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The World’s Unpopular Leaders


By many measures, President Biden is very unpopular. Since at least World War II, no president has had a worse disapproval rating at this point in his term.

Relative to his international peers, however, Biden looks much better. Many leaders of developed democracies have disapproval ratings even higher than Biden’s, as this chart by my colleague Ashley Wu shows:

Many world leaders are also up for re-election. More than 60 countries — half of the world’s population — will vote or have voted this year. Most of the countries in the chart above will vote in national or European Union elections in the coming months.

Why are people so upset with their leaders? Some explanations are local, but four global issues have driven much of the public’s anger. Call them the four I’s: inflation, immigration, inequality and incumbency.

The world has seen a sharp increase in prices over the past few years. As bad as inflation has been in the U.S., it has been worse in European countries more directly affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Rising prices anger voters. Your hard-earned money is worth less. “When prices rise, it feels like something is taken away from you,” my colleague Jeanna Smialek, who covers the U.S. economy, has said. And people direct much of that anger toward their leaders.

People also don’t like the solution to inflation. To slow price increases, central banks have raised interest rates. But higher interest rates also make loans, credit card payments and mortgages more expensive. This helps explain why people are so upset even as inflation has fallen.

The U.S. and Europe have dealt with multiple migration and refugee crises in the past decade. Those crises have fueled anger against the more mainstream political parties that tend to be in charge in developed countries.

More immigration can have advantages, particularly for growing economies and reducing inflation. But for many people, other considerations win out. They worry that immigrants use government resources, take jobs, lower wages and change their country’s culture. Illegal immigration, in particular, upsets them by contributing to a broader sense of chaos and lawlessness.

And they blame their leaders for it. Sometimes, they will support once-fringe, far-right candidates — as happened in the Netherlands and Italy in the last couple years. These politicians often want to shut down most, if not all, immigration.

“There are a lot of people who are not right-wing themselves, but they really care about immigration,” said Sonnet Frisbie, deputy head of political intelligence at the polling firm Morning Consult. “They feel like centrist and center-left parties don’t represent their views.”

Across the world, the rich have captured a growing share of income. Big companies keep getting bigger. A few individuals have amassed more wealth than entire countries. Many people now believe that the wealthiest have pulled ahead while everyone else has lagged behind (although some economists disagree).

The growing sentiment has contributed to greater distrust of elites, including national leaders. People feel that those in charge have taken advantage of their power to enrich themselves and their friends. That distrust now appears in approval ratings.

Incumbents typically have an electoral advantage over challengers. But that advantage can diminish over time. Voters tend to tire of national leaders the longer they’re in power — what political scientists call “the cost of ruling.” Consider that two-term presidents in the U.S. are rarely succeeded by a president of the same party. The cost of ruling “is a remarkably consistent pattern across countries,” said Lee Drutman, a political scientist at New America, a liberal think tank.

Many current world leaders, or at least their political parties, have been in power for a while. Japan’s top party has led the country for most of the last seven decades. Leaders or parties in France, Canada and Britain have ruled for seven to 14 years. In the U.S., Democrats have held the White House for 11 of the last 15 years.

The trend is not universal. India’s prime minister is popular after nearly a decade in office. Germany’s chancellor is unpopular despite coming to power a little more than two years ago. Still, the cost of ruling applies more often than not.

Over the past several years, the world has often felt chaotic and uncertain. Many people hoped that the end of the Covid pandemic would bring normalcy. Instead, inflation spiked. Longer-term problems, such as illegal immigration and inequality, persist. National leaders have struggled to address these issues, often despite many years in power. The result is widespread disapproval of the people running the world. And many of them are now at risk of losing their jobs this year.

Related: These maps show where Biden faces protest voters.

  • The Guardian, a British newspaper, leaked the membership list for an elite private members’ club in London. The club has received criticism for its men-only membership policy.

  • Russia’s security services missed the attack on a concert hall in part because they were focused on Ukraine, experts say.

Democrats’ promises to help Puerto Ricans affected by hurricanes in the region are empty, Yarimar Bonilla writes.

Inflated fees: A recent change has upended real estate commissions in the U.S. Meet the homeowners who made it happen.

The Royal Kardashians? The frenzy over Kate, Princess of Wales, reflects a shift in public sentiment: The Windsors are now like any other celebrity family.

Spring curse: Climate change is making seasonal allergies worse. Here’s how to find relief.

Radical honesty: An influencer couple were vulnerable about their relationship online. They were vulnerable about their breakup, too.

Lives Lived: Richard Serra wanted to become a painter but instead became one of his era’s greatest sculptors. His “viewer centered” sculptures had a flowing, circling geometry that often had to be walked through. He died at 85.

M.L.B.: Baseball officially begins today. The Los Angeles Dodgers had an impressive offseason.

N.B.A.: Golden State’s Draymond Green was ejected just four minutes into his team’s win over Orlando last night, his fourth expulsion this season.

A second act: For years, Devon Werkheiser wanted to move past being seen as Ned, the character he played as a child on the Nickelodeon show “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.” Now, at 33, he’s embracing his past on a podcast about the show with two of his former co-stars.

The podcast is one of many hosted by former Disney and Nickelodeon child stars that capitalize on a nostalgic Gen Z and millennial fan base, and on the characters they have tried, with mixed success, to move beyond.



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