How the world views US presidential candidates

How the world views US presidential candidates

How the world views US presidential candidates
Joe Biden puts on sunglasses during the White House Correspondents’ dinner at the Washington Hilton, Apr. 29, 2023. (AP Photo)
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As the US presidential election looms on the horizon, recent polling shows that global publics clearly prefer President Joe Biden to Donald Trump, while Americans are more divided between the two.
Last week, the Pew Research Center published the results of surveys in 34 countries and found that “a median of 43 percent have confidence in Biden to do the right thing regarding world affairs, while just 28 percent have confidence in Trump.” In all but five countries in the survey, more people express confidence in Biden than in Trump. In some cases, the gap was enormous, including Sweden, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, where Biden scored higher than Trump by more than 40 percentage points.
The Pew results range across continents and different types of countries. Biden is clearly more popular than Trump in much of Europe. And citizens of crucial US allies in the Pacific — Japan, South Korea and Australia — have far more confidence in Biden than in Trump. The pro-Biden gap in other countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe is narrower, but Biden still does well. In India, Biden has only two percentage points over Trump and they are tied in Bangladesh.
Of the 34 countries in the survey, respondents in only three express greater confidence in Trump than in Biden. In Turkiye, neither Trump nor Biden scored well, with only 8 percent expressing confidence in Biden and 10 percent in Trump. In Tunisia, 7 percent have confidence in Biden and 17 percent in Trump. In Hungary, Trump beats Biden by 13 percentage points, with 37 percent expressing confidence in the former president.
While many people around the world prefer Biden to Trump, the Pew survey also shows a decline in people’s confidence in Biden in multiple countries compared to 2023. Out of 21 countries for which Pew has data from last year and this year, confidence in Biden has dropped in 14 of them. This includes a diverse group, from South Africa to Israel to Japan to Canada.
Biden also faces criticism on some key global issues, according to the Pew survey. Opinions are nearly evenly split on how he is handling climate change and global economic problems. More people disapprove than approve of his approach to China and the Russian-Ukrainian War. Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapprove of Biden’s approach to the war in Gaza.
Despite some decline, Biden can feel positive about how much of the world’s public views him, but he is struggling more with the public that will determine whether he wins a second presidential term — Americans.
In the latest FiveThirtyEight polling average, Trump is ahead of Biden by 1.1 percentage points among voters. The polling average also shows that 56.5 percent of respondents disapprove of Biden’s performance as president, while only 38 percent approve. In comparison, 53.8 percent have an unfavorable view of Trump compared to 41.5 percent with a favorable view. However, a May Gallup poll found that Americans were equally divided in terms of favorability, with 46 percent expressing a favorable view of Trump and another 46 percent of Biden.
While global publics naturally care more about US foreign policy, the American public typically cares more about domestic policy. A Pew poll from April found that 83 percent of Americans said Biden should focus more on domestic issues than on foreign policy.
However, when considering Americans’ views on foreign policy, the results are mixed and often reflect partisan perspectives. Overall, there is a sense of frustration. A February poll from Gallup found a major decline in whether Americans thought that world leaders respect Biden — from nearly 60 percent at the start of his presidency to 37 percent in February. A March Gallup poll found that 40 percent of US adults approved of Biden’s job as president but rated his performance on foreign policy (33 percent approval) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (27 percent approval) lower.
Biden entered the White House with a reputation as an experienced foreign policy leader and initially received high marks from the American public. However, the chaotic nature of the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 began to damage Americans’ views of Biden’s foreign policy. At the start of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, many Americans backed Biden’s support for Kyiv, but growing partisan polarization in attitudes toward the war — combined with military stalemate and increasing difficulties for Ukraine — have undermined American consensus on the issue.

One significant reason for the difference in global versus American perspectives is the increasingly partisan nature of US politics.

Kerry Boyd Anderson

Then Biden faced new challenges as the war in Gaza unexpectedly gained traction among the US public, with many Democrats opposing Biden’s strong support for Israel while Republicans criticize him for not doing even more to back Tel Aviv. Indeed, polling suggests that Biden’s approach to the war in Gaza is dragging down views of his foreign policy among Americans and abroad.
While much of the world has greater confidence in Biden as a global leader than in Trump, Americans’ views are more mixed. One significant reason for the difference in global versus American perspectives is the increasingly partisan nature of US politics, as Americans often view a president and his policies through the lens of Democratic or Republican identity. Another factor is that the American public puts greater emphasis on domestic policy. A less tangible but still important driver is a generalized sense of frustration among Americans, which appears to be hurting the incumbent president and potentially benefiting his rival.
Polling of foreign publics provides very interesting insights into how the world views the US and its leadership. But, in the end, American voters will determine whether Biden or Trump will shape US foreign policy in the future.

  • Kerry Boyd Anderson is a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. X: @KBAresearch
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