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Global Geopolitics

Obama, U.S. Image Falls, But Still Better Than Bush

WASHINGTON, Jun 13 2012 (IPS) - While confidence in Barack Obama overseas has declined – in some countries, quite sharply – since his 2009 election, the U.S. president and the U.S. in general still receive higher approval ratings among publics abroad compared to 2008, George W. Bush’s last year in office, according to a major new survey of 21 countries released here Wednesday.

The survey, which was based on interviews conducted with some 26,000 respondents, also found that majorities and pluralities of respondents in 11 of the 21 countries, including the U.S. and most European nations, believe that China has eclipsed the U.S. as the world’s “leading economic power”.

Respondents in predominantly Muslim countries have been particularly disappointed by Obama and his foreign policies, although he remains highly popular in Europe, Japan and Brazil where his re-election is supported by large majorities, according to findings of the latest survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Much of the fall in Obama’s overseas approval ratings appear related to his failure to meet initially high expectations, particularly regarding the persistence of U.S. unilateralism under his stewardship, and his failures both to change U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to more seriously address the challenge posed by climate change.

Significant majorities in all but three countries of the 21 countries surveyed – the U.S. itself, Britain and India – disapprove of his growing use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, as his favoured counter-terrorist weapons. The tactic is particularly unpopular in predominantly Muslim countries, according to the survey.

The new survey, which was conducted between mid-March and mid-April is the eleventh in an annual series that has polled opinion on various international issues in as many as 47 nations at a time.

This year’s editions included the U.S. and Mexico in North America; Brazil in South America; and nine European countries: Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia and Spain.

In the Greater Middle East, the survey included Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey; while Asian countries included China, India, and Japan. Pakistan was also surveyed, but most detailed findings gained from that poll will be released at a later date, according to Pew which released findings from this year’s survey about global perceptions of Iran’s nuclear programme last month.

Unlike previous polls, no Sub-Saharan country was included this year.

While the report released Wednesday focused primarily on the global perceptions of Obama, U.S. foreign policy, and the United States more generally, the standing of other major powers was also addressed.

For the first time since Pew began its Global Attitudes Project, it found that more people believe that China has become the world’s leading economic power than those who believe the U.S. retains the title. That view was most pronounced among European nations, as well as Japan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Months before the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, 45 percent of all respondents named the U.S. as the world’s leading economic power, while only 22 percent named China. In the latest poll a median of 42 percent named China, compared to 36 percent who cited the U.S.

“The global financial crisis has taken a toll on the image of the United States as an economic power,” said Andrew Kohout, director of the Global Attitudes Project.

At the same time, however, China’s image grew more negative over the past year, particularly compared to the U.S. While majorities or pluralities gave China positive ratings in nine of the countries, opinions were essentially divided in five others and largely negative in another six.

Its favourability rating in Japan fell 10 percentage points or more during the past year in Japan (from 34 to 15 percent), the U.S. (from 51 to 40 percent), Britain (59 to 49 percent), and France (59 to 49 percent). By contrast, Beijing made modest gains in most of the predominantly Muslim countries.

Its highest favourability rating were found in Pakistan (85 percent favourable); Tunisia (69 percent), Russia (62 percent), Lebanon (59 percent), and Greece (56 percent).

Overall ratings for the U.S. were mostly higher, particularly in Japan (72 percent), Brazil, Mexico, and Europe, where majorities ranging from 52 percent to 74 percent (Italy) in all countries except Greece said they held a favourable overall opinion of the United States.

With the exception of Lebanon and Tunisia, on the other hand, less than 20 percent of the publics in the other predominantly Muslim countries said they had a favourable opinion of the U.S., with the lowest ratings (12 percent) found in Jordan and Pakistan. Indeed, in those two countries, as well as in Egypt, Washington’s image has slipped to below the levels of 2008, the last year of Bush’s presidency.

In 13 of the 16 countries that were polled in both 2008 and 2012, Washington’s image has improved. The improvements were most spectacular in Europe and Japan. In France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Japan, Washington increased its favourability ratings among respondents by 21 percent or more.

Much of that improvement reflects continued support and hope for Obama himself, according to Kohout who noted that “the U.S. image trails how (its) president is regarded.”

Asked whether they at least some confidence in four leaders – Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Russian President Vladimir Putin – in dealing with world affairs, Obama received the highest median score of 61 percent, 16 percent more than runner-up Merkel, and 33 percent more than Putin.

With the exception of Greece, Russia and Poland, strong majorities in Europe, particularly in France and Germany (nearly 90 percent) expressed confidence in Obama’s foreign policy leadership as well as in Brazil (68 percent), and Japan (74 percent).

On the other hand, confidence was lowest in the predominantly Muslim countries, where the median score was only 24 percent, down from 33 percent in 2009. Indeed, confidence in Obama has fallen in almost all regions and countries since when he first became president – 11 percent in Japan, 13 percent in Mexico, a median score of six percent in Europe, and a whopping 24 percent in China (from 62 percent to 38 percent).

Approval of his actual international policies fell even more sharply over the past three years – by a median score of 15 percentage points in Europe (from 78 to 63 percent), 19 percent in Muslim countries (from 34 percent to 15 percent) , 18 percent in Russia, 30 percent in China, and 19 percent in Japan, according to the survey.

Kohut attributed these results primarily to the perceived failure by Obama to meet the sometimes sky-high expectations that he would change U.S. policies on key issues.

In 2009, for example, Pew found that a median of 45 percent of respondents in the 15 countries that were polled again this year predicted that Obama would give more consideration to their country’s national interests and seek international approval before deploying military force. Three years later, a median of only 27 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of those same countries said that he has met those expectations.

Similarly, a median of 46 percent predicted he would be “fair with the Israelis and the Palestinians”, while 56 percent said that he would take “significant measures to control global climate change”. Asked whether he has followed through, a median of only 18 percent and 22 percent respectively, answered affirmatively.

In all four cases, medians ranging from 54 percent to 61 percent said Obama had failed to meet those expectations.

At the same time, majorities or pluralities in 12 of the countries said they favoured his re-election, with support highest among traditional U.S. allies in Western Europe, in Brazil, and Japan.

Respondents in Russia and Tunisia were evenly split, while, with the exception of Turkey, pluralities or majorities in the other Muslim states, China, and Mexico said he should not be re-elected.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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