Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

Biden As Popular As Most World Leaders, Just Not In the U.S.

Phil Garber


It is small solace but Joe Biden is just as popular as many world leaders while trump’s popularity has little to do with his abilities and more to do with amnesia, magical thinking, a natural urge to turn out the old and a worldwide shift to authoritarians.

In other words, trump is in the right place at the right time, or for those against trump, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is the Biden glass half full or half empty?

Biden is in the same boat as every leader of a Group of 7 (G7) nation who are all under 50 percent in approval ratings. The G7 is an intergovernmental political and economic forum consisting of seven major advanced economies, including the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. The European Union (EU) is a “non-enumerated member” of the G7. The group is organized around shared values of pluralism, liberal democracy, and representative government.

It’s pretty much the same the world over. Citizens blame officials for high consumer prices and each nation’s voters believe they are worse off than the rest. That’s just not the case with the U.S., as a recent report showed that since the pandemic, consumer prices have risen 19.6 percent in the United States and 19.8 percent in the euro area. In a likewise yardstick, many Americans blame Biden for failing to improve the economy, even though U.S. gross domestic product per capita is up 7 percent since the eve of the pandemic, are better than growth in other major wealthy economies.

The cacophony of blather emanating from the trump world claims that Biden is the absolute worst president ever. Again, such misinformation is refuted by the Siena College Research Institute’s most recent 2022 poll which listed Biden 19th out of 45 American presidents. The five most popular presidents, in order, are Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson. Biden was far above the four bottom dwellers, in order, Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, trump, Warren Harding and Franklin Pierce.

The latest survey shows Biden at 39 percent approval rate. On the world stage, the most popular leader was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a 74 percent approval rate. He was followed by Javier Milei, Argentina, 61 percent approve; Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico, 61 percent approve; Viola Amherd, Switzerland, 52 percent; Anthony Albanese, Australia, 50 percent; Donald tusk, Poland, 46 percent; Alexander De Croo, Belgium, 44 percent; Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Brazil, 42 percent; and Biden and Giorgia Meloni of Italy, both at 39 percent.

Biden is almost as popular as the leaders of Australia, Poland, Belgium and Brazil.

At 39 per cent, Biden’s rating is at a record low for a U.S. president late in his first term, a trend for first time presidents since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Compared with his peers, Biden is about average for approval. In the developed world, no leader has a rating above 50 per cent and Italy is the only country where its leader gained approval in the 2020s.

Polls show Biden’s age, 81, is a problem with voters but the facts show that for voters around the world, youth is far from a guaranteed benefit. Between 1950 and 2020, the average age of presidents and prime ministers in developed countries fell from above 60 to around 54. The leaders of the four largest countries, Britain, Germany, France and Japan, are far younger than Biden and yet all have ratings below 30 per cent and below Biden.

India’s Modi is so relatively popular because he is leading a xenophobic campaign to boost Hindus and minimize Muslims and Sikhs.

The U.S. also is far from alone in the amount of polarization and a decay in national morale. Nations across Europe are experiencing the same problems. The Edelman Trust Barometer found that in 2023, less than half the populations in the 14 developed countries expected to be “better off in five years.”

As in the U.S., many nations have seen slower economic growth, rising inequality and a belief that their systems are rigged against the average person. Japan has had the sharpest long-term decline in per capita income growth, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is the least popular prime minister, winning just 21 percent of the nation’s approval.

The increased popularity of extremists like trump in the U.S. is similar to most European countries where extreme parties, led by the far right, increased from around zero to 25 percent between the early 1990s and 2020.

Modi of India, the most popular world leader, has much in common with trump. Modi is seen as a strong militarist, and a decisive leader who makes ordinary Indians proud as he boosts the Hindu majority and marginalizes and demonizes the minority religions much like trump’s claims that immigrants are a poison to the nation.

And like trump, Modi has railed against what he labels as anti-Modi news organizations with Indians arrested for tweets deemed to be anti-Modi. Sweden’s V-Dem Institute noted that India is not a democracy but is an “electoral autocracy” ranking 108th among 179 countries in its electoral democracy index.

Not far behind Modi in approval is Argentina Prime Minister Javier Milei, who scored a 61 percent approval. Milei and trump are mirror images as supporters of both cite their combative attitude, flamboyant appearance and strong on-line, media presence domestically and internationally.

Milei exploded on the political scene at a time of 200 percent inflation, rising poverty and a population hungry for change. He was elected in 2023 and his popularity quickly grew as he has instituted governmental and economic reforms that won him approval of 53 percent of the Argentine people.

In another area of similarity, trump has been a strong critic of NATO and has hinted that the U.S. might withdraw from the mutual defense pact that formed in the ashes of World War II. Similarly, Milei said that Argentina will not join the BRICS bloc of developing economies as planned in 2024. BRICS is an intergovernmental organization comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates. The BRICS countries are considered the foremost geopolitical rival to the G7 bloc of leading advanced economies.

