June 17, 2010

Obama More Popular Abroad Than At Home, Global Image of U.S. Continues to Benefit

Chapter 2. Views of President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama remains popular across much of the world. Majorities or pluralities in 16 of 22 countries surveyed express at least some confidence in the American president to do the right thing regarding world affairs. In five of six predominantly Muslim countries, however, more than half lack confidence in Obama; only in Indonesia is that not the case.

Ratings of Obama have declined somewhat since he first took office, even in such countries as China and Japan, where majorities continue to express confidence in the U.S. president. In France, Germany and Britain, where overall confidence in Obama is virtually unchanged from last year, fewer now say they have a lot of confidence in the U.S. president when it comes to international affairs.

When asked to give their overall evaluations of Obama’s foreign policies, strong majorities in many countries, including in the four Western European countries surveyed, approve. Still, support for Obama’s international policies is far less widespread than it was when he first took office. The percentage who approve of the U.S. president’s policies has declined by double digits in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, China, India, Argentina, Mexico and Nigeria.

Opinions about Obama’s handling of specific policy areas are generally more negative than overall evaluations of his international policies. Obama receives especially low marks for the way he is dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but many also disapprove of his handling of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. In contrast, majorities or pluralities in most countries approve of the way Obama is dealing with the global economic crisis and climate change.

Continued Confidence in Obama

President Obama continues to receive high marks in Western Europe. Nine-in-ten in Germany say they have at least some confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs, as do more than eight-in-ten in France (87%) and Britain (84%). Obama is also popular in Spain, where 69% express confidence in him. A similar percentage of Americans (65%) share this view.

Ratings of Obama are also overwhelmingly positive in Japan (76%), South Korea (75%), India (73%) and Indonesia (67%). Meanwhile, a much narrower majority in China (52%) expresses at least some confidence in the American president.

As was the case last year, Obama enjoys his most favorable ratings among the two African publics surveyed. Kenyans are nearly unanimous in their views of Obama – 95% have confidence in him when it comes to world affairs. Similarly, 84% of Nigerians have a lot or some confidence in Obama.

Views of Obama are more mixed in Eastern Europe and Latin America. In Poland, six-in-ten express confidence in Obama, while 27% say they have little or no confidence in the U.S. president. Russians are nearly evenly divided; 41% have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs and 37% say they do not.

A majority of Brazilians (56%) say they have at least some confidence in Obama, a view shared by nearly half of Argentines (49%). Mexicans are evenly split; 43% express confidence in Obama and 43% do not.

Mexican opinion of Obama turned more negative following the signing of a controversial immigration bill in Arizona on April 23. Despite Obama’s criticism of the Arizona bill, more than half (52%) of Mexicans who were interviewed after its signing said they did not have much confidence in the U.S. president; 36% said they had at least some confidence in him. In contrast, nearly half (47%) of those who were interviewed prior to the signing of the Arizona legislation said they had at least some confidence in Obama; 38% did not.

In the largely Muslim countries surveyed, with the exception of Indonesia, opinions of Barack Obama are decidedly negative, but they remain, for the most part, more positive than views of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Only 8% of Pakistanis have confidence in the American president to do the right thing in world affairs; 60% lack confidence in Obama. Only about one-quarter of Jordanians (26%) and Turks (23%) and one-third of Egyptians give Obama positive ratings. And in Lebanon, where opinions of Obama are somewhat more positive than in other predominantly Muslim countries – 43% have confidence in him – more than half (56%) say they have little or no confidence.

Lebanese views of Obama reflect a religious and sectarian divide. Majorities of Christians (57%) and Sunni Muslims (61%) in that country express at least some confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in international affairs. By comparison, just 7% of Lebanese Shia share this view while more than nine-in-ten (93%) do not have confidence in Obama.

Confidence in Obama has declined in some predominantly Muslim countries since he first took office, dropping 10 percentage points in Turkey, 9 points in Egypt, and 5 points in Jordan. In Lebanon, confidence in Obama has fallen considerably among the Shia population, which already offered mostly negative views of the U.S. president in 2009 (7% have confidence in him vs. 26% in 2009). Lebanese Christians, however, are now more likely to say they have confidence in Obama (57% vs. 46% in 2009), while opinions among that country’s Sunnis are largely unchanged (61% vs. 65%).

Opinions are also more negative in other parts of the world. Just about half of Argentines (49%) express at least some support for the U.S. president; in 2009, a solid majority (61%) shared that view. And while confidence in Obama remains high in Japan, fewer express positive views than did so a year ago (76% vs. 85% in 2009).

