By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
In the fifth year of the Obama presidency the United States’ image remains strong around the world compared with the last years of the administration of President George W. Bush. Still, pro-America sentiment is slipping.
The decline is in no way comparable to the collapse of U.S. standing in the first decade of this century. But the “Obama bounce” in the global stature of the United States experienced in 2009 is clearly a thing of the past. And this gradual erosion of support is, in part, due to the diminishing popularity of U.S. President Barack Obama himself in some nations.
In 28 of 38 nations, half or more of those surveyed express a favorable opinion of the U.S., according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. This includes more than half those surveyed in seven of eight European countries, including three quarters in Italy, two thirds in Poland and 64 percent in France. Only in Greece does just 39 percent of the public say they have a favorable view of Uncle Sam.
And America rates highly in Africa, where a median of 77 percent have a favorable view, including 83 percent in Ghana and 81 percent in Kenya. Latin Americans are also quite positive. A median of two thirds favor the United States, including almost 80 percent in El Salvador and about three quarters in Brazil.
But the United States fares much worse in the Middle East, where a median of just 21 percent see America positively and where there was never anyway an appreciable improvement in the U.S. stature in recent years. About eight-in-ten Israelis have a favorable opinion of the U.S. But Jordanians are particularly critical; only 14 percent view the United States favorably. Egyptians (16 percent) and Palestinians (16 percent) share these negative sentiments.
But the still generally positive global view of the United States this year masks a gradual attrition in support over time. Most notably, and perhaps ominously, there has been an 18 percentage point drop in the favorability of the United States in China since 2010. More broadly, views of America are down in 8 of 21 countries where there is comparable data from 2009. This includes 11 point drops in Britain, Egypt, France and Germany.
President Obama has also suffered some degree of image fatigue. At least half of those surveyed in 24 of 39 countries give the American leader high marks. And his rating is quite strong in many nations: 88 percent in Germany, 84 percent in the Philippines and 81 percent in Kenya, for example. Indeed, these are levels of public support that other politicians would die for.
But perception of Obama’s ability to do the right thing in world affairs is down in 17 of those nations in 2009. And some of the drop off in support is quite significant: 31 points in China, 18 points in Spain and Indonesia and 14 points in Britain.
The decline in America’s and Obama’s popularity may, in part, be traced to disagreements with U.S. foreign policy initiatives. Support for the Obama administration’s international policies is generally positive. But backing is down in 19 of 22 nations for which there is comparable date from 2009. And, in many cases, the fall off is dramatic: 34 points in China, and 24 points in Indonesia and Argentina. Moreover, it is down significantly among some key U.S. allies: by 14 points in Britain, 13 points in Poland and 12 points in France.
On the signature Obama foreign policy of drone strikes, publics are also deeply critical. In 31 of 39 nations, at least half of those surveyed disapprove of the U.S. conducting drone missile strikes targeting extremists in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The only countries where majorities support the drone campaign are Israel, Kenya and the United States itself.
The anti-Americanism and strong global public antipathy toward the U.S. president that surfaced under the Bush administration in many parts of the world has not resurfaced under the Obama administration. But the honeymoon period for America’s image that began in 2009 is slowly beginning to fade.