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 (319 Responses)
  1. The GOP Solution

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    July 16, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • pmfsc3

      Intolerance seems to be a liberal affliction of anyone with ideas that do not agree with their own. Talk about conforming

      July 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Reply
      • Ron

        I have noticed that very same thing myself on many an occasion.

        July 16, 2014 at 5:50 pm |
      • MARKFROG

        Excuse me. Intolerance a Liberal affliction??? That's a very conservative and basically ignorant think to say, and it seems so very easy for you to throw out there. For you're information, the conservative mentality we have now came out of the south and was built on the thought that not only the blacks should be 'helped' with slavery, but that most of the low class whites should be helped as well. The South was built on sons of Norman Lords that had no land in jolly old England and came to see the South as there land of Liberty. Liberty being something that only the upper-class had and could not be bestowed on those of the lower-class. Don't you ever talk to me about intolerance

        July 16, 2014 at 6:11 pm |
      • Matt

        Quit lying. You know it is the right wing nut jobs, tea baggers and republicans that are the intollerent ones. They are what is wrong with America today, not the so called 'libs'. These people are a discrace to all the people who fought and died for the principles this country was founded upon.

        July 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm |
      • sfeadmin

        A recent study concluded that conservationism is not a political distinction... it is a genetic condition, like pattern baldness or curly hair. The study concludes that the brains of the average conservative functions in a factual vacuum, changing very little since prior to the Dark ages. They are motivated by fear and aggression, basing their rational on perceived, rather than actual threats... mindless ideologues, living in a make believe world.

        July 17, 2014 at 9:31 am |
      • Just to clarify

        @pmfsc3- Just to clarify. You agree with the GOP Mantra then. Ok got it.

        July 17, 2014 at 9:50 am |
      • BK

        I agree, the liberals scream you down with their radical ideology when it does not conform with theirs.

        July 17, 2014 at 9:57 am |
    • WHAT!! WHAT!!!! WHAT!!!!!

      WOW!!!!

      July 16, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Reply
      • Just to clarify

        Just to clarify. You agree with the GOP Mantra then. Ok got it.

        July 17, 2014 at 9:48 am |
    • guesxt

      delusional thinking leads to delusional voting... that's why we have a liberal president and why the country is in such poor shape

      July 17, 2014 at 5:01 am | Reply
      • No

        No. The country is in bad shape because of the GOP Mantra.

        July 17, 2014 at 9:48 am |
    • Eddie B

      I do not like the GOP either but it has nothing to do with being young and white if it was not for the young white vote Obama would not be the prez.

      July 17, 2014 at 7:40 am | Reply
  2. petroskies

    Very, very dark..........

    July 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  3. Donny

    Interesting, these days it seems that the Democratic party is leading the way with intolerance and denying diverse ideas that are different than their own. Imagine that... the future will be Republicans being the party of diversity and tolerance. The world is an interesting place for sure.

    July 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Quit lying and projecting your faults on others. It is the right wing nut jobs, tea baggers, and republicans who are intollerant. I'm an independent white guy and you nut jobs make me sick.

      July 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Reply
      • guest

        why do you have to inject race into the discussion?

        and you refer to republicans as "right wing nut jobs" and "tea baggers" and then claim THEY are intolerant

        they seek what is best for america, while your side will destroy america in time

        this is the truth, matt

        July 17, 2014 at 5:07 am |
  4. mason

    No Leadership Skills, No Respect! <------

    July 16, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  5. chri§§y

    Amen @ MARKFROG! Rather confusing isnt it lol. Wonder where Independent thinkers/voters fall on this scale they have going on? Ive voted both parties in my lifetime but...with the exception of Ron Paul the repubs havent had a viable candidate in a helluva long time. And it doesnt appear they will any time in the near future either! And the way the batch in congress (pretty much all members) have been acting or basically doing absolutely NOTHING at all, they are ruining their own reputation! Kinda hard to take any of them serious when the only things theyve seriously done is NOTHING!

    July 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  6. chri§§y

    Gotta say though they are a pretty religious lot, the romper room misfits in congress i mean! Theyve been religiously LAZY anyway! And im not tagging that onto any specific party because its awfully hard to find any good guys at all!!!

    July 16, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  7. chri§§y

    And another observation...there just as many republicans as democrats recieving financial aid of one form or another so that argument doesnt hold up either!

    July 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    President Obama retains his popularity with me and most of my friends.
    Also, why the heck are posts about race and darkness appearing in a discussion of the President's record of achievement?
    Do you know what year this is?

