US leaders slump in popularity, approval polls, should continue
It might be odd for people outside the US to see how many Americans celebrate when President Barack Obama’s job approval rating exceeded the 50 percent level.
The latest Gallup poll released on Friday showed that Obama had a 52 percent job approval rating in his 31st quarter in office — the best quarterly average in his second term.
It was indeed high, considering that since his first year in office, Obama’s job approval ratings have mostly stayed below the break-even level.
Obama has witnessed an upward momentum in approval ratings as he approaches his last quarter in office, partly due to his contrast to the two 2016 presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, both of whom are viewed unfavorably by most Americans.
A divided America under Obama is evident. In his 31st quarter in office, Obama’s approval rating reached 90 percent among Democrats and 50 percent among independents, both up from a year ago. But his approval rating among Republicans remains at 12 percent from the previous quarter, according to the poll.
Throughout his nearly eightyear presidency, Obama has averaged a 47.6 percent job approval rating so far. Even if his approval rating in his final quarter in office stays above 50 percent, his eight-year average will rank among the lowest of post-World War II presidents, according to Gallup.
What’s worse is the US Congress’ approval rating, which was at 18 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted in early October. In fact, the rating for Congress has never exceeded 25 percent since Obama took office in 2009.
Most Americans probably have the mistaken idea that their leaders are more popular among their own citizens compared with leaders in countries such as China and Russia. It is at least what the US news media and US politicians try to present to their people.
The reality, however, is quite to the contrary.
Polling from the Levada Center, a widely recognized independent and non-governmental polling and research organization, shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin is very popular in his country. His approval rating was at 82 percent in a survey conducted Aug 26-29.
In the summer of 2015, the Pew Center found that 88 percent of Russians “have confidence in (Putin)” to do the right thing regarding world affairs.
Some American politicians cannot even acknowledge such a basic fact. During the only debate between the two US vice-presidential candidates, Democrat Tim Kaine rebuked Republican Mike Pence and accused Trump of calling Putin a leader. Such a fact would never be disputed in other parts of the world, but it has sadly become a football of political correctness in today’s US.
It reminds me of an American journalist I worked with in Shanghai in the late 1990s. When we met in New York in 1998 after he returned to the US after working years in China, he told me that when he first went to China, he thought that all Chinese living in a communist country must hate their government and be ready to revolt. What he found, however, was that the Chinese loved their government and country just like Americans loved theirs.
Compared with US leaders like Obama, Chinese leaders are much more popular among their people, according to various surveys by the Pew Center.
In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping was the most popular among the 10 world leaders listed in a December 2014 survey on the popularity of global leaders, conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School.
Xi averaged 9 out of 10 among the national rankings, where people rated their own leader, higher than any other head of state. A total of 94.8 percent of Chinese expressed confidence in how Xi handles domestic affairs and 93.8 percent said the same about international affairs.
Xi was trailed by Putin (8.7), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (8.6) and South African President Jacob Zuma (7). Obama came in 7th place, with a 6.2 ranking.
In that survey, only 51.7 percent of Americans expressed confidence in Obama’s handling of domestic affairs while 49.1 percent had confidence in his handling of global affairs.
While it is still uncertain whether Clinton or Trump will become the next US president, one thing does seem quite certain — neither of them is likely to enjoy popularity among a majority of Americans.