Newsweek: As President George W. Bush limps through his lame-duck year, it won’t surprise you to read that he’s hugely unpopular. Now a new poll taken in 20 countries by WorldPublicOpinion.org and released exclusively to NEWSWEEK confirms the world’s low opinion of the president–but adds a twist. No other major world leader enjoys significantly greater trust abroad. In a sense, they’re all Bushes now.
Just as striking are the leaders who do best, albeit by a slim margin: Vladimir Putin, Gordon Brown and Hu Jintao. That’s one democrat and two dictators. In other words, the bosses of what are often cast as the biggest, baddest authoritarian states–China and Russia–are among the planet’s most trusted officials. That should seriously alarm the leaders of the West, and particularly President Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of State, who have made the export of democracy a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy.
While it might be exaggerating to call this the year of the autocrats, the fact is that the poll found most of the world now seems to have more confidence in undemocratic than democratic leaders. The war of ideas may not be over, and a close reading of the poll suggests there’s still room to turn things around. But at this point, the West clearly isn’t winning the battle for influence–and freedom, to borrow Bush’s phrase, is not reigning.
On average, only 23 percent of foreign respondents express “a lot of ” or “some” confidence in Bush, and only Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does worse (at 22).
What explains this universal vote of no confidence? The short answer is a serious bout of global pessimism: most people polled seem very unhappy about the state of the world.
What’s harder to grasp is why Hu and Putin did relatively well–better than any democrat but Brown–in other countries. Kull, the director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, argues that the poll shouldn’t be read as reflecting a global endorsement of the authoritarians; though they did score slightly better than Bush and Sarkozy, they did so by narrow margins (less than 10 percentage points).
Larry Diamond of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a foremost democracy expert, suggests another, more worrisome reason for Putin’s popularity. Writing recently in Foreign Affairs, he argued that the wave of liberation that followed the end of the cold war has stalled, leading to a “democratic recession.”
Add in the damage that the Iraq War has done to U.S.-style democracy promotion, and the result is a global slide in the public’s faith in democracy as a system–and in democratic leaders as individuals. More and more voters are embracing tough officials (like Putin or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez) at home and abroad. And while majorities worldwide still think democracy is the best form of government, that support is also dropping.