Among his concerns, Milei said the BRICS alliance is dominated by China, and membership would conflict with Argentina’s relations with the U.S., a major trade partner.

Mexico’s leader, Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador, has the same 61 percent approval as Milei but has far less in common with trump. Obrado’s popularity springs more from his socialist leanings and focus on the poor. His campaign slogan was “For the good of all, the poor first” reflecting his aims to cut poverty and corruption.

Obrador, commonly known as “Amlo,” launched innovative social and cultural programs, including old-age pensions, financial support for single mothers and the unemployed, urban redevelopment investments, and educational outreach.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, fought back far right candidates, nationalism and anti-Semitism to assemble a 46 percent approval rating. Tusk’s right wing opponents have not gone away as one trump-like lawmaker accused Tusk of being not Polish enough, another not so veiled attack on immigrants.

“I don’t know who your grandfathers were but I know one thing: You are a German agent, just a German agent,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of right wing, Law and Justice Party. During a debate in Parliament, another far right critic, legislator Grzegorz Braun, used a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles during an event with members of the Jewish community.

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, narrowly defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, the far right politician who is most like trump. A positive sign in the world’s fourth largest democracy is that the liberal DaSilva has a 42 percent approval rating.

One similarity with trump is Lula’s criminal record. Trump has been charged with numerous crimes while Lula was convicted of bribery and money laundering in 2017 as part of Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal. Brazil’s courts did not cower from the prospect of jailing a national figure and Lula was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. The conviction was nullified over a year into his imprisonment after the Supreme Court said he was tried in a court that “didn’t have proper jurisdiction.” The annulment cleared the way for him to run against Bolsonaro.

The comparisons between trump and Bolsonaro are obvious. During his presidency, Bolsonaro focused on domestic affairs and the fallout of the 2014 Brazilian economic crisis. He rolled back protections for Indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest and facilitated its deforestation. Like trump, Bolsonaro downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, and opposed quarantine measures, while the death toll increased rapidly. In the U.S., trump was a leading voice in the anti-vaccination discussion, leading to untold number of deaths from the pandemic. U.S. life expectancy was already lagging behind comparable countries’ by 2019, but the gap widened after COVID-19.

Bolsonaro lost a 2022 runoff to Lula and on Jan. 8, 2023, his supporters stormed federal government buildings, calling for a coup d’état. The U.S. courts have refused to bar trump from future office but the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court blocked Bolsonaro from seeking office until 2030 for attempting to undermine the validity of the election through his unfounded claims of voter fraud, and for abusing his power by using government communication channels to both promote his campaign and to allege fraud.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had the same 39 percent popularity as Biden and she may be the clearest bellwhether for trump’s return.

Meloni, is the leader of most right-wing government in the history of the Italian Republic. Like the MAGA creed, Meloni has called for an increased patriotism while boosting traditional Christian values, including a ban on abortion and same sex marriage. She has called for a naval blockade to halt immigration and to renegotiate treaties with the European Union. Meloni was elected with a record-low voter turnout.

Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida has the worst approval rating among major nations and makes Biden look relatively good. Kishida had a 15 percent approval rating, largely reflecting that the world’s third largest economy is in the midst of a majo9r recession. Kishida also has been tarnished by scandal of trumpian proportions, as more than one in five lawmakers from Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — or 85 out of 374 parliamentarians — have been named in a scandal where campaign funds were stashed in a slush fund. Several lawmakers resigned and several others were indicted.

Kishida is the least popular leader in at least 76 years of monthly surveys on Japanese political sentiment.

Yoon Suk Yeol, the president of South Korea, is not doing much better than his Japanese counterpart, with 19 percent approval. Elected by the closest margin in South Korean history, Yoon promised economic deregulation and to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. In October 2021, Yoon complimented the former authoritarian military dictator of South Korea, Chun Doo-hwan. Yoon’s comments were akin to the compliments trump has paid to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2021, Yoon said he planned to pardon former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, who were both serving long prison sentences for corruption. Before leaving office, trump also pardoned numerous former officials convicted of various crimes.

French President Emmanual Macron, with a 23 percent popularity rating, also was less popular than Biden. A centrist, Macron’s fiscal policies to end a wealth tax and reform pension laws, have been unpopular. Macron is perceived by some as an elitist who has not addressed economic and social inequality. Macron’s centrist party trails the hard right Nationalists led by Marine Le Pen.

Meanwhile, a report by the Democracy Fund, “Democracy Hypocrisy: Examining America’s Fragile Democratic Convictions,” shows that Americans support democracy and at the same time, agree with some autocratic behavior. The most ardent trump and Biden supporters reject the idea of a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress and elections.” But the same majority said their preferred U.S. president would be justified in taking unilateral action without explicit constitutional authority under several different scenarios.