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Germans fear Trump more than Putin, poll finds

Jefferson Chase (Berlin)
July 15, 2018

The United States may be Germany's No. 1 ally, but two-thirds of Germans think that the US president is more dangerous than his Russian counterpart. That's not surprising when you look at Germany's political priorities.

Donald Trump hugs an American flag
Image: Getty Images/J. Raedle

When asked which world leader was the greater threat to world security, 64 percent of respondents chose US President Donald Trump over his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. That's according to a YouGov poll published on the eve of Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

And the German antipathy toward Trump doesn't end there: 56 percent of respondents thought that Putin was more competent than Trump, with only 5 percent preferring the latter on that score. Thirty-six percent of Germans find Putin more likable than Trump, while 6 percent say the opposite — although most respondents refused to indicate a preference on that question.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, 44 percent said Putin was more powerful than Trump, compared with only 29 percent who thought the US president has more power.

German conservatives share the general public's dislike of Trump. People who voted for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) also found Putin more likable, competent and powerful than the US president by margins similar to respondents as a whole. In fact, conservative voters were slightly more likely (66 percent) to class Trump as the bigger threat than people overall in the poll.

Germans' views on Trump and Putin

Maas: Remember who your friends are

In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had a warning for the US president.

"Dialogue requires clarity, and President Trump's system of coordinates lacks clarity," Maas said. "Anyone who snubs his partners risks being the big loser in the end. One-sided deals to the detriment of America's own partners ultimately hurt the US, too."

But Maas also said the bilateral summit could make the world more peaceful.

"It would be a step forward if this meeting also produced some impulses for nuclear disarmament," Maas said.

On the one hand, Germans fear that Trump's and Putin's alpha male tendencies could collide, ratcheting up tensions between the world's two greatest military powers. On the other, they're perhaps even more afraid that Trump and Putin might be too much on the same page.

Two against the EU?

"The world's two most powerful men have one thing in common," Bild's lead story on Sunday reads. "They want to weaken Europe."

That's a widespread view around Germany, where many people fear that Trump's occasional hostility to NATO, for instance, plays into Putin's strategic aim of dividing the West and increasing Russia's influence in the world.

"Donald Trump is meeting Vladimir Putin, the man whom he admires — and who has become an adversary of the West," the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel writes in its current lead article. "If the Helsinki summit turns out to be a lovefest between two like-minded men, it could shake Europe to its core."

A major aspect of German worry is the belief that the businessman and former reality TV star Trump maybe in over his head with a political veteran such as Putin.

"The US president is stumbling into a summit meeting with a former KGB officer who has kept himself in power for 18 years, suppressed the opposition, manipulated democratic elections and has no scruples about using violence," Spiegel reports. "Someone who knows exactly what he wants."

Putin talks to Trump
Monday will be the third time Trump and Putin have met alone, but the first summitImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Klimentyev

Disconnect on priorities

The distrust of Trump's motivations and leadership capabilities is apparent in how Germans see the United States as a whole. In a YouGov poll published earlier in July, Germans were asked whether they had a generally positive or negative view of the United States. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they viewed the US negatively, compared with only 29 percent who chose positively.

The negative-positive split in France was 51 percent to 36 percent, while more respondents in Britain viewed the US positively (48 percent) than negatively (39 percent) — although Trump's visit this week to the UK may have moved those numbers.

The reasons for the German antipathy toward the US president run deeper than a visceral response to Trump's abrasive leadership style. Germans simply have different priorities.

In a new poll carried out by the Emnid organization for Bild, respondents were asked to rank which political issues they considered most important. "Increasing defense spending" — a Trump priority — came in dead last, with only 16 percent.

According to the poll, Germans are also not particularly concerned with a rise in migration to Europe: Only 38 percent said they would prioritize "limiting immigration." What worries Germans most are becoming poor in their old age, maintaining equal educational opportunities for all and improving their health care system.

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