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- Column by Ruchir Sharma Why are the leaders of rich countries declining in popularity?
6 days ago
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Ruchir Sharma, best-selling author is a global investor
Much attention has been paid to Joe Biden’s declining popularity ratings, while many leaders of the developed world are in the same crisis as the US president today. He had rarely encountered such indecency.
I track the approval ratings of the leaders of the world’s 20 leading democracies using reputable pollsters such as Morning Consult, Gallup, and Compolitica, and no leader in the developed world today has a rating above 50 percent.
Only one country (Italy) saw its leader’s approval rating rise in the 2020s. Biden’s approval rating (37 percent) is also a record low for an American president at the end of his first term — but he’s still ahead of his peers.
Perhaps the signs of aging are hurting the 81-year-old Biden’s approval ratings, but it doesn’t reflect a broader trend. Between 1950 and 2020, the average age of presidents and prime ministers in developed countries fell from 60 to about 54.
The leaders of Great Britain, Germany, France and Japan are much younger than Biden, but they are less popular. The rating of the leaders of these four countries does not even reach 30%. Debates about Biden have focused on why he has such low approval ratings despite relatively strong economic data, including low inflation.
Nevertheless, there has been a downward trend in the ratings of first-term US presidents since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Biden’s supporters hope the improving economy will eventually boost his approval ratings.
The leaders of the developed world today are victims of a long-term decline in national spirituality. Slowing economic growth, rising inequality, and the growing perception of the system against the average person are all exacerbated by the polarizing effects of social media.
In America, Democrats are less likely to vote for a Republican. Not only that, Democrats and Republicans don’t even have marital relations anymore. The polarization became personal and bitter. Similar divisions are growing in Europe, where voters have more parties to choose from and are turning to established parties.
The vote share of extremist parties in Europe increased from almost zero to 25 percent from the early 1990s to 2020. The leaders of these parties present themselves as opponents of immigrants and global elites, and defenders of ordinary people.
Social media increases the anger of the partisans. Majorities in most advanced economies — and nearly 80 percent in the U.S. — believe these platforms are fueling political division. It is also possible that the public is turning away from democratic leaders as talented people turn away from politics.
This is because they are amazed at the tricks they use to stay relevant in the digital world. While social media is equally pervasive and hostile in the developing world, it seems less damaging to those in power there.
The rating of most of the leaders of the ten largest developing countries is still above 50 percent. Jokowi is most popular in Indonesia and Narendra Modi in India. According to Morning Consult, Modi’s approval rating is 77 percent! Compare that to Japan, where Fumio Kisida is the least popular prime minister today, with an approval rating of 21 percent.
In this big election year, there will be fierce competition for power in many major democracies. By the early 2000s, 70 percent of ruling leaders worldwide were re-elected; But lately, only 30 percent have been able to win.
And the approval ratings of the leaders of developed countries show that they will have to work hard to maintain their positions this time. This cannot happen in Indonesia or India. Modi has a better chance of winning than any other prime ministerial candidate in recent Indian history.
Those in power in the developed world must understand that there is a disconnect between economic data and political support. Now, voters are reacting to long-term declines and also looking for new solutions.
(This is the personal opinion of the author)