What the World Really Thinks about U.S. Leadership

Gallup's Jon Clifton shares the most current survey data.
Gallup's Jon Clifton shares the most current survey data.

Program Overview

On April 11, 2014, Meridian and Gallup co-hosted the fifth annual U.S. Global Leadership Project, What the World Thinks about U.S. Leadership, at which the findings from Gallup’s latest global opinion survey were released and discussed by a panel of experts. The U.S. Global Leadership Project is a joint effort between Meridian and Gallup, which combines Gallup’s global opinion data with Meridian’s leadership convening to analyze the factors driving global perceptions of American leadership and to create a powerful barometer of the standing of U.S. leadership in the world.

Governor James J. Blanchard, Chairman of Meridian Board of Trustees, opened the event with welcome remarks and recognizing the many diplomats in attendance.  Jon Clifton, Managing Director of the Gallup World Poll, presented the survey data and analysis, which provided context for a high-level panel discussion to follow. Ambassador Stuart Holliday, Meridian’s President and CEO, framed and moderated the panel discussion to follow, with speakers H.E. Adebowale Adefuye, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the U.S., H.E. Igor Munteanu, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the U.S., and Ambassador James Glassman, Chairman and CEO of Public Affairs Engagement, LLC. The panel discussion was followed by an engaging Q&A session with the audience.

The event brought together leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, think tanks, NGOs and most notably, the diplomatic community.  Representation from embassies included Belgium, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Greece, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Libya, Macedonia, Moldova, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Africa, Suriname, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Survey Results

The poll, which surveyed approximately 1,000 adults in 130 countries, home to more than 98% of the world’s population, found that the image of U.S. leadership worldwide rebounded in 2013, despite an extremely tough year in U.S. foreign relations. The global median approval of U.S. leadership stood at 46 % in 2013, up from 41 % in 2012. The two regions that registered the highest gains in approval of U.S. leadership were Asia and Europe, with the 45% median approval rating in Asia, the highest Gallup had measured in the region during either the Obama or the Bush administrations. This rating highlights how the U.S. may be benefitting from Obama administration’s pivot to Asia- Pacific region. The surveys in Europe were completed in the first part of 2013, so the ratings likely do not reflect the cooling of relations in response to the NSA leaks last fall. U.S. leadership approval ratings in the Americas largely remained stable at 40%, although there were double digit increases in approval in four countries including Mexico and Colombia. The image of U.S. leadership continued to be strongest worldwide in Africa in 2013, although, approval ratings declined 4 % in 2013. Nearly all of the countries where there were double-digit losses in U.S. approval ratings in 2013 were African countries.

Panel Discussion Highlights

The discussion focused on the analysis of the trends in approval and disapproval ratings of U.S. leadership in major regions of the world and the impact of U.S. foreign policy in influencing global public opinion.

Nigerian Ambassador Adefuye, in addressing the overall decline in approval ratings in Africa, referenced that given Obama’s Kenyan heritage, there was initially very high expectation in many African countries immediately after his election which resulted in high approval ratings in previous years. Although U.S. leadership remains far less popular in North Africa, the majority of the Sub-Saharan African nations approve of U.S. leadership. Ambassador Adefuye also reflected on Nigeria’s recent status as the largest economy in Africa, surpassing South Africa, and what impact this will have as their global positioning shifts.

Ambassador Munteanu stated that his country greatly values transatlantic ties and is moving forward with improving U.S. – Moldova bilateral relations and integrating more closely with the European Union. He referred to the recent series of high level meetings with U.S. officials including President Obama and Vice President Biden and visits to Moldova by Secretary Kerry as key milestones in bilateral relations.

Ambassador Glassman shared his insights on America’s standing in the world.  He emphasized the importance of public diplomacy and reiterated the need to find mutual respect and mutual interest in engaging globally. In his opinion, the strength of America’s soft power is more important than ever and should not be neglected.

Meridian and Gallup remain committed to continue this annual series of discussion and dialogue to facilitate a better understanding of what is driving global views of U.S. leadership, create a context for collaboration on how to improve those views, and enhance U.S. public and private global engagement efforts.  This session will complement one in the fall, as part of the Global Leadership Summit, which will address what countries think of their own leadership.

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