How the world sees Obama
July 16th, 2014
03:43 PM ET

How the world sees Obama

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.

Beleaguered at home, U.S. President Barack Obama remains beloved in many nations abroad. And he is far more popular than his predecessor George W. Bush. But the bloom is definitely off the Obama rose.

Obama’s election in 2008 was widely approved of around the world, and there were high expectations for the incoming American leader, whose election seemed to promise an end to the anti-Americanism that had plagued Washington’s relations with the rest of the world for the past several years.

And, despite revelations such as National Security Agency spying on foreign leaders and the growing sense in the United States that President Obama is already a lame duck domestically, his continued (if somewhat diminished) favorability abroad suggests he remains a force to be reckoned with in international affairs. But will the president follow the well-trodden path of his predecessors in spending more time on foreign policy in their last years in office as their domestic influence has waned?

His popularity abroad suggests he might.

Today, Obama remains largely popular. Half or more of the public in 27 of 43 countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2014 said they had confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs – his median positive approval rating is 55 percent, similar to the American public’s view of his handling of foreign policy. Indeed, in most nations, the public’s assessment of Obama’s performance is largely unchanged since 2013, and his image has dropped by double digits in just five nations – Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Russia and Japan. But it has risen appreciably in Israel and China.

Western Europeans’ views of Obama, meanwhile, remain quite positive, and the president hits ratings he can perhaps only dream of now back at home – more than eight-in-ten French and three quarters of Italians and British have confidence in the U.S. president doing the right thing internationally.

Indeed, revelations that Washington has read both Americans’ and some foreigners’ emails and listened in on their telephone conversations appears to have significantly damaged Obama’s approval in only one EU country, with Germans’ views of Obama falling 17 points in the last year. In addition, Russian faith in Obama, already quite low in 2013, is down 14 points to 29 percent, a likely casualty of the Ukraine confrontation. (Obama’s handling of that crisis has not won the U.S. president much support in Ukraine, either, where only 44 percent give him a positive grade).

Asians’ appreciation for President Obama echoes that of western Europeans – half or more of the publics in nine of 11 Asian nations surveyed have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. Such pro-Obama sentiment is particularly strong in the Philippines (89 percent) and South Korea (84 percent). About half of Chinese, meanwhile, now approve of his conduct internationally, up 20 points in the last year. Still, Just 7 percent of Pakistanis think highly of Obama, making them his most severe critics.

In Africa, Obama maintains a strong image, with half or more of the public in all seven nations surveyed giving Obama a positive rating. He is particularly appreciated in Kenya and Tanzania, where about three quarters of those surveyed approved of his performance.

Latin Americans take a more jaundiced view of the U.S. president. In just four of the nine countries in the survey do half or more approve of his conduct of foreign affairs, with the president’s highest rating a relatively modest 58 percent in El Salvador, while appreciation for his international stewardship is down 17 points in Brazil and 13 points in Argentina in just the past year.

Obama’s lowest regional approval is in the Middle East, where only 13 percent of Palestinians, 17 percent of Jordanians and 19 percent of Egyptians have confidence in Obama’s leadership this year. This contrasts starkly with Israel, where almost three quarters of respondents give Obama a thumbs up, a 10 point rise over the past year.

Still, although President Obama’s popularity has held up relatively well in much of the world over the past 12 months, there has been a considerable drop off since Obama took office in 2009 – his ratings have declined in 19 of 21 countries for which there is comparable data, including a 30 percentage point drop in Argentina, a 25 point fall off in Japan, a 23 point decline in Egypt and 22 point slides in Germany and Russia. Only in Israel has the public’s view of Obama improved significantly.

All this said, however much disappointment global publics may have in Barack Obama, they still prefer him to his predecessor George W. Bush. In 2008, the year he left office, a median of just 19 percent in 20 nations had confidence in Bush’s handling of world affairs, compared with 57 percent that still have confidence in Obama in those same countries.

Of course, with two and a half years remaining in office, the Obama legacy has yet to be written. But one thing is clear: He restored faith in the U.S. presidency in the eyes of many around the world. And while that impact is waning, it still remains a strong American asset abroad.

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Topics: Politics • United States

soundoff (192 Responses)
  1. Needs new compass

    Mr.Obama was not hard enough on Germany, did not have the right answers on German intelligence accusations. We need a US president that knows what he is doing and works for American interests.

