Daewoo Professor of International Affairs
Reflections on a Survey of Global Perceptions of International Leaders and World Powers
Saich, Anthony. "Reflections on a Survey of Global Perceptions of International Leaders and World Powers." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-058, December 2014.
A recent survey asks citizens from 30 countries for their views on 10 influential national leaders who have a global impact. There are many rich findings among the data. However, two general trends stand out. The first is that the responses are influenced by geopolitics. Differences between nations and national leaders are clearly reflected in the attitudes of their own citizens. Thus, it is plain that the tensions between China and Japan result in very poor evaluations of China and its leader by Japanese citizens and vice versa. Second, there is a correlation in responses between the nature of the political system and citizen opinions of their own nation’s leader. On the whole, in multiparty systems or genuine two-party systems such as in Europe and the US, citizens are more critical of their national leaders and policies than is the case in those nations where politics is less contested.
Not surprisingly, given the role that the US plays in global politics, President Obama enjoys the greatest awareness among respondents, receiving the highest percentage in 23 of the 30 countries (see Figure One). With the exception of only three countries, awareness of him exceeds 90%. For the other leaders, awareness tends to be regionally based. Thus, Chancellor Merkel is well known in Europe and Russia but far less so in Africa, Australasia, and Asia. President Xi Jinping is well known in Asia but, perhaps surprisingly, only 48.8% of Russian respondents and 59.8% of Vietnamese respondents were aware of him. This is despite the attempts to build a close relationship between China and Russia and the tensions that have existed between China and Vietnam. Prime Minister Abe is most clearly known in Korea and China but is not well recognized across much of the rest of the world. However, recognition does not mean approval, as opinions about Abe in China and Korea are extremely negative, as we shall see below. The same holds for President Putin who is well known across Europe but viewed poorly. He is less well-known in Africa but citizens of China, Japan, and Korea are well aware of him.