Angela Merkel’s legacy, according to Europeans and Americans

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
August 26, 2021, 9:16 AM UTC

After 16 years in power, the German Chancellor’s reputation is rosy in key Western countries

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is set to step down in late September at the 2021 federal elections. She has led the country since 2005 – a period that has seen France and America go through four presidents, the coming and going of five British prime ministers, and as many as eight prime ministers in Italy.

On the eve of her departure, YouGov has looked at Merkel’s reputation in key European nations and the US, and what people make of her legacy.

Merkel is well-regarded abroad

Merkel receives positive net ratings in all six countries surveyed, from a ‘low’ of +15 in Britain to a high of +61 in Spain. In her native Germany she scores +30.

The French public score Merkel +49, and in Italy she receives a rating of +23. In Nordic nations Sweden and Denmark the chancellor receives net scores of +47 and +64, respectively. 

Only US president Joe Biden performs comparably well in European public opinion, although the president has only been in post for half a year (and doubtless still benefits from simply being ‘not Donald Trump’). Please note also that the surveys in Europe were conducted in July, prior to the Afghanistan crisis.

Angela Merkel will be remembered most for her economic success and improving Germany’s image abroad

People are most impressed with Merkel’s stewardship of the German economy, which has grown 17% since 2005. Her performance in this area, among people in each country who know who she is, ranges from +21 in the United States to +76 in Spain.

Merkel also receives very high marks for improving Germany’s reputation abroad – the aspect Germans themselves are most likely to say she has done well (+47).

Her handling of German society, climate change, the general direction taken by the EU, and her response to the coronavirus crisis also tend to get favourable reviews.

People are much less sure that she handled other issues well. Britons especially tend to think Merkel didn’t do well with Brexit (-17), with the Italians (-2), French (+1) and Americans (+1) split. Germans themselves tend to take a slightly more positive view (+7).

When it comes to her management of the Greek bailout and the European immigration crisis, in all countries except Spain people give her net negative ratings for her performance. Italians in particular are very negative about her role in the immigration crisis (-29).

Where does Merkel rank among the world’s most powerful?

During the presidency of Donald Trump, some claimed that Angela Merkel had become the leader of the free world. Forbes magazine ranked Merkel the second most powerful person in the world twice, in 2012 and 2015, but where do Europeans and Americans place her?

Most people in Germany, France, Spain and Italy who have heard of the German leader rank her among the five most powerful global figures – in these first three countries people are most likely to place her third, specifically.

This figure is slightly lower in the Nordic countries, at 45% in Sweden and 49% in Denmark. It is lowest in the US and UK: only about a third of Britons (31%) and Americans (36%) give Merkel a top five rating, although people in these countries are also more likely to say don’t know where to rank her (32-34% compared to 11-22% elsewhere).

See the full results here