    July 16, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Reply
    • jonny

      do you work have a job pay taxes, He has ran the debt into trillions of dollars tell us how you will pay that off, America is broke, cuts are coming but he is to worried about votes and fundraising to do what is necessary,

      July 28, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  9. D Davis

    President Obama IS the worst disaster to ever strike America / In 2 more years the buffoon will be gone and Hillary, who SHOULD have been nominated and elected will be able to clean up the mess this ignorant Klown has caused.

    July 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Quit lying you unAmerican jerk.

      July 16, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • Robin

      I do not think the Native Americans, slaves and people who endure 400 years of segregation and abuse would agree with you or the dead people from Bush lies.

      July 17, 2014 at 8:03 am | Reply
  10. chri§§y

    Amen @ Joey!!!!! And @ DDavis as much as i hope Hillary does run and win in 2016 i would imagine even she wouldve come out unscathed by the actions of our present romper room misfits in congress! Im just amazed our POTUS has hung in all this time having to deal with their shenanigans on a daily basis!!!! So imo he has done the bettder job than we even had a right to expect having to put up with all that. I would probably have been in jail by now were it me...while many of them woulda been sportin fat lips at least! God bless that man!

    July 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  11. chri§§y

    Oops meant "a better job"

    July 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  12. Matt

    It is really sad that the rest of the world is more honest about our president than FOX news and the hate radio.

    July 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  13. Ferhat Balkan

    After Jimmy Carter, I'd say Obama is the best president that took office in the past 50 or so years. One of the greatest achievements of his own creation is the healthcare reforms (what some refer to as "Obamacare"). Healthcare was the #1 cause of America's fiscal problems. Thanks to his reforms, some 32 million previously uninsured folks are now insured. He also passed the $787 billion stimulus that saved many jobs and prevented companies from economic collapse. He ended the war in Iraq (the last troops left in late 2011). I can give many more positives which would be too many to post here, so I won't. In my opinion, he'll be remembered as one of the greats.

    July 16, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, it's unfair to blame him for the bad policies, like the NSA snooping and the hawkish image his predecessors had created. It will take time for the world to discern Obama's legacy.

      July 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  14. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    HILLARY 2016!
    Obama has accomplished some things that no other president has been able to get started.
    If we only had Obama's health care as progress, it wold be plenty.
    I still retain my Republican voter registration, but Democrats get my votes and campaign efforts until Republicans catch up with the clock. Only three times have I voted for a Democratic president: Obama twice, and against Goldwater.
    I thrived under Reagan. I shall again under Hillary, just differently.
    God bless Barack Obama.

    July 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      How on earth do you expect God to bless Barack Obama as he keeps ordering the wanton slaughter of defenseless people with those ungodly drones, Joey? I don't!

      July 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Reply
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        You fully understand what Obama actually orders, complications of reality, and that God's ways of movement are often mysterious to us.

        July 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm |
  15. scott

    I read this article and I couldn't stop laughing. Of all of the disasters happening around the world from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria to Mexico to the Ukraine name one where Obama has had an idea about what was going on much less had any kind of positive impact. It would be fair to say his policies have contributed to all of them.

    July 16, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  16. smarter than all of yoiu fools

    Obama is a fool and all you useful idiots who believe in the liberal cause are mentallly defective, I ve been looking down on on you fools all my life.

    July 16, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  17. chri§§y

    Well youre just soooo right @ scott because he started that war in Iraq right? And you too @ fake joey because weve been hearing about all kinds of drone attacks havent we? NOT!!!!! And @ matt if we didnt have all those people you mentioned we may not have realised how truly lucky we are that we have a POTUS who isnt willing to willy nilly go to battle with all these idiots who have no respect for humanity! Better to look at it that way than to drive your bp up with all their lunacy ok?

    July 16, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  18. Sam

    "How the world sees Obama"-- World has stopped seeing him

    July 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Reply
  19. Tom Posey

    I don't know how the world sees Obama but if I were a foreigner, I'd hate his guts!

    July 16, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  20. Ferhat Balkan

    It's amusing to see Republicans blaming Obama. Especially Boehner. When asked which executive actions he'll challenge against Obama, he declined to answer. When you have a lawsuit, you have to be specific. When you cast accusations, you have to provide details. So typical of conservatives... They block every single proposal in the House then they sue him for taking executive action within his own branch (the executive branch). Like which executive action? Like taking away the Republican party's right to filibuster? lol

    July 16, 2014 at 11:53 pm | Reply
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