Obama also enjoys less support at home. About two-thirds (65%) of Americans express at least some confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs, down from 74% a year ago. This reflects primarily a loss of support among Republicans, who were split in their views of the then-newly-elected president in 2009 – about half (48%) said they had at least some confidence in Obama to do the right thing in international affairs and 50% said they had little or no confidence in him. Today, just 32% of Republicans have confidence in the president, while 68% say they have little or no confidence in him.

Democrats are as likely as they were last year to say they have at least some confidence in Obama, but considerably fewer now say they have a lot of confidence in him (56% today vs. 74% in 2009). The decline in overall and strong support for Obama has been less dramatic among independents.

In Western Europe, where overall support for Obama is unchanged, fewer give the American president the enthusiastic endorsement they gave him when he first took office. In Germany, 46% say they have a lot of confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs, compared with 56% who expressed similar levels of support in 2009. In France, a quarter (25%) now say they have a lot of confidence in Obama, down from 34% who said the same about a year ago. And in Britain, 36% express similarly intense levels of confidence in the U.S. president in the current poll; 43% did so in 2009.

Overall Views of Obama’s Policies

Solid majorities in Western Europe offer positive overall evaluations of Obama’s international policies. More than eight-in-ten in Germany (88%) and France (84%) say they approve of Obama’s foreign policies, as do 76% in Spain and 64% in Britain. In contrast, a much narrower majority of Americans (55%) endorse the president’s international policies.

Obama’s international policies also enjoy overwhelming backing in the African countries surveyed – 89% in Kenya and 74% in Nigeria approve. Support is also high in Japan (72% approve), South Korea (70%), Indonesia (65%), Poland (64%), Brazil (59%) and India (57%).

With the exception of Indonesia, few in predominantly Muslim countries offer positive evaluations of Obama’s international policies. Just 9% in Pakistan say they approve of Obama’s policies overall; 48% disapprove. Similarly, fewer than one-in-five in Jordan (15%), Egypt (17%) and Turkey (17%) support Obama’s foreign policies. Opinions are mixed in Lebanon (44% approve and 49% disapprove). Six-in-ten Lebanese Christians and Sunnis give positive evaluations, compared with just 7% of Shia Muslims in that country.

Views of Obama’s international policies among publics in Muslim countries are considerably more negative than they were a year ago, when people in those countries already expressed less positive views than did those in other parts of the world. In Egypt, the percentage who approve of Obama’s policies has declined 21 percentage points since 2009. Double-digit drops in approval of Obama’s foreign policies are also evident in Turkey (-17 points), Jordan (-12 points) and among Lebanon’s Shia population (-19 points).

Opinions of Obama’s policies are also decidedly more negative in other parts of the world. For example, fewer than four-in-ten (37%) in Argentina now say they approve of the U.S. president’s foreign policies; soon after Obama took office, 57% of Argentines shared that view. In China, where 57% approved of Obama’s foreign policies in 2009, just 44% say the same now. And even in Britain, France and the U.S., where majorities continue to express support for Obama’s international policies, fewer do so compared with last year.

Obama’s Handling of War Zones

Opinions about Obama’s job performance with respect to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are far more negative than overall evaluations of his international policies. For example, Western Europeans, who give Obama high ratings for his policies in general, offer more mixed views when asked how the American president is handling Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Germany, the same number (46%) approves as disapproves of the way Obama is handling Afghanistan, and opinions are also nearly evenly split on his handling of Iraq (47% approve and 42% disapprove). The Spanish public is also divided in its views of Obama’s job performance on Iraq and Afghanistan; 39% approve and the same number disapprove of his handling of Iraq, while just slightly more approve (44%) than disapprove (37%) of his handling of Afghanistan.

Of the Western European publics surveyed, the French are the most supportive of Obama’s handling of Iraq (57% approve) and Afghanistan (55%). Slim majorities in Britain approve of the way Obama is dealing with the two war zones (52%), as does a similar share of Americans (51%).

Obama receives overwhelmingly low ratings from publics in predominantly Muslim countries for his job performance on Iraq and Afghanistan. Just 4% in Turkey approve of how Obama is handling Iraq; 68% disapprove. His ratings on Afghanistan are similarly low; 5% of Turks approve and 62% disapprove of the way Obama is handling things in that country. Even in Indonesia, the only Muslim country where a majority offers positive overall evaluations of Obama’s international policies, 52% say they disapprove of the way Obama is handling Iraq and 53% say the same about his handling of Afghanistan.

