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The World’s Most Beloved Leaders Show That Love And Freedom Are Often At Odds

Image courtesy of Volna80 via Flickr

From adulation to hatred, feelings flow for the world’s most powerful leaders, some whom are more beloved than others at home and abroad.

Whether or not Obama loves America and vice versa, it’s also quite telling that international approval of a nation’s leader does not necessarily match domestic approval. The various surveys and polls used to get to the root of the matter may shed useful light on public perception, leadership quality, and the influence of media on opinion.

Though popularity is in some cases difficult to measure, it’s a question worth asking: which leaders are the most beloved, and what is it that drives these perceptions?

Most loved leaders at home: Worship of the strongmen

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A grading of the world’s 10 most popular leaders conducted by GMO Research, which surveyed 26,000 people from five continents and 30 countries, had respondents rank each leader on job performance between one and ten.

The results? From a domestic perspective, China’s Xi Jinping blew all others out of the water. Xi was given a 9.3 out of 10 in handling of domestic affairs, and a 9.4 in handling of international affairs.

The top three beloved leaders, from a domestic perspective, were:

  • China’s President Xi (9.0)
  • India’s Prime Minister Nerendra Modi (8.7)
  • Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (8.7)

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North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was not included in the survey, as public polling has not caught on there. But considering the young leader won 100 percent of the most recent vote, and even those that have fled the country rate him over 50 percent, it is likely high as well.

What it means: Analysts say that these high rates of national approval in part reflect the state of the media and politics in these countries, and the ways in which their leaders are portrayed.

Countries in which a single political parties dominate, and in which information is constrained (China and Russia, for example) have higher approval rating in part because their leaders are portrayed as heroic and humble friends of the people, and most forms of dissent or public debate are stifled.

Most loved leaders abroad: International love for Merkel

According to the prior mentioned surveys, China’s Xi also performed well when ranked internationally — but is followed closely by, and is in some cases behind Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The top three beloved leaders, from an international perspective, were:

  • China’s President Xi (7.5)
  • India’s President Modi (7.3)
  • Germany’s Chancellor Merkel (7.2)

In confidence from abroad in handling both international and domestic affairs, Merkel beats Xi and Modi at 79 and 77 percent respectively. Putin, in stark contrast to his domestic rating, is rated last at only a 6 out of 10 from an international perspective.

What it means: Analysts were surprised by Modi’s success, because he was only recently elected and not quite as much is known about his leadership skills just yet. They also say Merkel’s high scores demonstrate how she’s become an important figure of international respect.

Other surveys: Obama’s popularity

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You might be wondering where the United State’s President Obama comes out in all of this, and the answer is, very middle-of-the-road. For Obama, international ratings outscore domestic ratings slightly, at 6.6 to 6.2, resulting in sixth and seventh place respectively.

But other surveys, which rank leaders based more on popularity and visibility, tilt the odds in America’s favor. A Gallup survey of adults in 130 countries, Germany and U.S. leadership tied with a median of 41 percent worldwide approval, though the ratings of all major powers declined since 2011. Russia came in last.

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A twitter ranking of world leaders by followers puts Obama in first with 47.3 million followers, followed next by Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono and India’s Modi, with the exception of Pope Francis, who ranked second.

What it means: In the Gallup survey, analysts say that Germany and America’s international visibility are to attribute for their rankings, as many adults surveyed were able to offer no opinion on China and Russia.

The same goes for the latter ranking — it makes sense that Obama is a popular public figure on Twitter. But China, Russia, and others don’t use American social media platforms as frequently, and because a follow doesn’t necessarily equate with approval, the measurements are imperfect.

Even so, most analysts agree that lower rankings are a reflection of a more open and critical press. Which just goes to show that where freedom may ring, “love” is never a given.

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Jennifer Markert