As President Trump wraps up the western portion of his European diplomatic mission, it’s worth noting that the only person he met with who has an approval rating over 50 percent is the Queen of England. Trump’s approval rating has rebounded somewhat but is still well in the red. Broadly speaking, the leaders of France, Germany, and Great Britain are no better off.
Though their numbers are not dissimilar, the reasons behind them are quite different.
- The UK’s Theresa May has lost some top members of her government and is looking at a 69-percent disapproval rating on her handling of Brexit.
- In France, Emmanuel Macron’s moves to freeze civil service pay and to cut 120,000 public sector jobs have been met with rolling strikes from trade union federations.
- Meanwhile, to hold her governing coalition together, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to establish border camps and to tighten the border with Austria in what some observers have called “the beginning of the end to the European experiment.”
- And finally, a booming economy has lifted President Trump’s job ratings somewhat, but is still lower, according to Gallup, than Obama’s worst rating.
Role of Nationalism
It’s tempting to see all of this as related to a shift away from globalism and toward nationalism. There is evidence for this view if that’s what you’re looking for: Trump’s thinking out loud about the role of NATO, the overwhelming election of a leftist nationalist party into power in Mexico, and an emerging multi-front trade war. There is no question that nationalistic voices have become louder and more powerful both at the grassroots level as well as, in some cases, in the highest positions of power.
Western Alliance, Free Trade Still Popular
If you focus on the heads of state who met this week, the Western Alliance has never seemed less popular or in greater danger of dissolution. If these same heads of state listened to their constituents, though, they would hear a different story. Both in the United States and in western Europe, free trade and a common defense enjoy deep and broad popularity.
- He might be underwater in France, but 67 percent of his countrymen and women think Macron’s defense of the European Union has been positive.
- In the US, a 56-percent majority says free trade has been good for the country, and opposition to Trump’s trade policies far outpaces support. In fact, a recent poll found that 73 percent of Americans thought a trade war would be bad for the American economy.
- Finally, despite a widespread erosion of popular support for the United States in NATO countries, big majorities in the countries discussed here view NATO favorably.
Separating the signal from the noise is difficult in the best of times and made worse in times of confusion and rancor. We are certainly in the latter. I’m often asked for my analysis of current events, and I always advise people to check their assumptions against polling data so as not to confuse a personal opinion with popular opinion. There are a lot of signs of nationalism that are real factors in dealing with trade, immigration, and our mutual security, and these factors are not to be ignored. But it’s vital — especially in times of political strife — to keep a seat at the table for public opinion if we are to harness the power of the public in today’s uncertain times.