Immigration, Anti-Terrorism Efforts Affecting Image of U.S. and Obama Abroad, Study Finds

Pew Study finds U.S. favorability rating dropped in Mexico and Muslim countries

June 17, 2010, 1:21 PM

June 17, 2010— -- On average, more people around the world have a favorable view of the United States than in past years, but changes in U.S. policies on immigration and terrorism have put a dent in President Obama's and the country's image in key partner countries, such as Mexico and Egypt, according to a Pew Research Center survey on global attitudes.

Arizona's controversial immigration law that gives law enforcement greater authority to arrest illegal immigrants has met with disapproval in Mexico, as expected. But according to Pew, it has also tarnished Obama's image, even though the president has called the law "misguided."

Thirty-six percent of Mexicans surveyed by Pew had confidence in Obama's international leadership, down from 47 percent before the Arizona law's passage. Fifty-four percent of Mexicans said they disapproved of the way Obama had responded to the new law. That number jumped to 75 percent for Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.

Forty-four percent of Mexicans gave the United States a favorable rating, down from 62 percent before the law's signing.

It's "pretty clear that the law in Arizona has had quite a negative impact," said Andy Kohut, president of Pew Research Center. "It's probably a bit of an emotional reaction. There's a long complicated history between Mexico and the United States, and no one thinks it's going to change."

Immigration is a contentious issue between the United States and Mexico. On his state visit to the White House in May, President Felipe Calderon assailed the new immigration law -- an unusual step for a visiting head of state -- saying such measures are "forcing our people to face discrimination."

In contrast, more Americans support the Arizona law and back tougher measures against illegal immigrants. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released today found that nearly six in 10 Americans favored the Arizona law. However, less than half -- 46 percent -- believed the states should have the power to make and enforce their own immigration laws.

In addition to immigration, U.S. terrorism policies also earned strong disapproval ratings in not just Muslim countries but in places where the United States is generally looked upon favorably, including Argentina, Japan and South Korea, according to Pew.

Unlike the Bush administration, though, a majority of survey respondents in Britain, France, Spain and Germany expressed support for U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.

While the United States is looked upon positively in most parts of the world, its favorability ratings declined in Muslim countries, such as Egypt, where 17 percent had a favorable view of the United States, down from 27 percent the previous year, and in Turkey, where 17 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of the United States.

Among most of the Muslim population, with the exception of Indonesia, the slight uptick in confidence and approval in 2009, following Obama's election, slipped again, according to Pew.

"If you look at the things people in the Muslim world haven't liked about the United States over the past decade, they're still there," Kohut said. "One is distrust of anti-terrorism efforts, which are largely seen as anti-Muslim, and second that United States is not an honest broker in dealing with Israel and Palestine."

United States' Global Image

While most Europeans surveyed applauded the way Obama handled the economic crisis and the issue of climate change, overall confidence that the U.S. president would do the right thing in world affairs dropped in all countries where Pew conducted its research, except in Russia (Obama signed a key nuclear arms agreement with Russia earlier this year), and Kenya, the country of Obama's father.

Most people disapproved of Obama's handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A majority of people in most countries also supported removing troops from Afghanistan, where NATO and U.S. forces are engaged in a bloody battle with Taliban factions. A majority in only the United States, Britain, India, South Korea, Kenya and Nigeria supported keeping troops in the war-torn country.

To those outside the United States, China is emerging as a key power player in international politics and economics. The percentage of those who named China as the world's leading economy, ahead of the United States, rose from 20 percent in 2008 to 31 percent, while for the United States, that number dropped from 50 percent to 43 percent.

The study also found that there is limited support for extremism, with many fewer Muslims saying that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are justified to defend Islam from its enemies.

This new survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project was conducted from April 7 to May 8, and covered 22 countries, including the United States. Interviews were mostly conducted face-to-face and also through telephone interviews in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Japan.

ABC News' Gary Langer contributed to this report.

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