The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Global confidence in Trump lower than for China’s Xi, poll shows

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping tour the Forbidden City on Nov. 8, 2017, in Beijing. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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The Trump administration’s dispute with China may have begun as a trade war, but to many, it’s now something much bigger: an attempt to contain and control a rising China before it is too late.

That plan may have significant global support, if new research is to be believed. But there could also be a problem — the persistent, global unpopularity of President Trump.

Polling data from 25 countries released Monday showed a widespread global belief that China is a growing power, perhaps one that now rivaled the United States in economic might, but that most people wanted the United States to retain its leading role in global affairs.

However, the poll also found very little confidence in the countries surveyed that the current U.S. leader would do the right thing in global affairs. Indeed, confidence in Trump was lower than for world leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Russia’s Vladimir Putin — and even China’s Xi Jinping.

The research was published Monday by Pew Research Center as part of its ongoing research into America’s public image abroad. Polling on the subject released last year had found that the median level of confidence in the U.S. president across 37 countries had tumbled from 64 percent at the end of the Obama administration to just 22 percent at the start of Trump’s first term.

Though the research focused on a smaller number of countries this year, the results suggested a similarly low global approval rating for Trump — a median of 70 percent said they had no confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, while 27 percent said they had confidence.

Negative views of Trump were prevalent in many traditional U.S. allies. Seventy-five percent of Canadians were found to have no confidence or not too much confidence in Trump, as were 80 percent of Swedes, 70 percent of Britons and 90 percent of both the Germans and French. The lowest positive views of Trump were found in Mexico, where just 6 percent of the country expressed confidence in his leadership.

One notable outlier was Israel, where 69 percent of the country was found to have at least some confidence in Trump to do the right thing in global affairs. In the past year, the Trump administration has implemented a number of policies that were interpreted as pro-Israeli, including the decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But country with the highest positive views of Trump was the Philippines, with 78 percent positive. Trump has lauded his “great relationship” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, despite widespread criticism about human rights violations in the country.

Views of the United States in general were more positive — 50 percent were favorable, compared with 43 percent unfavorable — but this was also a drop from the Obama era, when favorable views were at 64 percent. Seventy percent said that the United States did not take into account the interests of other countries, and 37 percent said that the country was doing less to address major global problems (compared with 14 percent who said the country was doing more, and 34 percent who said it was doing the same as before).

In contrast to Trump, China’s Xi had the confidence of 34 percent of the world, while 56 percent had no confidence in him. Much of the world also considered China a rising global power, if not already the most important economic power.

A median of 70 percent said that China was playing a more important role in the world compared with 10 years ago, compared with only 31 percent who said the same of the United States. In a considerable number of countries — including Canada, Germany and Russia — China was already seen as the world’s preeminent economic power. However, the United States held a slim advantage at the median level, with 39 percent describing it as the top global power, compared with 34 percent who listed China.

Despite Trump’s unpopularity, few countries welcomed a future in which China would be the dominant power over the United States. A median of 63 percent favored U.S. leadership compared with 19 percent who favored China. Only two countries surveyed had majorities that would favor China as a dominant world power: Russia and Tunisia.

Concern for human rights might be key. Pew found that unfavorable views of China roughly correlated with concern about how the Chinese government respected the personal freedoms of its own people. Many of the countries that expressed the most negative views about China — such as neighbors Japan and South Korea, as well as European nations such as France and Germany — also had large majorities that said China restricts personal freedom.

For the Trump administration, that may be an opportunity to rally other nations against China — but its also a risk. Since the last years of the Obama administration, Pew has found a decline in the number of those who say that the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens.

The trend was especially pronounced this year in Europe: In France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the United States, a combined median showed a majority (57 percent) didn’t think the United States respected personal freedom. Forty percent said the United States did respect these freedoms.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted from May to August among national random samples of 915 to 2,521 interviews in each of the 25 countries. The margin of sampling error for each country ranges from plus or minus 2.8 to 5.1 percentage points.

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