Who's In, Who's Out at the G-20
As the world’s top leaders gather in Pittsburgh for this week’s great powers summit, The Daily Beast breaks down who has the most political capital to spend.
Since winning the 2007 election in a media-proclaimed “Ruddslide,” Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has become a political rock star. According to the latest figures, the prime minister’s approval rating has reached 64 percent, the highest it’s been in six months. Financial strife and high unemployment rates have hobbled most of the world’s leading powers. But Rudd reports that Australia was the only country out of the 33 in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that experienced economic growth in the past year and has the second lowest unemployment rate among all major first-world countries, as well the lowest debt and deficit levels. Put that on the barbie and fire it up, G-20!
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
A self-deprecating Barack Obama called him the “most popular president in the world.” And with a 67 percent approval rating, it’s hard to deny the two-term Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that mantle. Lula, as his country affectionately calls him, has presided over the Latin American nation during a period of significant growth. A former factory worker with a fifth-grade education, he credibly presents himself as a humble populist who has helped make Brazil a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. Since recently declaring his move toward Brazilian economic independence, President da Silva shocked foreign oil companies with his plan to ensure his country’s role in exploring new reserves, hence increasing Brazil’s share of global oil profits, which will increase the country’s wealth and power. Perhaps he’ll be able to keep a lower profile at this Group of 20 summit, and avoid the kind of headlines he made on the eve of the last gathering, when he blamed the global financial meltdown on “the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes.”
Though he still hasn’t been able to cross the 50 percent threshhold, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is slowly climbing in his country’s polls, scoring a 45 percent approval rating in a recent sounding. Though the former interior minister, who won France’s 2007 election with 53 percent of the country’s vote, faced controversy in the early stages of his presidency, he’s won over some detractors by moving away from his model wife and toward the environmental and economic reform he hopes to encourage at the G-20 session. Last month, for example, Sarkozy announced his plans to impose new rules on bonus payments for bank traders, saying, “I was scandalized to see the lessons of the crisis being forgotten so quickly by some people at a time when the page has not even been turned on the crisis.”
Germany's Angela Merkel has topped Forbes’ list as the world’s most powerful woman for the past three years. The impenetrable Merkel, Germany’s first female chancellor, has long advocated for free-market reform and supports a strong relationship with the United States, as evidenced by her massage from former President George W. Bush at the 2006 G-8 summit. Merkel has overhauled both Germany’s corporate tax policies and health-care system, a surefire way to gain favorability with the people in a steady-as-she-she-goes approach. And it’s worked thus far—Merkel’s approval rating has skyrocketed to 64 percent recently. With mere days before she stands for reelection on Sunday, she’s said she’ll “fight for every vote.”
In spite of a one-point drop in the polls between May and August 2009, Mexico’s conservative president is the most popular leader on our list, with a 69 percent approval rating. Which comes as something of a surprise, given that the headlines out of Mexico these days aren’t exactly triumphant. A lawyer, former energy secretary, active Catholic, and early leader in the National Action Party, the Harvard-educated Calderón is vocal in fighting drug trafficking and crime, while remaining popular in the business community. His vision for moving Mexico forward includes privatization, liberalization, and political freedom.
Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner
Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner did what Hillary Clinton hoped to do: follow her husband into the presidency. Kirchner won the general election in October 2007 by one of the widest margins in Argentina’s democratic history and promised to address the country’s poverty and carry on the economic policies of her husband, Néstor Kirchner. Not all has gone as planned. The United States has accused her of taking illegal campaign contributions. A threatened farmers’ strike over soybean exports added to Kirchner’s troubles. Since this summer’s disclosure that Kirchner and her husband experienced an increase an assets (seven times the amount revealed when her husband was inaugurated in 2003), Kirchner’s approval rating has dropped to 23 percent.
Berlusconi’s approval ratings have dropped from 53 percent in May 2009 to 47 percent this month. While the six-point fall isn’t the most shocking drop among G-20 leaders, the reasons behind it might just be the juiciest. Berlusconi, who entered office in May 2008, has fended off a variety of unfortunate rumors in the European press, including an alleged preoccupation with prostitutes as well as liaisons with younger women, such as 18-year-old amateur actress Noemi Letizia. That accusation literally hit home when Veronica Lario, his wife of 19 years, slapped Berlusconi with a divorce after calling him, “a man who frequents minors.” In spite of the rumors surrounding his extracurricular activities, Berlusconi said in a national press conference this month that he is, “by far the best prime minister Italy has had in its 150-year history.”
Brown, the U.K. prime minister and Labour Party leader, has seen his approval ratings climb six percent since May 2009. That’s the good news. The bad news: that’s brought him up to an approval rating of 26 percent. It’s a level of disfavor largely supported by the British press, who document public accusations over Brown’s tax policies, secret spending, and poor management of the country’s expenses crisis in searing headlines and enthusiastically posted YouTube videos of Brown picking his nose. Since succeeding Tony Blair in June 2007, the economy continues to remain one of Brown’s largest challenges.
The Russian president’s approval ratings have been given a boost—from 10.9 percent in May 2009 to 20.6 percent in August 2009, but Medvedev remains the least-favored G-20 leader. A former weightlifter and Black Sabbath fan who was elected as Russia’s third president in May of 2008, Medvedev has had the challenge of making a name for himself independent of Vladimir Putin, who is still considered Russia’s most powerful leader. As a result, Medvedev’s lack of autonomy has affected his disapproval rating as much as any kind of poor behavior. Faced with, in Medvedev’s own words, "an ineffective economy, a semi-Soviet social sphere, a weak democracy, negative demographic trends and an unstable Caucasus,” it’s safe to say that Medvedev is not out of the woods yet either.
Is the honeymoon definitely over? Faced with criticism over his plan to reform health care, his management of the recession, nuclear defense, and time spent away from the White House, Obama has seen his approval ratings drop significantly—from 62 percent in April, to 51 percent today, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Obama has lost ground in demographic categories across the board—including an 11-point decline among women and a 10-point drop among Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. But then again, the polls haven’t had a chance to register yet whether he’s gotten a bounce during his fall marathon of TV appearances and major speeches. Maybe calling Kanye West a “jackass” and doing the circuit of Sunday shows will give him a bump.