Throughout his 2016 campaign and the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump made it clear again and again than unlike his globalist predecessors he’d be an “America First” president who didn’t care all that much what non-Americans thought of him and of Uncle Sam.
If he was inviting disdain from those non-Americans, it seems to be working. Gallup’s annual survey of global opinion toward the leadership of selected nations (the U.S., China, Russia, and Germany) showed a big slide in approval ratings for the U.S. since Trump took office. Though there are some bright spots, overall the world thinks even less of America under Trump than it did of America under the much-despised George W. Bush. And the deterioration of America’s prestige since Barack Obama left office is sharp and unmistakable.
Global approval ratings for the U.S. rose from a poor 37 percent in the last year of W.’s administration to 49 percent in Obama’s first year, then remained in the 40s (rising again to 48 percent in Obama’s last year) before plunging to 30 percent after a year of Trump.
Disapproval rates for the U.S. have changed accordingly, beginning at 34 percent in Bush’s last year and then dropping into the 20s throughout the Obama administration, and now spiking to 43 percent after year one under Trump.
If the U.S. was a domestic political candidate, this sudden dive “under water” in approval ratios would be alarming. If you value the esteem in which the nation is held globally as an asset worth a great deal in diplomatic leverage, it’s not a very good trend, even if it gratifies Trump’s “base” supporters who relish the president’s international bad-boy image.
As noted above, there are some interesting regional and national variations in this grim picture of America losing prestige elsewhere.
Regionally, the image of U.S. leadership suffered most in the Americas, where approval ratings dropped to a new low. It suffered nearly as much in Europe; however, approval ratings there are not the lowest on record — the ratings during the last two years of George W. Bush’s administration still hold that distinction. In Asia, approval also dropped, tying the previous low during the Bush administration.
Africa as a whole remains the bright spot for U.S. leadership approval, as it has been for the past decade. Nonetheless, the approval rating for the region is at its lowest level yet, clinging to a bare majority that may be in jeopardy after the president’s alleged remarks about the continent in January 2018.
Big drops in approval for the U.S. far exceeded the few large rises:
Out of 134 countries, U.S. leadership approval ratings declined substantially — by 10 percentage points or more — in 65 countries that include many longtime U.S. allies and partners — and aspiring U.S. partners. U.S. leadership approval increased 10 points or more in just four countries: Belarus, Israel, Macedonia and Liberia.
You’d have to guess the idiosyncratic rise in Liberian approval of the U.S. (which was matched by similar rises in approval of other world leaders) won’t survive the vast publicity over Trump’s dismissal of “shithole countries” in Africa.
America’s loss of prestige produced relative gains for our peer-competitors according to Gallup. Germany, which slightly trailed the U.S. in approval ratings for most of the Obama years, is now standing tall at 41 percent, and the U.S. has now slipped behind China, which is at 31 percent, and barely ahead of Russia at 27 percent.
I guess you could say that America’s approval ratings under Trump aren’t that different from Trump’s approval ratings in America. So perhaps the president should spend more time overseas.