WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. faces significant competition from Germany in terms of its image worldwide. Median worldwide approval of Germany's leadership rose in 2011 to 47%, essentially tying median approval of U.S. leadership at 46%. Among the other major powers that Gallup asked people about, the leadership of the United Kingdom earns the next highest rating, at 40%, followed by China at 32%, and Russia at 28%.
Gallup asked residents in more than 130 countries in 2011 -- more than ever before -- whether they approved or disapproved of the leadership of these five nations. Median approval of Germany's leadership across 135 countries stood at 47%, up from a median of 40% across 116 countries in 2010. Looking at approval of Germany's leadership in these same 116 countries in 2011, the median is slightly lower at 43%. The U.S. rating would also be 43% across these countries, so they still tie.
Germany's higher leadership approval ratings in 2011 may partly reflect its performance throughout the European financial crisis. As the leader of Europe's strongest and still growing economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel has played an extremely visible role throughout the debt crisis. A median approval of 52% of residents across 37 European countries approve of Germany's leadership. This tracks well with the 56% approval that Germans express for Merkel.
If Germany's approval ratings were related to its involvement in the financial crisis, it was not only Europeans who took notice. Germany's leadership approval ratings improved in virtually all major regions of the world, seeing its most significant gains in Singapore (+27), Belgium (+19), Cambodia (+18), Hong Kong (+17), and Senegal (+16).
Median approval of U.K. leadership increased slightly to 40% from 35% in 2010, but is still considerably lower than Germany's rating. Forty-four percent of Britons approve of the leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron -- not much higher than the median approval worldwide.
Ratings of China and Russia Flat
Despite its economic growth and perceived status as an economic leader, worldwide approval of China's leadership declined for several years before stabilizing in 2011 at 32%. In this respect, China is losing ground compared with the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. China did see large gains in Africa in 2011 in countries such as Senegal (+24), Kenya (+24), and Ghana (+21). Approval of China's leadership saw double-digit declines in eight countries, with some of the most significant in Tunisia (-14), Egypt (-12), Japan (-12), Lebanon (-12), and Mexico (-12).
Russia continued to have the lowest leadership approval ratings of the countries surveyed, with median approval at 28%. Despite generally low approval ratings worldwide, Russia saw double-digit increases in 11 countries with the largest gains in Senegal (+32), Singapore (+31), Ghana (+29), and Cambodia (+20). Russia saw double-digit declines in six countries: Australia (-16), Vietnam (-14), Sierra Leone (-11), Mongolia (-11), Chile (-10), and Uzbekistan (-10). Russians were far more likely in 2011 to approve specifically of the leadership of then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (65%) and then-President Dmitry Medvedev (60%) than the world was to approve of Russia's leadership.
Germany's improved image in 2011 suggests that the country is having leadership success at a difficult time for the world. However, sustaining this momentum will be challenging. Approval of U.S. leadership surged between 2008 and 2009, moving from a global median of 34% to 49%. But it was unable to carry that momentum into the next two years and median approval still remains below a majority.
All countries continue to have significant opportunities to improve their image worldwide. Many around the world have no opinion of the leadership of these major world powers -- meaning they are essentially "undecided." For example, Indians give low approval ratings to the leadership of every country, but not necessarily high disapproval ratings. High undecided percentages in countries like India would be a huge area of opportunity for a few of these major powers to increase their soft power.
The findings also make clear that the world's view of key nations may be shifting. The U.S. no longer holds the clear top position in global leadership approval it held in 2009 and 2010. As the U.S. heads into another presidential election, the world will be watching and evaluating America's choice. The U.S. and other world powers have the opportunity to either gain or lose leadership momentum in the year ahead.
Read the complete findings from the U.S.-Global Leadership project.
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Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. In Algeria, Comoros, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, Somaliland region, Tunisia, and Yemen, measures are aggregated based on multiple surveys conducted in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Data from Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Libya, and Russia in 2010 are based on aggregated data from two surveys that year. Results in Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, Poland, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in 2009 are based on aggregated data from two surveys that year. Results in Pakistan are based on aggregated data in 2008 and 2009. Results in Germany and Japan in 2008 are based on aggregated data for multiple surveys that year.
For results based on the total samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±1.7 percentage points to ±5.7 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.