2018 Rating Global Leaders: Trump's Trade Policy Disappoints

Gallup is famous for its presidential approval rating surveys in the United States with numbers that are cited often by politicians in campaigns and interviews. The Rating World Leaders report is an expansion of that survey where Gallup opens up the question of approval to the rest of the world. Country-by-country, the survey determines approval ratings for almost every country in the world on an annual basis. In the 2018 report, the Trump administration is put on the stage. Here are some highlights of the report.

To start, here’s a visual of the world ratings which are represented as a percentage of individuals who “approve,” “don’t approve,” or abstain. The map above shows some interesting trends. The entirety of the Western hemisphere across the Atlantic Ocean is in red. The Trump administration’s insistence on reevaluating NAFTA probably must do a lot with disapproval in this area. However, the fact that there is no green is more telling than anything. Most of Europe is in red, which is disappointing from a diplomatic point of view, but Russia and some Central Asian nations are actually green. With Putin’s propensity to bully the countries around Russia, it’s interesting that the differing agendas move together in their opinion of Trump, especially Ukraine.

It’s never a good thing to be disliked in your own neighborhood. In the Americas, the United States is more disapproved than Germany, China, and Russia. At the moment, Germany has the most approval, but abstention rates are high for the countries that aren’t the U.S. Interestingly enough, Angela Merkel, prime minister of Germany, has attempted to take advantage of the U.S.’s newfound protectionism. In a DW article, Merkel is called the “somewhat unwilling defender of free trade” as the German prime minister made trips to two key Latin American nations, Argentina and Mexico, in June 2017. A Bloomberg article mentioned advanced talks between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay with the European Union that occurred in December 2017. It’s evident that if the U.S. won’t come to the table, then the meal will go on without it.

Trade data from MIT Trade Atlas; View Tableau

In the Americas region, approval ratings among the smaller sized countries showed an interesting pattern. Given the exports to the U.S. and imports from the U.S., a slight negative correlation between the size of the drop in the approval rating and the size of that country’s trade balance with the U.S. is evident (and becomes even stronger when Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the two countries with no change in approval rating in the region, are removed).  When broken down into exports and imports, one can see the correlation is most evident in the import part of the trade balance equation. With this information, one can hypothesize that smaller nations are worried about the supply of U.S. goods coming into the country shrinking which could have residual inflationary effects on pricing in those markets.

In Europe, rating drops varied but mostly negative. “U.S. leadership approval declined substantially in 31 out of the 28 current members of the European Union,” according to Gallup. Portugal’s 51 approval point drop was the highest in the region ending with an approval rating of 12 percent. The second highest drop in approval rating was Belgium’s 44 point drop to 20 percent. However, the drops of this magnitude were in line with of nations in NATO and probably had more to do with tariffs and trade policy.

While Russia had the lowest approval rating in 2017, the approval rating actually grew by 6 percentage points to a whopping 8 percent. However, the country’s abstention rate was higher than most European nations. Trump continues to swing wildly in his position on the U.S.’s relationship with Russia, but one thing is for certain: oil prices have consistently rallied under the Trump administration which is a great sign for Russia.

View Tableau

In Asia, the data are varied quite widely once again. However, the trend of mostly negative is still there. In the region (which includes the Middle East), a negative, linear correlation between longitude and approval difference is evident. This sounds trivial, but it’s a good measure of proximity to the United States west coast with New Zealand the closest and Israel the farthest. Proximity plays a part in the trade between countries as explained by the “gravity model” of trade. The model, represented by the equation below, suggests that countries with a stronger theoretical trade connection saw lower approval rating differences, supporting the idea that Trump’s protectionism is creating an unfavorable image of the U.S.

Approval ratings in Africa didn’t show any distinct patterns, and the change in approval ratings was muted. Negative results dominated the region again, but the results were less clear than in other regions. Every country had abstention rates in the double digits with an average in the 20-30% range. The U.S.’s main trading partners in South Africa and Algeria saw little change in their approval rating. South Africa’s approval rating dropped by 5 percentage points to 47 percent and Algeria’s approval rating gained by 4 percentage points to 27 percent. Both had abstention rates near 30 percent.


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