President Trump is facing his first annual performance review, and while support from many who voted for him is still strong, the president's first year in office is facing harsh reviews from many other corners.
According to recent polls, U.S. voter confidence in his temperament, leadership strength and ability to unite Americans have fallen, at times sharply, since a year ago. Leaders of his own party have said they're unclear where their standard bearer stands on key policy issues. Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake both excoriated Trump this week for discrediting the free press and being unwilling to accept criticism, adding to the broad scrutiny of Trump's persistent struggles with the truth.
And politicians and others on both sides of the aisle had sharp rebukes for the vulgar remark Trump reportedly used in an Oval Office meeting disparaging other countries, which Trump has since denied after the White House initially did not dispute a news report last week by The Washington Post.
But one year in, another disapproving party is the world's citizens at large. On Thursday, Gallup released findings of surveys of residents of other countries, and the results are stunning. The world's approval of U.S. leadership in 2017 dropped 18 percentage points from 2016, the last year of President Barack Obama's administration, and was four points lower than in 2008, the final year of President George W. Bush's administration, which had been the previous nadir.
Median approval of U.S. leadership across the 134 countries surveyed during President Trump's first year in office fell to 30 percent, the lowest figure recorded in the 11 years Gallup has asked the question. Disapproval of U.S. leadership rose to a median of 43 percent, up 15 percentage points from 2016, which was also a record, according to Gallup. The new figures mark the first time since 2007 that more global residents disapproved of U.S. leadership than approved of it (the figures were equivalent in 2008, each at 34 percent).
The survey, which interviewed at least 1,000 adults in each of 134 countries by telephone or face-to-face between March and November of 2017, finds that global citizens put their view of U.S. leadership on par with that of China, whose leadership gets a 31 percent approval rate. The biggest regional drop came in the Americas, where the image of U.S. leadership sank from a 49 percent approval rate in 2016 to 24 percent last year. It dropped 40 percentage points in Canada and 28 points among Mexicans, who have been a frequent target of Trump's insults and on whose border Trump is trying to erect a wall.
Gallup says in its report that 2017 was not without successes for the United States and its allies, noting the beating back of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But it also said that "the sharp drops in approval of U.S. leadership in every part of the world are evidence that the other aspects of Trump’s foreign policy — and his own words — have sowed doubt about the U.S. commitment to its partners abroad and called its reliability into question."
Some of those words -- like the vulgar remarks Trump is reported to have said last week about countries like Haiti and those in Africa, while suggesting the United States should bring in more immigrants from countries like Norway -- would not have been reflected yet in the survey results. Indeed, those surveyed in Haiti gave U.S. leadership a 29 percent approval rating (18 percentage points lower than the year prior) while just 13 percent of Norwegians said they approved of U.S. leadership, down 42 points from 2016. African countries, as a whole, actually hold U.S. leadership in higher regard than any other region, with a 51 percent approval rating, down just two percentage points from 2016.
The survey is, of course, not the first to find America's standing in the world slipping around the world under Trump's leadership. A Pew Research Center survey published in June, for instance, found that just 22 percent of people in 37 countries had confidence in the U.S. president, down from 64 percent the year before. And Trump, who campaigned on the promise of "America First," abandoned the Trans Pacific Partnership and withdrew from the Paris climate accord, may not care too much about what citizens of other countries think of U.S. leadership during his presidency.
But as the Gallup report notes, research has shown that public opinion in foreign countries affects their policies toward the United States. Less tangible than policy changes, but just as critical, will be how Trump's rhetoric, words and actions shape not only how citizens at home and in the broader world view American ideals such as a free press and fair elections, but the moral leadership that Americans -- and the rest of the globe -- have long expected of the U.S. president.