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Q&A with Frank Newport: Asians' Thoughts on US Leadership

President Barack Obama waves to the media upon arrival Monday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2014.

President Barack Obama waves to the media upon arrival Monday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, April 28, 2014.

A recent Gallup poll found the worldwide median approval rating of U.S. leadership was 46 percent last year. Gallup, which polled 130 countries across the globe, says that's up from 41 percent in 2012. In Asia, the median approval rating of U.S. leadership was close to 45 percent, and up more significantly from 37 percent in 2012. The most recent approval ratings in Asia are also the highest recorded by Gallup during both the Obama and Bush administrations.

Daybreak Asia's Ashley Westerman further explores what's behind the numbers with Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport.

NEWPORT: We, as is true in all polling, don’t know exactly why [there has been an increase] because we don’t probe the respondents as to why they have the feelings they do, but it may have to do with trade agreements in the region, some things along those lines, relationships between this county and the region in general. It may have to do with the improved image on the part of President Obama, who is a big part, but not totally, of U.S. leadership. Or it may have to do with some things we’re not familiar with at all about what it might be the cause. But all we know is, although it’s gone up and down some, clearly last year in 2013, it’s higher than we have seen it in previous years.

WESTERMAN: President Obama is actually in Asia right now on a week-long trip visiting Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea. How are the U.S. leadership approval ratings in those countries and can you give me any context to those numbers?

NEWPORT: Certainly I can. Of those countries over the last several years, by far the Philippines has been the most positive, maybe reflecting our historic relation with that country. Last year, 62 residents interviewed in the Philippines said they approved of U.S. leadership and that was actually among Asian countries only behind Cambodia and was tied with New Zealand. Otherwise, nobody was higher of the large number of Asian countries in which we interviewed people.

South Korean, however, is not far behind and, again, the U.S. has a strong historic relationship with that country including the significant military presence there in their defense against North Korea. Fifty-eight percent of South Korean residents said they approved of U.S. leadership.

Japan was down the list of 46 percent. That’s about the average approval for all countries around the world, so that’s neither good nor bad. It’s down a little from where it had been but Japanese residents at the moment are about average.

We didn’t have data from Malaysia for last year. But previous to that, in some previous years their approval rate of U.S. leadership has been even below Japan, even in the 30 percent range.

WESTERMAN: Since President Obama is doing this trip early in the year, do you think the U.S. leadership approval rating for these countries will be higher next year?

NEWPORT: One might assume it would because I think residents of countries typically are flattered when a major world leader visits the country and spends time with the residents of the country and, of course, with the leaders. So one could expect it would go up. Of course, it may depend in part on how the visit and its results are interpreted both now and in the future by the press in those countries, was it a success or now and so forth. But I would anticipate that probably, and this is just a guess, the residents of those countries may be more positive as result of the visits than they would have had if the President had not visited.

WESTERMAN: How does Asia’s high job approval rating for U.S. leadership compare to what Gallup found throughout the rest of the world?

NEWPORT: We rate the world in the four regions: Asia, Europe, the Americas - of course not with the U.S. because we’re not taking into account how Americans rate their own leadership - and then Africa. Asia is certainly higher than both Europe and the Americas with its overall median of 45 percent approval. Europe’s at 41 and the Americas, which is primarily Central and South America, is at 40 percent so that’s a positive for Asia. But there’s no question, Africa is ahead of everybody else. Sixty-four percent of the residents of Africa in 2013, the median approved of the leadership of the U.S. And Asia, I would say, comes in second.