Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally seized Crimea, invaded Ukraine, and meddled in the US and French elections. Yet people in more than half a dozen NATO countries still trust him to “do the right thing” in international affairs more than they trust President Trump to, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
That’s pretty wild.
NATO is a Cold War–era military alliance that was formed to protect Europe from the Soviet Union, and one of its key roles today is serving as a bulwark against Russian influence and expansionism. The US is the backbone of NATO in terms of military power and financing, and it’s essential to keeping Russian influence in Europe in check.
Yet majorities in seven NATO countries — Greece, Germany, Turkey, Hungary, France, Italy, and Spain — said they had more faith that Putin would do the right thing in global affairs than Trump, often by huge margins. The chart below shows the results from 36 of the countries included in the survey. All the countries listed above that black line about halfway down are the ones in which more people said they trust Putin than Trump:
But take a look at the three countries that are right under that black line: Australia, Canada, and the UK. Two of those (Canada and the UK) are NATO members, and Australia is one of America’s closest allies, having fought alongside the US in every major conflict since World War I. Yet those three countries only barely made it under that line: In Australia, confidence in Trump was just 2 points more than in Putin; it was only 3 points more in both Canada and the UK.
The prompt that pollsters posed to respondents is extremely broad — “do the right thing” could be interpreted in a number of ways. On one hand, trust in a leader by that metric could signal approval of his worldview and his policies. In that case, it would seem Putin is generally more well-liked in these countries.
Alternatively, it could mean that someone believes the leader is judicious and not inclined to act rashly in his foreign policy. Through that lens, respondents could simply be saying they think Putin is a more prudent strategist than Trump, who is famously inexperienced and impulsive.
In all likelihood, the poll results suggest a blend of the two — both unfavorable views of Trump and mistrust in his ability to navigate international affairs wisely. In either case, it’s an amazing finding, and yet another indicator of sharply declining trust in American leadership.