    July 18, 2014 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      What we really need is a President who will take us back to an isolationist U.S. foreign policy that will keep out of places where we simply have no right to be in the first place. The current situation in the Middle East says it all!

      July 18, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  2. Gil Blackwood

    Maybe if our nation had not already spent over a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq, we would have more money to secure our boarders, increase the budget for education, improve our infrastructure, etc. I believe President Obama is doing the right thing by pulling out of Iraq, and is wisely cautious when dealing in international affairs. Of course the Tea Party types cry and whine about our deficit, all the while want to attack and invade any nation involved in a conflict. They want to increase the military budget and get into more wars, all the while our VA system is already overwhelmed.

    July 19, 2014 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • George patton

      Quite true Gil, quite true!

      July 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  3. chri§§y

    SPOT ON @ Gil! And lololol @ banasy that was hillarious!

    July 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  4. nLitnd Soul

    I'd love to see those published statistics you quote. As for Israel, I think your data is skewed by a poll taken by largely liberal Israeli's who see Obama as the means to a 2-state solution and peace...which as we are seeing, is not in the realm of possibility as the Palestinians are pursuing a 1-state solution!
    Obama, as we all know, plays both sides and while we know about this now at home, the exported media paints a very different different than the differences between CNN International and CNN domestic. Totally different reporting of the same stories. How does that work???

    July 19, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  5. rocky

    Obama isn't a great President after,all. He is just passing his time. I wouldn't put him on par to Clinton or any leader before Clinton. In fact nowhere near to any of the 42 presidents. He is slightly better then Bush junior. He has destroyed his legacy. The least he could have done is peace in Middle East. He failed. He came to Muslim countries with great hypocrisy. Thus he failed. Today the Middle East is burning. Palesgtinians are murdered in Gaza and he sits tight. What a hypocrite leader.

    July 20, 2014 at 7:07 am | Reply
    • Karl

      "The least he could have done is peace in Middle East" ... Yea, Obama should have at least ended war in the part of the world that's been fighting for the past 2000 years. So lazy of him.

      July 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  6. Peppercorn

    How the world sees Obama? LOL

    The world doesn't have to live in the U.S., but I do.

    July 20, 2014 at 11:37 am | Reply
  7. Jennie Maroney

    The mainstream media lies about everything, but especially Obama. He lies. They back him up. Why should we believe anything they have to say about this fraud. There's something wrong with a president who refuses to visit the chaos that is happening in the same state in which he is a) drinking beer with the guys, b)shooting pool with the guys and c) collecting huge amounts of money to give to the Democrats.

    I thought a president was supposed to be a leader of ALL Americans. But in Obama's case that is not true. We're not as stupid as the press seems to think we are. We don't have to read the papers to know what's going on. We can see what's happening before our eyes. I agree with Peppercorn: the world doesn't have to live in the U.S, we do. Well said.

    July 21, 2014 at 7:21 am | Reply
  8. Jennie Maroney

    There's something wrong with a commander-in-chief (Barack Obama) who is not in the Situation Room while Americans are being murdered on foreign soil, then going to a fundraiser in Las Vegas the very next day, instead of staying in Washington and conferring with his cabinet and military officials.

    There's something wrong with a president (Barack Obama) who continues to blame a video for the terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi weeks after the tragedy in his speech to the UN.

    There's something wrong with a media for refusing to call him out on anything he does, even when they know he's wrong. He can't do anything wrong in their eyes. That's why we don't believe them. They insult our intelligence every day in every way. They cannot be trusted to tell the American people the truth.

    Read what Thomas Jefferson said about an informed nation. He said, " If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

    We must search out the truth for ourselves. Don't rely on the liberal, progressive media to do it. They have become the 4th branch of government and are almost as powerful as they are.

    July 21, 2014 at 7:35 am | Reply
  9. C. Usman

    The main reason why in no way "Independence" is to be granted to the Palestenians, so that Israelis can any time enter to their land and kill them mercilessly like as what is happening now.

    July 21, 2014 at 8:03 am | Reply
  10. Dom Rod

    The world and USA see's him as the dumbest man of our time. "STUPID" and big joke clown running this country

    July 21, 2014 at 9:56 am | Reply
  11. bvaudt

    Isn't it just little bizarre that at this late date the author still does not hold Obama totally accountable on his own by throwing in comparisons to Bush?

    July 21, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Reply
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