. The shift has been jaw-dropping! What a difference a year makes.
For more than seven decades the Gallup Organization has been asking Americans about the approval ratings of our country’s CEO. It’s the gold standard in modern political metrics. Over a decade ago they decided to also ask people in over 130 countries the same question. “Rating World Leaders: The US vs Germany, China and Russia” released last week is the most recent iteration.
How the mighty have fallen! The median global approval rating of Trump’s job performance across 134 countries plummeted to 30%, the lowest point since Gallup began tracking this measure. This is down nearly 20% from the 48% approval rating in President Obama’s final year, and shockingly even four points less than the previous low of 34% in the last year of President George W. Bush. Approval of Trump’s leadership fell the most among allies and partners in the Americas and Europe.
Out of 134 countries, Trump’s approval ratings fell by 10% or more in 65 countries that include many longtime American allies and partners. Trump’s approval increased 10 points or more in just four countries: Belarus, Israel, Macedonia, and Liberia. And I suspect in the latter, and all of Africa where Trump’s ratings were lower than for any US administration since Gallup started tracking them in 2007, his recent crude and racist remarks made after the poll was conducted will further soil Trump’s ratings.
Last month Trump named China and Russia as competitors in his National Security Strategy. China’s approval rating is essentially even with the US at 31% and only slightly higher than Russia’s 26%.
Disapproval of Trump’s leadership increased almost as much as his approval level declined. Trump’s 43% median disapproval ratings were up 15% from the previous year, a new record, not only for the US, but for any other major global power Gallup asked about in the past decade. US disapproval ratings were higher than median disapproval of Germany’s 25%, China’s 30% or Russia’s 36%.
Last week also saw corroborating evidence in the release of the 2016-2017 survey jointly conducted by the Center for International Communication Studies under the China International Publishing Group, and Kantar Millward Brown & Lightspeed. A total of 11,000 respondents from 22 countries located in Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania shared their view on China. There is a host of findings but some highlights demonstrate China’s generally increasing image in the world.
China scores 6.22 on the 10-point system of its overall image, maintaining a slight upward curve in recent years. Overseas youth aged 18-35 had the best impressions of China, compared with those aged 36-50 and 51-65.
Regarding its participation in global governance, the international community thought highly of China in the fields of science and technology (65%), economy (64%) and culture (57%). Compared with developed countries, developing countries had a better impression of China’s performance in all aspects of global governance, as did overseas youth compared with older people.
In 2014, only 6% of the overseas respondents had heard of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) but 18% had done so in the latest survey but the figure was considerably higher in countries situated along the routes. Most of the respondents thought that the Initiative is significant to their countries and themselves, to regional and global economies, and to global governance. Those in developing countries and the youth welcomed the Initiative more. Due to its scope and global importance, significant work needs to be done however to make BRI more universally known.
Personally, I don't think that Trump and Trumpism will be around for too long. After that, I believe that America will recoup many of its losses. The vacuum which has been filled by China and others, however, will never be fully reclaimed.
(Dr. Harvey Dzodin serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization)