As Obama Years Draw to Close, President and U.S. Seen Favorably in Europe and Asia
2. Obama’s international image remains strong in Europe and Asia
U.S. President Barack Obama’s ratings in key European and Asian countries remain robust. Overall, around half or more in 15 of 16 countries surveyed, including the United States, have confidence in him to do the right thing regarding world affairs. This includes more than 80% in Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Australia. Trust in Obama has stayed strong throughout his two terms as U.S. president.
Along with Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives relatively high marks from publics in Europe. By contrast, relatively few in either Europe or Asia express confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing when it comes to foreign policy.
Between the two presumptive U.S. presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton fares better than Donald Trump in the eyes of overseas publics. Confidence in Clinton to handle world affairs is generally high. By comparison, few trust Trump to do the right thing when it comes to foreign policy.
In Europe and Asia, Obama seen as capable leader
In Europe, majorities in nine of 10 countries surveyed express confidence in Obama’s ability to handle international issues, including fully 93% in Sweden and 91% in the Netherlands. Only the Greeks have a negative opinion of the U.S. leader (58% little or no confidence).
While nearly eight-in-ten British citizens (79%) express confidence in Obama, the U.S. president likely did not help his standing by visiting the UK and urging the British to remain in the EU. That visit occurred during the fielding of our survey, and we found that whereas 83% of British had confidence in Obama prior to his appearance in Britain, after his public remarks just 69% shared this view – a drop of 14 percentage points.
Obama also enjoys high ratings from Canadians (83%) and Australians (84%). Elsewhere in Asia, the U.S. president is viewed positively by majorities in Japan (78%) and India (58%). Even in China, 52% have confidence in his abilities to handle international affairs.
Since Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Europeans have generally held him in high regard. And while confidence in Obama has slipped in some instances, his ratings have remained relatively high in key European countries. This contrasts with his predecessor, George W. Bush, who suffered negative ratings in many European countries from the start of the Iraq War in 2003 to the end of his term in 2008.
While confidence in Obama has been consistently strong across major European allies, Chinese assessments have been more volatile. Although today most Chinese express trust in Obama, only a few years ago this was not the case. Greeted by majority approval when he first took office in 2009, Chinese confidence slipped to just 31% in 2013 – with 46% expressing little or no confidence in the U.S. leader. Since 2013, Chinese attitudes toward Obama have again turned more positive than negative.
There are no consistent demographic or ideological differences in attitudes toward Obama’s role on the world stage.
However, American views divide sharply along partisan lines: 92% of Democrats have confidence in Obama’s ability to handle international affairs compared with only 21% of Republicans. Independents, on balance, have confidence in Obama (54%).
Mixed views of Merkel in Europe
Europeans hold wide-ranging opinions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On one end of the spectrum, vast majorities in Sweden (84% confident), the Netherlands (83%), Germany (73%) and France (71%) trust her to deal with world affairs. And a 59% majority in the UK also agrees.
On the other hand, opinions of Merkel are decidedly negative in southern and eastern Europe, with majorities having little or no confidence in her international abilities in Greece (89% no confidence), Hungary (63%), Italy (59%), Spain (57%) and Poland (55%).
In every European country surveyed, there is more confidence in U.S. President Obama than in Merkel to handle world affairs, including in her home country of Germany.
Opinions of Merkel have declined since 2014 in several countries surveyed in both 2014 and 2016. This drop is most notable in Poland, where confidence has fallen 17 percentage points over the past two years – from 50% to 33%. Sentiment in Britain has also dropped, from 69% in 2014 to 59% today.
Putin seen negatively in many countries
People surveyed in Europe and Asia generally have a negative opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This includes more than eight-in-ten in Spain (88%), Sweden (87%), Poland (86%) and the Netherlands (84%), which have little or no confidence in the Russian leader’s handling of international affairs. Likewise, Putin is mistrusted by most in Australia (70% no confidence), Japan and Canada (both 65%).
Only in Greece and China (both 53%) do more than half have a positive impression of Putin’s role on the world stage.
As with Merkel, confidence in Putin is lower than that for Obama in almost every country surveyed. The rare exceptions are Greece, where Putin enjoys more confidence than Obama, and China, where assessments of Putin and Obama are roughly the same.
In the past year, ratings for Putin did rise marginally in five countries for which trend data are available. This includes a 13-point increase in Italy and an 8-point increase in Germany. Nonetheless, levels of trust in Putin still trail those of President Obama and Chancellor Merkel in both Italy and Germany.
Despite low overall ratings, Putin has stronger appeal among men. In 13 countries polled, men are more likely than women to have confidence in the Russian president. For example, in the Netherlands, 21% of men have a lot or some confidence in Putin, compared with only 8% of Dutch women. Gender differences do not significantly influence views of either Obama or Merkel.
Divergent views of Chinese President Xi
Public attitudes toward Chinese President Xi Jinping vary greatly in Asian countries where we posed the question. In Japan, opinion is decidedly negative: 79% have little or no confidence in Xi, compared with just 12% who trust him. Meanwhile, attitudes are split in Australia, where the share supporting Xi (39%) roughly equals the proportion that does not trust him (37%). Most people in India (64%) do not have an opinion of Xi, despite overtures from China over the past few years to bring the countries closer together. Xi gets much lower confidence ratings than the U.S. president in all three Asian countries surveyed.
Clinton finds support in Europe
Having served as secretary of state from 2009 to early 2013, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton receives positive support in most of the countries surveyed in Europe and Asia. This includes 83% in Sweden who have confidence in her ability to deal with world affairs and 79% who say this in Germany. Overall, half or more in seven of the 10 EU countries surveyed have confidence in Clinton, although many in Hungary and Poland express no opinion. Clinton receives her worst marks from Greece, where 78% have little or no confidence in her ability to handle world affairs.
Clinton also gets positive marks from Canadians (60% confidence) and Australians (70%), as well as from the Japanese (70%). Views of her among the Chinese are mixed, with 37% saying they have confidence in her, 35% saying they do not have confidence and 28% with no opinion. And in India, a majority (56%) has no opinion of the former secretary of state.
Since 2008, when Clinton was also running for the Democratic nomination against then-Sen. Obama, views of her have improved in many of the countries where trends are available. This includes double-digit increases in Japan (up 23 percentage points), the UK (+17), Spain (+17), Germany (+13), China (+13) and France (+12).
Additionally, older people in many of the countries surveyed have a more positive opinion of her than do youths. For example, 83% of Dutch ages 50 and older have confidence in her ability to handle world affairs, compared with 67% of Dutch ages 18-34.
This age gap also appears in Germany (+21 oldest to youngest), France (+19), Sweden (+16), Australia (+15) and Canada (+10). However, in China, the age gap is reversed, though this might be on account of 40% of Chinese ages 50 and older who have no opinion of the former secretary of state.
Trump inspires little to no confidence in Europe and Asia
Less than a quarter of people across all 15 countries surveyed express confidence in Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. president. In fact, overwhelming majorities in most of the countries surveyed have little or no confidence in his ability to handle international affairs. This includes 92% of Swedes, 89% of Germans, 88% of Dutch and 85% of both the French and British. This distaste is especially strong in Sweden, where 82% have no confidence at all in him.
Among people in Poland and Hungary, views of Trump also tend to be negative, although many people do not offer an opinion in these countries.
Most Australians (87%), Canadians (80%) and Japanese (82%) also lack confidence in Trump. In China, there is a split between those who have no confidence in Trump (40%) and those who do not offer an opinion (39%). And in India, 67% do not offer an opinion.
In Europe, positive opinions about Trump vary by political party support in many nations. For example, in Italy, supporters of Forza Italia, a center-right party founded by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (who, like Trump, is independently wealthy), show more confidence in Trump (31% confidence) than do followers of the country’s Democratic Party (15%). Trump also receives greater support among those Italians who have a favorable view of the anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic Lega Nord party.
And in the UK, followers of the Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant party UKIP are also much more likely to voice confidence in Trump (30%) than those who follow the Conservative (13%) or Labour (8%) parties. However, it should be noted that while confidence for Trump is higher among these groups, it still represents very low levels of confidence in the presumptive GOP candidate.
Higher levels of confidence in Trump among Euroskeptic and anti-immigrant parties extend to other countries as well. In Germany, for example, people who have a favorable view of Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right-wing and increasingly anti-immigrant party, are more likely to have confidence in Trump (19%), compared with those Germans with an unfavorable view of AfD (3%). And in Hungary, people who have a favorable view of Jobbik, a far-right nationalist party, are more likely to have confidence in Trump (28%) compared with those who have an unfavorable opinion of Jobbik (17%).
Additionally, positive views of Trump are tied to confidence in another international leader tested: Russian President Vladimir Putin. In all the countries surveyed with a large enough sample size to permit analysis, people who have confidence in Putin are more likely to express confidence in Trump. For instance, among those in Italy who have confidence in Putin to handle world affairs, 44% express confidence in Donald Trump. Meanwhile, among Italians who express little or no confidence in Putin, only 12% have confidence in Trump.
Sanders and Cruz not well-known
Because the survey was fielded halfway through the U.S. presidential campaign (April to May) when the race on both sides was far from over, it included confidence ratings of two other candidates: Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Ted Cruz. While many people expressed no opinion of either one, there were some exceptions.
In Canada, 57% had confidence in Sanders’ ability to handle international affairs – as did 51% in Sweden, 46% in Australia and 45% in the Netherlands. On the other hand, 56% in Spain, 46% in France and 45% in Greece had little or no confidence in Sanders’ foreign policy acumen.
Cruz, who is also not well known in the countries surveyed, receives less favorable ratings than Sanders. In no nation polled did more than a third of the public have confidence in Cruz to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs. Cruz received especially poor marks for foreign policy from the Spanish (57% little or no confidence) and the Swedes (55%).
Views of the U.S. campaign mixed in Asia and Canada
In Australia and Canada, overwhelming majorities had a negative impression of the U.S. presidential campaign as it stood in late spring. This includes 75% of Australians and 69% of Canadians who say the U.S. campaign was perceived negatively. In Japan, results are mixed, with 44% having a positive opinion of the campaign and 39% holding a negative impression. However, pluralities in China (45%) and India (42%) have a positive impression of the U.S. election.