Our Finding
17. 3. 2016

World leaders through the lens of Czech public opinion

The world is undergoing significant change, and with it the perception of world figures and leaders. It may come as a surprise that in the secular society of the Czech Republic Pope Francis has masterfully come out on top, enjoying the highest ratings across all sections of the population. We can observe disillusionment with representatives of the Western European powers and growing sympathy for our neighbours.

The world is undergoing significant change, and with it the perception of world figures and leaders. It may come as a surprise that in the secular society of the Czech Republic Pope Francis has masterfully come out on top, enjoying the highest ratings across all sections of the population. We can observe disillusionment with representatives of the Western European powers and growing sympathy for our neighbours. The European Union is of peripheral interest to the Czech public.The STEM survey cited here was conducted on a representative sample of the Czech population aged 18 and over from 3 to 11 December 2015. Respondents were selected using a quota sampling method, with some 1,014 people taking part in the survey.In its December 2015 survey, in addition to looking at the Czech population’s attitudes towards various countries, STEM also focused on the public’s rating of foreign political figures, presidents and prime ministers of selected countries, the presidents of the European Commission and the heads of the Catholic Church. The graph below plots the findings. 

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1,014 respondents

Pope Francis

Three-quarters of the population have a positive opinion of Pope Francis, making him the highest rated international figure among Czech citizens. This favourable opinion is shared across the board, and to a similar extent, by the different socio-demographic groups. Pope Francis was also positively rated in our previous survey. In comparison with his predecessor Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’s standing is significantly higher in the eyes of the Czech population (Benedict XVI was rated favourably by 52 % of citizens in 2009).

Leaders of Western European powers and Russia

A two-thirds majority of respondents rated British Prime Minister David Cameron positively in the December survey. Presidents Barack Obama and François Hollande were both rated favourably by roughly half the population. Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angel Merkel received predominantly negative ratings. If we follow the popularity ratings of leading world figures, we can see that there has been a substantial drop in popularity in the cases of B. Obama and, in particular, A. Merkel, with V. Putin’s position remaining relatively stable.How do the different groups in our population rate key political figures? President Obama, for instance, is rated more favourably by women than by men (57 % and 52 % favourable ratings, respectively). By contrast, the opposite is true for the Russian head of state and here the differences are more pronounced. Almost half of the male population rate Putin positively (46 %), whereas only just under one third of women do so (29 %).In the case of US President B. Obama, the over 60s are split down the middle in their opinion of him. In contrast, President Obama received predominantly favourable ratings among younger respondents (18-29 years: 60 %, 30-44 years: 57 %, 45-59 years: 56 %, 60 +: 47 %).There are no substantial differences in respondents’ views of the two world power leaders according to level of education attainment, apart from the fact that university graduates are somewhat more critical towards V. Putin than people with a lower level of education.In the case of the German chancellor’s ratings, no significant differences were recorded among the different population groups. In the previous survey conducted in October 2013, Angela Merkel was the star of western politics. She received favourable ratings from the better-educated in particular. The current survey shows a dramatic deterioration in her ratings which is evidently connected to the refugee crisis. The German chancellor’s ratings are currently almost identical for all educational categories which means that her popularity has decreased the most among the better educated sections of the population.

*Secondary School Leaving Certificate, equiv. A Levels in the UK,High School Diploma in the USSource: STEM, Trends 2013/10, 2015/12

Citizens’ political preferences significantly influence their opinions of the heads of state of Russia, the US and Germany. As expected, Communist Party (KSČM) supporters are much more receptive to Vladimir Putin – and on the contrary, much more critical of Barack Obama – than supporters of the other parliamentary parties. Christian Democrat (KDU-ČSL) and TOP 09 supporters rate Angela Merkel more positively.

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1,014 respondents aged 18+(Given their low representation in the group, figures for KDU-ČSL, TOP 09 and ODS supporters are only approximate).

Eastern neighbours

Robert Fico enjoys a high level of popularity among our citizens. It has been apparent time and again that we have a distinctly positive attitude towards Slovakia and its political representatives. The fact that some sections of society do not actually know who some political figures are is reflected in the differences between various socio-demographic groups. Generally speaking, women, the less-educated and the under 30s are not overly interested in foreign politics. For instance, whereas 25 % of men do not know Hungarian Prime Minister V. Orbán, he is unknown by 41 % of women, 47 % of respondents under 30 years of age and 44 % of citizens with a primary education only.The proportion of people who have a positive opinion of the Slovak and Hungarian prime ministers is somewhat higher among the over 60s. By contrast, university graduates are more critical of R. Fico and V. Orbán, although a majority of this group also rates them favourably.

*Secondary School Leaving Certificate, equiv. A Levels in the UK,High School Diploma in the USSource: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1,014 respondents aged 18+

The following graph illustrates the prime ministers of Slovakia and Hungary’s ratings according to respondents’ political affiliation. Eastern European prime ministers have the approval of Communist Party (KSČM) supporters in particular. Nonetheless, in addition to his positive ratings from Communist Party supporters, the Slovak prime minister also enjoys high ratings from Social Democrats (ČSSD) and ANO (a centrist party and junior coalition partner) supporters.

Source: STEM, Trends 2015/12, 1,014 respondents aged 18+(Given their low representation in the group, figures for KDU-ČSL, TOP 09 and ODS supporters are only approximate).

European Union representative

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker’s rating is unique in that a large proportion of respondents do not know him at all (41 %). The majority of those who do know him have rated him unfavourably (16 % positive opinions vs. 43 % negative). It is noteworthy that the October 2013 survey found that just under a quarter of respondents had never heard of Juncker’s predecessor José Manuel Barroso and the majority of those who had heard of him rated him positively (48 %).NOTE:

  1. ČSSD is the ruling Czech Socialist Democratic Party;
  2. ANO is centrist party and one of the junior collation partners;
  3. KDU-ČSL is the Christian Democrat party and one of junior coalition partners;
  4. TOP 09, a conservative party, and
  5. the liberal-conservative Civic Democrat Party (ODS) are the right-wing opposition parties;
  6. KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia).

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