People worldwide have given U.S. political leadership the highest approval rating of the five major global powers – while Russia’s leadership is in the cellar. That’s according to Gallup’s latest rating of world leaders based on interviews with 1,000 people each in 136 countries.
President Obama’s median approval rating was 45 percent, or roughly what it was a year earlier. Russian President Vladimir Putin earned a lowly 22 percent rating. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders were close behind the U.S., at 41 percent and 39 percent respectively, while China’s leadership was stuck at 29 percent.
The 23-point gap between Presidents Obama and Putin is hardly surprising given Russia’s recent aggressive diplomatic and military actions. Its invasion and annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine in late 2013 triggered economic sanctions while its sponsorship of violent Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad alienated many in the Middle East.
Obama, by contrast, has enjoyed solid global approval since 2009, despite sharp subsequent criticism of his handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and his weak response to the Syrian civil war.
In recent years the U.S. has typically received the highest approval ratings and Russia the lowest, Gallup says. “But what the trend line does not show is that countries affiliated with the West, particularly NATO countries, soured on Russia dramatically,” the analysis stated. “At the same time, Russians and people in many of its former republics – chiefly Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – all felt much more negatively about the leadership of the U.S., the EU and Germany.”
An irony of the Gallup findings is that while the U.S. is widely hailed internationally for its political leadership, only 35 percent of Americans surveyed last year approved of Obama’s performance, while 68 percent of Russians said they approved of the way Putin was handling his job.
Jon Clifton, managing director of Gallup World Poll, described the contrasting perceptions of Obama and Putin at home and abroad as a perplexing “Tale of Two Presidents.” While Putin roiled the globe with his military action in Ukraine last year, he basked in the glow of the Winter Olympic Games in Russia that elevated his profile at home and abroad. Despite problems, the Russian economy was still doing relatively well just before oil prices hit an historic low and cut deeply.
What’s more, former Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a foreign policy expert who participated in Gallup’s press conference on Tuesday announcing the findings, said Putin’s foray into Ukraine gained in popularity among average Russians because it stirred their nationalistic instincts.
Russia’s ratings plummeted by 10 percentage points or more in 21 countries, nine of which are members of NATO, according to Gallup. “He [Putin] really couldn’t care less whether he’s doing well with the rest of the world,” Lugar said.
Long-standing partisan and ideological differences in the U.S. have colored Americans’ views of Obama’s leadership and contributed to a lengthy slump in his domestic popularity that only began improving after the 2014 election. A new CNN/ORC poll of some 1,000 American adults shows Obama’s approval rating moving in a positive direction: Optimism about the economy is at its highest point in nearly eight years. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said they approve of how he’s handling his job, while 47 percent disapprove.
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