Xi Jinping Is the World’s Most Popular Leader, Says Survey

Chinese President Xi Jinping Photographer: Christian Marquardt/Getty Images

A recent survey on the popularity of global leaders is providing rich fodder for the Communist Party of China’s propaganda machine. The study, which canvassed some 26,000 people in 30 countries on their attitudes toward 10 world leaders, shows President Xi Jinping was rated higher by the people of China than any other leader in the survey was rated by the people of his or her respective country.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping was the highest-rated world leader in many fields,” China Daily reported on Wednesday, commenting on the study (PDF), which was published by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School and carried out by Japanese research firm GMO. “Chinese respondents showed the highest confidence in regards to how their leader handled domestic and international affairs.”

Among the national rankings, where people rate their own leader, Xi averaged 9 out of 10, higher than any other head of state, with 94.8 percent of Chinese expressing confidence about how he handles domestic affairs and 93.8 percent saying the same about international affairs.

Xi was followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin (8.7), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (8.6), South African President Jacob Zuma (7), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (6.7). U.S. President Barack Obama came in seventh place, with only a 6.2 ranking. Just 51.7 percent of Americans were confident about Obama’s handling of domestic affairs, while 49.1 percent said the same regarding international affairs.

But while Xi’s high popularity is getting lots of attention in China’s party-controlled press, the possible reasons behind it are not. Leaders in countries that hold a high degree of state control over the media would naturally rate higher, the Harvard study says, a conclusion ignored by China Daily and other Chinese publications.

“Where the media tends to be dominated by the government, it is not surprising that the citizens of those countries claim to pay more attention to their own leaders,” writes the Ash Center’s director, Anthony Saich, noting that 93.9 percent of Chinese report paying attention to Xi, compared with just 74.4 percent of Americans with Obama. “In countries where the press is more open and critical, we see that leaders receive lower ratings from their citizens.”

“We see a clear correlation between political systems and the ratings of their own leaders by the respondents. In countries where discussion of leaders is more constrained, the national leaders rate very highly,” Saich adds, citing China and Russia as examples.

Xi, however, also did well in the international rankings, where people were asked to rate other country’s leaders, getting an average score of 7.5, the highest of any of the 10 heads of state. The Chinese president scored particularly well in Africa and Eastern Europe, as well as in Asia, with the exception of Japan.

Obama, by contrast, got an average rating of 6.6, putting him in sixth place behind Xi, Modi, Merkel, Zuma, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Trailing Obama were U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and in last place, Putin.

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