Canadian attitudes towards President Donald Trump and his controversial approach to international relations appeared to soften slightly in the weeks after U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum exports from north of the border were lifted last spring, a new global survey suggests.
But overall confidence in Trump’s handling of world affairs remained low in Canada and elsewhere beyond the borders of the United States, according to the results of the Pew Research Center’s annual Global Attitudes Survey, released Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by Gallup last year between late May and early July, showed a modest increase in the percentage of Canadian respondents with confidence in the president to “do the right thing regarding world affairs”: 28 per cent, up from 25 per cent in 2018 and just 22 per cent the year before.
That was well before two of the most earth-shaking developments of the Trump presidency: last month’s impeachment vote in the House of Representatives and the U.S. drone strike last week that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military leader whose death has triggered widespread fury and retaliatory threats in the Middle East.
But it did follow by just days the news that Canada’s year-long, tit-for-tat tariff standoff with the White House — largely a side effect of the protracted and often tense months of negotiations over the North American trade pact — had finally come to an end.
In Canada and elsewhere, the poll also registered an increase in Trump support among respondents from the right side of the political spectrum, said Jacob Poushter, the Pew Research Center’s associate director.
On what Pew calls the “ideological right,” confidence in Trump’s foreign policy among Canadian respondents reached 43 per cent in 2019, compared to 33 per cent the previous year. In some other countries, the spike was more pronounced: 22 points each in Hungary and Spain, and 15 points in Brazil.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of the global poll is that while the president remains deeply unpopular around the world, respondents continued to have a positive opinion of the country he leads.
“Across the countries that we surveyed, only 29 per cent have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing with respect to world affairs, while at the same time 54 per cent among the same people have a favourable view of the U.S.,” Poushter said.
A narrow majority of Canadian respondents expressed a “very” or “somewhat” favourable opinion of the United States — 51 per cent, up from 39 per cent in 2018. Some 47 per cent landed in the ”unfavourable” columns last year, down from 56 per cent the year before.
Globally, 54 per cent of respondents reported a very or somewhat favourable view of the U.S., compared with 38 per cent who expressed unfavourable opinions.
“Overall, favourable views of the U.S. are higher than that of confidence in the U.S. president,” Poushter said. “There has been change over time, but right now there is a pretty large difference between U.S. image and confidence in the U.S. president, which wasn’t as large during the Obama presidency.”
The survey polled 36,963 respondents in 33 countries both by phone and in person between mid-May and October 2019. The Canadian portion consulted just over 1,000 people and carries a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
More broadly, across the countries surveyed by Pew, a median of 64 per cent of respondents said they didn’t have confidence in Trump regarding world affairs, compared with 29 per cent who did. The sentiments were especially pronounced in western Europe and in Mexico, where fully 89 per cent said they lack confidence in the president.
The survey also asked respondents about some of Trump’s signature policy positions, including his strategy of levying tariffs on foreign imports to put pressure on trading partners — a tactic the self-proclaimed “Tariff Man” has used against a number of countries, including China, Mexico, the European Union and Canada.
That approach proved the least popular of the policies Pew asked about, with 68 per cent of respondents around the world expressing disapproval. The U.S. decision to pull out of international climate-change agreements earned the scorn of 66 per cent of those surveyed, while 60 per cent opposed the plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press