June 14, 2018
Make new friends but keep the old” is not a plan that U.S. President Donald Trump adhered to over the past week. During the G7 meeting in Quebec with the nation’s oldest and closest allies, Trump underscored the deep disagreements on trade and the environment between his administration and those of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. He departed while still sparring on Twitter with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; and followed that combative face-off with a handshake in Singapore with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un, whom he characterized afterward as “funny with a good personality” and “intelligent.” In other words, his new best friend.
A review of available Gallup data underscores a massive attitudinal imbalance. Americans are very positive about their fellow G7 nations. Residents living in G7 nations, by contrast, have become very negative about U.S. leadership after Trump’s election.
The data do not make for a perfect comparison. The latest update on American attitudes toward other countries comes from Gallup’s annual World Affairs poll, which did not include Italy as one of the countries ranked. The latest update on world attitudes toward the United States come from 2017, and answers a question that asks about U.S. leadership, not the nation as a whole.
Still, the contrast is notable. Well over eight in 10 Americans had a favorable opinion about the five G7 countries tested in Gallup’s survey this year—Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Germany and France. In fact, these five countries make up five of the six most positively evaluated countries on the overall list of 22 countries included in the survey. (Norway came in fourth on the list, with 85% favorable opinion; Gallup last asked about Italy in February 2003, at which time 80% had a favorable opinion).
Canada, whose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was called “weak” and “dishonest” by Trump, was at the top of the list of all countries rated this year, with 94% of Americans saying they had a favorable opinion of their neighbor to the north.
However, even as Americans express positive admiration for the G7 nations, 2017 Gallup World Poll data show just how much the Trump administration’s “America First” approach has already chilled the affection many residents of these nations felt for the U.S. under Barack Obama’s leadership.
During Trump’s first year as president, worldwide approval of U.S. leadership dropped to a record-low 30%, with some of the heaviest losses coming from some of the country’s closest allies — including the six other countries in the G7.
Nowhere was this shift more apparent than in its G7 neighbor to the north and current target of Trump’s ire, Canada. On the heels of Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and with the future of NAFTA hanging in the balance, Canadians’ approval of U.S. leadership tumbled 40 percentage points from 60% in 2016 to 20% in 2017.
This is, however, similar to the previous low rating for the image of U.S. leadership on record in Canada: 22% set back in 2008 under George W. Bush.
The pattern was the same among G7 partners in Europe. After the U.S. administration abandoned the Paris climate accord and raised questions about the U.S. commitment to NATO, ratings of U.S. leadership also dropped precipitously among longtime allies and G7 countries France (28 points), the United Kingdom (26 points), Germany (21 points) and Italy (14 points).
But even with these drops, it’s important to note that none of the current lower U.S. leadership approval ratings in Europe is a new record low. Many ratings were similar if not worse during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration.
Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump have met scores of times in person and over the phone—and bonded over golf— the Japanese public has become less enamored with the leadership of the United States. Approval ratings dropped 16 percentage points in one year in Japan, with 31% approving of U.S. leadership at the time of the 2017 survey.
While not the lowest approval rating on record, for the first time since the latter years of the Bush administration, more Japanese disapprove (36%) of U.S. leadership than approve (31%).
All in all, it is clear that the alliances and partnerships that the U.S. has historically considered great strengths are evolving in an uneven environment — one in which the average American has very positive views of the other nations involved, and the average citizens of those nations have quite negative opinions of U.S. leadership.
The big question is what this imbalance means for the future, Gallup said, pointing out that, “In the post-World War II era, the U.S. has leaned on its many powerful partners to assist it in addressing issues beyond its borders time and again.”
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