India's Leadership Unknown to Much of World

by Julie Ray

Even in Asia, median of 44% have no opinion

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As India seeks to cement its place as a world leader with its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Gallup surveys find India's leadership has work to do on its global image. Nearly half of the world's residents surveyed (44%) don't know enough about the country's leadership to have an opinion, and the rest are mixed. Across 110 countries surveyed in 2009, a median of 22% approve and a median of 27% disapprove.

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More than half of people in the former Soviet Union, the Americas, and Europe don't have an opinion about India's leadership. This may be understandable given their proximity to the country, but many in Asia also don't have an opinion. Overall, residents in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region are more likely to express opinions about India's leadership.

India's Influence in Asia

Outside of some of its immediate neighbors such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, India's leadership is relatively unknown. However, many of those in the region who have an opinion -- including those in other G20 economies -- tend to approve rather than disapprove, which may be conducive for India as it seeks to expand economic and strategic partnerships, particularly in Afghanistan and East Asia.

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India's challenge is a given in Pakistan, where the two-thirds who disapprove of India's leadership bespeak frosty relations and historical rivalry. But India's leadership also faces challenges in other places where those who disapprove outnumber those who approve such as in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. The high percentages in these countries with no opinion, however, may be a positive for India; some people's views may still be malleable.

India's Influence in Sub-Saharan Africa

India's leadership earns some of its highest marks in sub-Saharan Africa, where residents historically tend to give relatively positive ratings to foreign leadership. Sub-Saharan Africans' 46% median approval of India's leadership, however, is far lower than the 87% median approval they give to U.S. leadership and the 65% for China's leadership. This lower approval could be a factor as India attempts to increase its influence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rwandans', Malians', and Burundians' approval ratings of India are among the highest in the world, and India similarly finds more approval than disapproval in 14 out of the 22 countries and areas surveyed in the region.

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Key challenges likely remain, however, in some of the region's larger economies such as fellow G20 member South Africa, where a majority (59%) disapprove of India's leadership.

India's Influence in the Middle East and North Africa

India's leadership earns some of its highest disapproval ratings in the Middle East and North Africa region, but opinions are more mixed or favorable in some Arab Gulf countries with sizable Indian expat populations. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, where nearly 2 million Indians are estimated to live, about one-third approves and one-third disapproves. It's important to note that only Arab nationals and Arab expats were surveyed in Gulf states, so these opinions don't include those of Indian expats.

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The country's leadership receives its highest approval rating in the region in Saudi Arabia, which may reflect the relatively good relations between the two nations. Saudi King Abdullah referred to India as his "second home" during a visit there in 2006, and more recently, the countries signed the Riyadh Declaration in 2010, which outlined a "new era in strategic partnership."


During his trip to India earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama described India as a "key actor on the world stage," and as a country that has already emerged. Gallup surveys show the key actor remains a relative unknown in much of the world -- which is partially attributable to its relatively quiet, soft power approach -- but that may have to change if the country wishes to widen its influence. This relative anonymity and soft opinion, however, does offer India a unique advantage -- it means its image is still its own to mold.

Visit Real Clear World's Top 5s feature to learn more about the countries where residents most approve of India's leadership.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2009 in 110 countries. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±2.8 percentage points in Russia to a high of ±5.7 percentage points in Slovenia. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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