- Approval of Germany’s leadership was 46% worldwide in 2022
- 56% approval rating in Europe
- Germany only power with net-positive rating in Asia
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Of four major global powers, Germany remained the top-rated one for the sixth consecutive year in 2022. Across 137 countries, median approval of German leadership stood at 46% last year. Even though this is down from a 50% rating in 2021, it remains higher than approval of the U.S. (41%) and well clear of ratings for China (28%) and Russia (21%).
2022 was a year of huge change for German leadership. Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December 2021, leading a new center-left coalition after 16 years under the leadership of Angela Merkel. Despite the small drop in global approval in 2022, Scholz’s first year in office nevertheless saw stronger ratings than Merkel achieved through most of her tenure.
Just months after Scholz became the new face of Germany’s leadership, Russia invaded Ukraine. In a speech given days after the invasion, Scholz spoke of a Zeitenwende -- a turning point -- in European history and forced a drastic rethinking of Germany’s role in the world.
For years, German foreign policy had been based on the idea of change through trade -- referred to as Wandel durch Handel. But trade considerations have taken a back seat since the invasion, and German policy has a new foundation. Scholz announced a huge increase in military defense spending and eventually agreed to send weapons to Ukraine. He also reinforced his commitment to NATO, European multilateralism and the international rules-based order -- the arrangement of laws, principles and institutions designed to oversee international relations, prevent conflict and uphold human rights.
Europeans Remain Positive About Continent’s Largest Economy, but Some Clout Lost
As war returned to European soil, approval toward German leadership was strongest worldwide in Europe -- with a median of 56%. Germany’s role as Europe’s largest economy and key strategic voice help explain why Europeans are far more approving of German leadership than they are of leadership in the U.S. (39%), China (16%) or Russia (7%).
Among European countries, approval of German leadership is highest in Kosovo and the Scandinavian countries. But even among these countries, German leadership lost some of its clout in 2022. Two countries that had among the highest approval, Albania and the Netherlands, saw declines of at least 10 percentage points from 2021.
Perceptions of German leadership in the Baltics also took a hit. In Latvia (35%), Lithuania (32%) and Estonia (30%), approval hovered around a third in 2022. Estonia and Latvia both saw large year-on-year declines -- 21 and 10 points, respectively -- and Lithuanians’ approval of German leadership tied its previous low set in 2021.
Rising Baltic disapproval of German leadership can partly be explained by Germany’s initial hesitance to extend sanctions to Russian energy supplies, due to a heavy reliance on Russian oil and gas. In the Baltics -- all members of NATO and hawkish toward Russian sanctions -- residents in Lithuania and Estonia are now more favorable toward U.S. leadership than German leadership.
Germany Is Only Top Power to Earn Net-Positive Approval in Asia
Across Asia, Germany’s leadership garnered higher ratings than any of the other three powers asked about -- and Germany was the only country in which median leadership approval in Asia was higher than median disapproval.
In India, German leadership reached a record-high approval rating of 40% in 2022 -- but disapproval also rose to its highest point at 43%. That’s because the percentage of Indians who say they “don’t know” enough to rate German leadership -- as is true for the other three countries in the survey -- has fallen sharply over the years, hitting a low point of 17% in 2022.
Despite their differences over Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, Germany increasingly sees India as a strategic partner. However, Indians are currently just as favorable toward Russia’s leadership (39%) as they are toward Germany’s, raising questions about how effective Scholz’s push to bring India a bit closer to the West will be.
Scholz recently visited South Korea, aiming to boost defense cooperation and bolster economic relations between the two countries. However, in 2022, South Korean approval of Germany dipped to its lowest point (56%) since 2016. Scholz will hope that this trend reverses in 2023 as he seeks to reduce Germany’s reliance on China and strengthen relations with other countries in the region.
Africans’ Approval of German Leadership Remains Steady
Among African populations, a median 51% approved of German leadership last year, similar to the 49% median rating from 2021. In comparison with two other powers jockeying for influence, markets and resources in Africa, the current figure puts Germany on par with Africans’ views of Chinese leadership (at a median 52%) and somewhat below those of U.S. leadership (59%).
Approval of Germany’s leadership reached its highest point in more than a decade in Nigeria (69%), tying it with Guinea as the country in Africa where people are most approving of German leadership. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and Germany’s second-largest trading partner on the continent after South Africa. However, Nigerians are notably more positive about both U.S. (78%) and Chinese (77%) leadership than Germany’s.
Even though Germany’s global leadership approval rating fell for the second year in a row in 2022, the country’s position on the global stage remains strong. In Scholz’s short tenure, foreign policy has shifted dramatically as Germany comes to terms with its new place in the world, and the world gets used to the new face of German leadership in return. How Scholz continues to respond to the war in Ukraine as it grinds into its second year will be key to how global perceptions of Germany’s leadership fare in 2023.
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