Poll: Obama's Popularity Lifts U.S. Global Image

Critics wonder if his popularity will translate to tangible U.S. successes.

July 23, 2009, 10:45 AM

July 23, 2009— -- The verdict is in: President Barack Obama is popular around the world and improving the U.S.'s global image.

A Pew Research Poll released today shows that the image of the United States has "improved markedly in most parts of the world," largely because of the high levels of global confidence and trust in Obama. Improvements were especially high in Western Europe, but attitudes toward America also warmed in Canada, Mexico, Argentina and urban populations in Brazil, India and China. Nearly 27,000 interviews were conducted in 24 nations, as well as the Palestinian territories.

"His personal popularity and new respect for the U.S. having elected him translates positively for the U.S. image," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said today, speaking on a Washington, D.C., panel with Pew Research Center president Andrew Kohut and former U.N. Ambassador John Danforth, who's also a former GOP senator from Missouri.

The survey notes that confidence in Obama's "foreign policy judgments stands behind a resurgent U.S. image in many countries" and those surveyed indicated a belief that Obama will "do the right thing" in regard to world affairs.

The survey, conducted by the non-partisan Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, showed that favorable ratings for both the nation and Americans have soared in Western Europe. In Germany, favorable opinion of the United States more than doubled, from 31 percent in 2008 to 64 percent in 2009.

There were "signs of improvement" in predominantly Muslim countries that held overwhelming negative views of the United States during the George W. Bush administration.

Among predominantly Muslim countries, the United States was most popular in Indonesia, where Obama spent part of his childhood. For the first time in the course of Pew's surveys among Muslim publics, confidence in Obama topped confidence in Osama bin Laden.

There was only a modest increase in favorable views of the United States among Muslims in the Middle East, with the largest being in Jordan, with a 6 percent increase.

While the survey showed that overall opinion of the United States remained "largely unfavorable" among Muslims in the Middle East, there was a three-fold increase in confidence in Obama from the Bush administration in 2008 in Egypt and Jordan.

U.S. Popularity Drops in Israel

The only notable exception among countries surveyed in the Middle East was Israel, where approval for the United States dropped to 71 percent from 78 percent in 2007.

Albright credited Obama's overall global popularity to his approach with other nations and their publics -- listening to foreign leaders, hosting town hall meetings where he could interact with foreign publics, encouraging multilateralism, acknowledging areas where the United States could improve, and, then, suggesting areas where other nations' leaders could improve.

She suggested that the president's approach was useful in terms of achieving U.S. foreign policy goals.

"Having a president viewed as someone who wants to use multilateral tools is important for our national security interests," Albright said.

Danforth disagreed with that assessment.

"It's great to be popular, wonderful. But I don't see where it gets us," he said. "I don't see growth of popularity translating into anything that's real."

Danforth noted that while Obama enjoyed popularity in France, compared to the previous administration, the French government agreed to take only one Guantanamo Bay prison detainee.

"The president is being heard and telling people what they want to hear, he's apologizing but when he asks, he doesn't get anything," he said.

Albright agreed that the president's popularity has yet to be translated to real world battles, such as maintaining support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, which remains unpopular with foreign publics, but she said the United States was on a better "glide path" to restoring U.S. reputation and leadership in the world.

"Americans no longer have to say they're from Canada when they travel around," she joked.

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