Support for Obama’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan is also low in the Latin American countries surveyed. Only about one-in-ten in Argentina approve of Obama’s job performance on Iraq (10%) and Afghanistan (11%). And more than twice as many Mexicans disapprove as approve of Obama’s handling of the two war zones. Obama’s ratings are somewhat higher in Brazil, but more in that country disapprove than approve of the way he is dealing with Iraq (48% vs. 29%) and Afghanistan (43% vs. 33%).

Obama’s Handling of the Middle East

Opinions about Obama’s job performance on two important issues in the Middle East – Iran and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians – are also mixed in Western Europe. A solid majority in France (59%) approves of the way Obama is handling Iran. A much smaller share in Germany (49%), Britain (48%) and Spain (43%) share this view; still, more in those countries approve than disapprove of the way Obama is dealing with Iran.

When asked for their opinions about how Obama is handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, a slim majority of the French (51%) expresses support for the U.S. president and just slightly more Germans approve (44%) than disapprove (40%) of the way Obama is handling the issue. A 45% plurality in Spain disapproves of Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while the British are about evenly divided – 35% approve and 34% disapprove.

Americans are also divided in their opinions of the president’s handling of the Middle East. About as many approve (44%) as disapprove (41%) of the job Obama is doing on Iran. And when asked about Obama’s handling of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, 39% say they approve and 41% say they disapprove of the job he is doing.

Like his job performance on Iraq and Afghanistan, ratings for Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are extremely low in predominantly Muslim countries, as are his ratings on Iran. Nine-in-ten Lebanese express disapproval of the way Obama is dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as do 88% of Egyptians and 84% of Jordanians. Clear majorities in Turkey (66%) and Indonesia (56%) also disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Publics across the Muslim world also express disapproval of how Obama is dealing with Iran. In Jordan, Obama’s approval with respect to Iran is as low as his approval on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (14% approve and 84% disapprove). Views of Obama’s handling of Iran also mirror views of his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Turkey (62% disapprove), Indonesia (53% disapprove) and Pakistan (52% disapprove).

In Lebanon, however, Obama’s handling of Iran receives far broader support than his handling of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; 43% approve and 54% disapprove of the way he is dealing with Iran. Majorities of Lebanese Christians (62%) and Sunnis (61%) approve of Obama’s handling of Iran. However, Shia Muslims in Lebanon are nearly unanimous in their criticism; 98% disapprove and just 1% approve of Obama’s handling of Iran.

Obama’s Handling of the Economic Crisis and Climate Change

When asked for their opinions of Barack Obama’s handling of the global economic crisis, majorities or pluralities in 15 of 22 countries surveyed say they approve of the job the American president is doing. Kenyans and Nigerians are the most supportive of Obama’s handling of the economic crisis; 89% of Kenyans and 80% of Nigerians approve of it.

In Western Europe, about seven-in-ten (72%) Germans approve of the job Obama is doing on the economic crisis, as do 66% in France, 64% in Britain and 58% in Spain. Obama’s handling of the economic crisis also has the support of majorities in Indonesia (75%), South Korea (71%), Japan (62%), Poland (60%), India (58%) and Brazil (56%).

Americans are evenly split – 46% approve and the same number disapproves of the job the president is doing in dealing with the global economic crisis. The president’s handling of the crisis has the support of seven-in-ten Democrats, but just 18% of Republicans approve of the job he is doing. Opinions are split among independents – 44% approve and 47% disapprove of the way Obama is dealing with the global economic crisis.

Obama’s handling of the economic crisis is viewed negatively in most of the Muslim countries surveyed. About eight-in-ten Jordanians (81%) and Egyptians (80%) disapprove of his performance, as do 53% in Lebanon, 51% in Turkey, and a 43% plurality in Pakistan.

Publics in the largely Muslim countries express somewhat less negative views of Obama’s handling of climate change, but majorities in Jordan (67%) and Egypt (64%) disapprove of the job he is doing. More also disapprove than approve in Turkey (43% vs. 15%) and Pakistan (34% vs. 17%), but many in those countries do not offer an opinion. Only in Indonesia and Lebanon do majorities offer praise for the way Obama is dealing with climate change (72% and 53%, respectively).

Outside of the Muslim world, Obama receives his highest ratings on climate change in Japan (71% approve of the job he is doing), Nigeria (71%), Kenya (69%), South Korea (65%) and Germany (65%). Smaller majorities in Poland (56%) and Spain (51%) share that view.