“Trump and America’s Image a Mixed Bag in Key Southeast Asia Countries”, by Ian Storey

2017/39, 28 June 2017
Published on 26 June, the Pew Research Center’s survey of public opinions of President Donald Trump and America in 37 countries shows that Trump, his policies and character are widely unpopular across the world and that America’s image has suffered accordingly. Only 22% have confidence in Trump’s ability to handle international affairs, down from 64% under President Barack Obama.

However, public opinions of Trump and America in Southeast Asia’s three most populous countries—Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam—reveals a mixed bag.
In Indonesia, public perceptions of the US have declined dramatically since Trump took office, falling to levels not seen since President George W. Bush. Favourable views of America have fallen from 62% in 2015 to 48% in 2017 (with 43% holding unfavourable views of America). Only 23% of Indonesians had a favourable view of Trump, compared to 64% for Obama but 19% for Bush. The majority of Indonesians see Trump as arrogant (70%), intolerant (64%) and dangerous (68%)—close to the global median of 75%, 65% and 62% respectively. Only 22% feel that Trump is well qualified to be president and 38% think relations with the US will get worse. Poor public perceptions of Trump are due in large part to his perceived anti-Islamic views, including his proposed ban on people entering the US from certain Muslim-majority countries, of which 67% of Indonesians disapprove.
In the Philippines, favourable views of the US have dropped from 92% in 2015 to 70% in 2017. Yet Filipinos seem to like Trump: 67% believe Trump is well qualified to be president, 69% have confidence in his ability to conduct international affairs (the highest among the 37 countries) and only 12% think relations with the US will worsen. Public opinion remains highly favourable towards Americans (85%), US ideals and customs (62%) and US popular culture (73%).
Vietnam is an outlier. It is one of only six countries where positive views of the US have increased under Trump: up from 78% in 2015 to 84% in 2017. Of the Vietnamese surveyed, 72% see Trump as a strong leader and 71% believe he is well qualified to be president (the global median is 55% and 26% respectively). Only 11% think relations with America will get worse, while 35% believe they will improve. However, 61% disapprove of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the highest among all the TPP countries surveyed. Of the 12 TPP members, Vietnam was expected to benefit the most from the trade agreement.

Overall, the survey reveals public opinion gains in Indonesia under Obama have been completely reversed, approval ratings of the US in the Philippines remain highly favourable despite President Duterte’s efforts to improve relations with China and Russia, and increasingly positive views of America in Vietnam, especially among young people.

Dr Ian Storey is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.