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 (366 Responses)
  1. Philip

    The world sees president Obama as a knappy headed George Bush.
    And president Obama's legacy will be this: The man who rounded up over 3.5 million illegal Mexicans who were criminals and deported them to Mexican prisons with some being tossed into forced labor camps. (Homeland Security Prisons) And as the man who turned the US military loose on those who truly terrorize U.S. ...outlaw street and biker gangs.

    October 30, 2014 at 10:07 am |
    • mm

      you are sick!

      December 1, 2014 at 3:57 am |
    • hcbgxbxbvxx

      man your sick

      March 11, 2016 at 1:12 pm |
    • sav

      He is irrelevant..

      April 21, 2016 at 10:20 pm |
      • bob

        he is a very good good guy

        February 11, 2019 at 8:04 pm |
    • sav

      gangs are responsible for more gun murders than anyone about as many deaths as 9-11 each year...and terrorize inner city neighborhoods....Obama has done nothing to address that

      April 21, 2016 at 10:25 pm |
  2. Phildo

    sheesh. end u v blog.

    October 31, 2014 at 10:05 pm |
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  3. asikdah

    tenang aja, ga ada yg aneh2 kok, sensian amat

    January 13, 2015 at 10:46 pm |
  4. TonyG

    The world sees Obama as two words . . . . a*s hole. Case closed.

    January 14, 2015 at 6:51 pm |
  5. TonyG

    The world sees Obama as an a*s hole and a moron..................

    January 14, 2015 at 6:52 pm |
  6. Vaidy

    He has done well, given the extraordinary challenges he had inherited from George Bush. He never had a good team at his disposal for a longer period of time to work for results. Every nomination was delayed. Republicans did not cooperate with him even at crucial moments and he had to go through severe criticisms which no other Presidents would have gone through such nasty comment and insinuations. He has kept himself cool and under control. The best part is his contribution to bring down Anti-Americanism and given the global leaders a confidence that America is ready to do business jointly, collaboratively, and cooperatively. Yes, He has some mistakes. But given the challenges and non cooperation, his achievement are limited but significant in bringing America back on track.

    January 25, 2015 at 12:48 am |
    • sav

      Yeah...he was ineffective

      April 21, 2016 at 10:22 pm |
    • James R.

      That basically what I would have said. Even though it's a mess, the ACA is a start. I do wish he had paid more attention to the debt.

      May 15, 2016 at 3:10 pm |
    • American citizen since 1978

      Really? Yes history will determine that 1st – Bush junior's mistake after 911 2nd Obamas decisions and indifference with killing human with drones in the past 7 years has reversed the idea globalization. Just turn on the news lad! We will not have a president that can "fix" it unless they change the idea of globalization and bringing back calm and life to middleast so UK can thrieve out of EU.

      July 3, 2016 at 9:24 am |
  7. omair khalid

    hi i dont know how the world sees president barak obama president of government of united states of america. by i know barak obama as fresh meat for my pet lions barak obama michel obama and their organ doners daughters.

    who am i , i am the angel of death a human being with characteristics of an angel malaikah farishta of death maut
    whats my name kalel
    what do i do i explode tsar thermonuclear warhead missiles worldwide just for fun

    March 24, 2015 at 6:30 am |
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    the world sees president barack obama as a respectable man, now a days president barack obama is going to doctors hospitals to get an penis testicles or ovaries transplant operation why because i happly arrange his genatals private part passport visa to blood sperm bank to my pet lions and tigers animals

    March 24, 2015 at 6:34 am |
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    May 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm |
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  12. Randy G.

    Obama is delusional about America. He has given billions of tax dollars away and forced Americans to pay heath care for millions of illegals. Nobody that I know in the working force in America has had triple the cost to them and their family for health care. BUT MILLIONS of illegals get if free again because of Barry's delusional out look on America. He tells us there will be no money for anyhting, Social Security will go broke but yet he has given away tens of billions to ountries that show no positive from it. In Africa the leaders go from a modest home to a 50 room mansion as in Mecico and the people are still in the dumps finding food. He does nothing for America except give us a 18 Trillion dollar bill.

    June 18, 2015 at 8:27 pm |
  13. lashal

    Think back 2007 2008 2009
    Thank you mr.Bush
    You call that keeping America safe?
    Wars killings?
    Are we crazy?
    Keep it simple .. and Thank the Obama administration for making some hard decisions 'against public opinion against the NO party..
    ..lets think how many American's died and how many innocent people are still dying because of an amateur decision that mr BUSH,HIS FATHER, CHENNY AND LETS NOT FORGET RUMSFIELD.. READ PEOPLE READ.. ITS A GOOD THING

    October 27, 2015 at 9:27 am |

    Barack is doing a darn good job! Our president our leader.

    May 14, 2016 at 10:39 am |
  15. s s kumar

    Mr Obama, in the last 8 years, has managed to pull the US of A out of economic troubles, two messed up military situations in Asia, kept the saudi's and china in check, rogue regime in North Korea under control and turned around hostile regimes in Iran, Syria and Egypt. May be he could done more for the world by sterner action against ISIS. Overall a great president and wish him GODSPEED

    June 19, 2016 at 2:46 am |
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    June 24, 2016 at 6:10 pm |
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