The German Marshall Fund of the United States has released its 2012 Transatlantic Trends survey, an annual survey which is the preeminent source of European and American public polling data. For the first time in the poll’s existence, Russia has been added to the list of countries being surveyed, bringing with it new perspectives on geopolitical topics. Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund of the United States presented this survey at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center provided comments. Carnegie’s Dmitri Trenin and Carnegie’s Natalia Bubnova moderated.

Russia and the West

  • How the West Views Russia: On both sides of the Atlantic, majority opinions on Russia turned from favorable to unfavorable, Stelzenmüller said. She outlined some of the findings:

    • Americans were less likely to hold favorable views of Russia than in the previous year, at 42 percent, down from 48 percent in 2011 and 51 percent in 2010.
    • European opinions overall dropped even further, Stelzenmüller said, with only 37 percent holding favorable views toward Russia, down from 50 percent in 2011. Those holding unfavorable opinions of Russia rose 16 percentage points, to 55 percent from 39 percent in 2011.
    • Within Europe, majorities holding a favorable opinion of Russia were found only in Bulgaria (78 percent) and Slovakia (64 percent).
    • Unfavorable ratings in Europe were highest in Sweden (68 percent).
    • Asked whether they favored strong Russian leadership in world affairs, 67 percent of Europeans said no, and only 25 percent said yes. Americans were nearly evenly split on this question, with 45 percent saying they were favorable, and 43 percent saying they were not.
  • How Russians View the West: The Russian picture was generally the opposite, Stelzenmüller said. Exactly half of the Russian respondents held a favorable view of the United States, while 64 percent thought favorably of the EU. In particular, 71 percent of Russians expressed favorable opinions toward Germany. A plurality of Russians thought that Russia and Europe, as well as the United States, have enough common values and interests to be able to cooperate on international issues. However, at the same time, majorities or pluralities among the Russians feel that U.S. and EU leadership on international problems is mostly undesirable now, and take an unfavorable view of NATO.

Barack Obama’s First Term and the U.S. Presidential Election

  • Obama and Romney: According to Stelzenmüller, the European view of the U.S. presidential candidates is largely positive toward Barack Obama, but negative or indifferent toward his challenger, Governor Mitt Romney. The pollsters asked Europeans which United States candidate they would vote for if given the option and the vast majority of respondents said Obama. However, Stelzenmüller noted, the majority of Russians either refused to answer the question, or did not know. Only 27 percent of Russians said they would vote for Obama, while 12 percent said they would vote for Romney.
  • Obama’s Foreign Policy: In the majority of EU member states, Obama’s handling of international policies is viewed less favorably now than shortly after his election in 2008, Stelzenmüller said. The favorability ratings remain high, with the highest approval rate in Germany (79 percent) and the lowest in Poland (49 percent). Russians had a far less favorable view toward President Obama’s foreign policy, with only 26 percent approval rates.

Defense and Security

  • Europe and the United States: Stelzenmüller said that European and American respondents demonstrated a preference for reducing general government spending rather than specifically defense spending. 50 percent of European Union respondents wanted government spending reduced specifically and only 39 percent were for reducing the defense budget, while 58 percent of American respondents were for government reductions, and 32 percent for defense reductions.
  • Russian View: Russian views toward defense spending were noteworthy, Stelzenmüller said. Russians expressed a desire to continue current spending practices, or even increase the defense budget. 43 percent of Russian respondents believed defense spending should stay at current levels while 34 percent expressed a desire for increased defense spending. Gudkov noted that this fact doesn’t show a greater level of militarism in Russia, but rather the different context in which Russians live: he argued that they have become victims of aggressive rhetoric of Vladimir Putin, who promotes the idea that almost all the world is hostile to Russia. Also, in Russia where the citizens cannot control the authorities and their spending, the people have no clear vision of the country’s financial resources and often believe that those in power may spend money without any limits, Gudkov added.