BRUSSELS -- Residents in the EU's most troubled economies give their leaders some of the lowest approval ratings in the region. Gallup's surveys conducted throughout 2011 reveal Greeks and Romanians, in particular, were among the least likely in the EU to approve of their leaders' job performance.
Recent violent protests in Bucharest, Romania, against government austerity measures are visible signs of Romanians' frustration with their leaders. Gallup's data from May 2011 confirm that even before announcing cuts to salaries and benefits, tax increases, and partial privatization of the country's healthcare system, President Traian Basescu was the least popular among EU leaders. About 1 in 10 Romanians approved of his leadership and 8 in 10 disapproved. Other unpopular leaders such as George Papandreou, Silvio Berlusconi, Jose Socrates, and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, all with approval ratings ranging between 21% and 25%, have already resigned or have not been re-elected in the meantime.
In contrast, majorities in most of northern and western Europe approved of their heads of state or government. Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and Finland's President Tarja Halonen were especially popular, with 87% and 85%, respectively approving of their job performance. A notable exception was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election in April and May this year, with a relatively low approval rating of 29% in June 2011.
When Gallup asked residents to evaluate the job performance of their country's leadership more generally, northern and western Europeans were again more likely to view their leaders more positively than eastern and southern Europeans did. However, Gallup found some sizable differences between people's evaluations of the job performance of their specific head of state or government and that of the general national leadership. For example, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite's approval rating was four times higher than that of Lithuania's leaders in general (76% vs. 19%).
Denmark's Lars Lokke Rasmussen and France's Sarkozy were the only heads of state or government who were significantly less popular than the country's leadership in general. In the September 2011 election, Rasmussen lost his party's parliamentary majority and was succeeded by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark's first female prime minister.
Higher Leadership Approval Tied to Favorable Economic Conditions
Across the EU, approval of the job performance of the general national leadership is likely to be considerably higher if residents regard current local economic conditions as "good." In EU countries that were among those hit hardest by the financial and economic crisis such as Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Lithuania, less than a quarter of respondents said that local economic conditions were good, and fewer than 3 in 10 respondents approved of their country's leadership.
Gallup's surveys across Europe show that people's satisfaction with their national leadership is strongly related to economic conditions in the country. If leaders from debt-laden countries in eastern and southern Europe are unable to find new ways to boost local economic conditions -- a huge task considering the potentially adverse effects of austerity measures on short-term economic growth -- anti-government protests and social unrest are likely to continue. New governments in Italy and Spain have pledged to make the recovery of their struggling economies a top priority, but if they fail to do so, they may meet the same fate as their predecessors.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact SocialandEconomicAnalysis@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.
Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each EU member state between March and June 2011. For results based on each sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.5 percentage points to a high of ±4.0 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.