WASHINGTON, D.C -- The world felt a little better about U.S. leadership last year, giving it the highest global approval ratings out of five global powers, including Germany, China, the European Union, and Russia. For the seventh straight year, Russia had the lowest median approval ratings in the world.
Disapproval ratings of the world leaders essentially mirror the approval ratings, with the U.S. (24%) and Germany (20%) garnering the lowest median disapproval and China (29%) and Russia (31%) earning the highest disapproval. The leadership of the EU falls in the middle (26%).
Gallup asked residents in as many as 137 countries last year to say whether they approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the U.S., the EU, Germany, China, and Russia. Gallup has been tracking how the world feels about each of these international leaders since 2007, with the exception of the EU, which Gallup first measured in 2008. The image of U.S. leadership was the only one that improved between 2012 and 2013.
High Approval Ratings for All in Sub-Saharan Africa
Nearly all global powers evaluated receive their highest approval ratings from residents of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The exception is Russia, which gets its highest marks from its neighbors (formerly Soviet Union countries). The high ratings in sub-Saharan Africa may at least be partly related to the amount of foreign aid that countries, such as the U.S., send to Africa. Researchers Benjamin Goldsmith, Yusaku Horiuchi, and Terence Wood found in a recent paper that certain types of foreign aid "positively affect[s] how publics in recipient countries regard the U.S." The commercial foothold that countries like China are getting in the region might also help explain some of these high ratings.
But despite the overall high approval ratings, some global powers are losing ground in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S., for example, saw its ratings in the region return to their lowest level since Gallup started tracking this in 2007.
Guineans Approve, Palestinians Disapprove
The U.S. and Germany receive their highest approval ratings in the world from the same country -- Guinea. Guinea also ranks among the top five highest scores for each of the five global powers. On the opposite end, the country that expresses the highest disapproval for nearly all global powers measured is the Palestinian Territories. Palestinians hold the highest disapproval rating in the world for the U.S., the EU, and Germany.
Although the five global powers measured are major players on the world stage, many worldwide don't offer opinions about the leadership of these countries -- either because they don't know or aren't comfortable giving an opinion. In some countries, such as India, two-thirds or more do not give an opinion about the leadership of any of these countries.
Nations See Shifts in Approval
One of the biggest reasons the U.S. saw the only shift in its global approval from 2012 to 2013 stems from the double-digit increases that occurred in 17 countries. Germany observed the most double-digit decreases, 13 in total, from 2012 to 2013. But these were mostly offset by increases in 11 countries.
All global powers shared double-digit decreases in Uganda, Ghana, and Madagascar, whereas Gabon and Afghanistan felt much more positively toward all of the world powers posting double-digit increases for all of them.
In another recent research paper, Goldsmith and Horiuchi suggest world leaders should care about how the rest of the world feels about them. They found that "public opinion about U.S. foreign policy in foreign countries does affect their policies toward the U.S., but this effect is conditional on the salience of an issue for the mass publics." If global powers want to achieve their foreign policy objectives, they are going to have to earn the support of the people beyond their borders.
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Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted each year between 2007 and 2013. Measures in some countries are based aggregates of multiple surveys conducted in the same year. For results based on the total samples margin of sampling error ranges from ±2.2 percentage points to ±5.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. 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.