ANALYSIS: Why do Americans prefer Canada’s PM to their own president?
Donald Trump is off to rocky start in his first two weeks as U.S. president.
It’s been quite a contrast to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was not only popular at home but made quite a splash in the United States in his first year in office.
Trudeau often pops up in American culture and is such a stark contrast to Trump that an IPSOS survey made a startling discovery: more Americans agreed they’d rather have Canada’s prime minister as their president than Donald Trump.
Forty per cent agreed, 33 per cent disagreed. Another 27 per cent had no opinion.
Darrell Bricker of IPSOS says Trump’s unpopularity at home explains his low numbers, and Trudeau’s popularity worldwide boosts his image south of the border.
He says, “When you look at Justin Trudeau and his impact on the world stage, he does have a large amount of appeal, particularly when contrasted to everything else that’s going on in the world. He’s one of those leaders who’s talking about hope and looking like hope and change.”
It’s unusual for Canadians, other than entertainers or musicians, to become so well known in the United States.
And yet, 44 per cent of Americans are familiar with Trudeau. That puts him ahead of Americans’ familiarity with recent U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch (36 per cent) and American TV star – as he is known south of the border – Kevin O’Leary (30 per cent). Trudeau is also much better known among Americans than previous prime minister Stephen Harper (17 per cent).
And in politics, familiarity is a plus, says Bricker.
“Being able to manage your image in the world of social media and entertainment media in particular for Justin Trudeau has done him no harm.
“He’s appealing to all sorts of people, not just hardcore news watchers.”
So where does that leave Trudeau’s relationship with Donald Trump? The president has gone after any number of political targets – Mexicans, Muslims, even Australians.
But as he narrows his sights on NAFTA, Trump has so far side-stepped any suggestion that trade with Canada is in his crosshairs.
That may have something to do with the enormous volume of trade between the two countries. While there is a U.S. trade deficit with Canada – about $11 billion last year — it is small compared with the approximately $544 billion in total trade between the two countries that happened in 2016.
So there isn’t the same trade imbalance that the United States has with Mexico or China. That’s one reason Trump may not want to disrupt relations — Americans depend on trade as much as Canada does.
But what about Trudeau’s popularity? Could that rankle Trump?
On the contrary, says one U.S.-Canada watcher: it could benefit the relationship.
Chris Sands of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Canadian Studies says Trump’s background in reality television means he appreciates the value of name recognition and celebrity endorsements.
Sands says, “The fact that Trudeau does well with the younger generation could be very useful to Trump if the two of them could come to a common purpose in foreign policy.”
Sands thinks Trump sees Trudeau bringing something valuable to the relationship at a time when Trump’s standing at home and abroad is running low.
“That isn’t necessarily going to lead to concessions on softwood lumber,” says Sands.
“But it goes to just how valuable Canada can be as an ally for a President who doesn’t have a lot of allies domestically or internationally.”
The IPSOS survey found that Americans generally regard Canadians favorably.
Enough so, for some, that they are considering a move north of the border because they are upset with Donald Trump as President.
IPSOS says seven per cent of Americans are seriously considering looking into a move to Canada, while four per cent have actually started investigating a possible move north.
Those aren’t high percentages, but they represent millions of Americans who might come to Canada if that sentiment is translated into actual immigration applications.
Says Bricker, it might be time for Canadian authorities to upgrade their immigration website.
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