Under Obama US More Popular Abroad

by Jim Lobe

The Republican/neocon narrative that the United States has steadily lost its standing in the eyes of the world since Obama succeeded George W. Bush has been rather strongly undermined by the findings of a major new survey of 40 countries by the Pew Research Center and its Global Attitudes Project (GAP).

At comparable moments in their terms in office, Obama—as well as the overall image of the United States—is significantly more popular abroad than his predecessor in all but a tiny handful of countries, according to the GAP’s latest findings, some of which were released here just last week.

Indeed, in only two of the three dozen countries where respondents were asked whether they had at least “some confidence” in the sitting U.S. president to “do the right thing regarding world affairs” did Bush fare better than Obama—Russia (18% for Bush in 2007, 11% for Obama in 2015) and Israel (57% for Bush, 49% for Obama, respectively).

In all other countries, a higher percentage of respondents—as much as eight times higher (Spain and Argentina)—voiced either “some” or “a lot of confidence” in Obama to “do the right thing…” In fact, the average percentage increase in the 36 foreign countries where the confidence question was asked about Bush in 2007 and about Obama in 2015 was a whopping 30 points. Table I below breaks down the percentages down country by country, arranged by region.

Both polls were conducted between March and May of the seventh years of the two presidents’ tenures. The relevant 2007 survey report and its toplines can be found here. Both polls were released in the latter half of June in the seventh years of the two presidents’ tenures. Both surveys were based on lengthy and detailed interviews of an average of more than 1,000 randomly chosen adults in each country. (The results covered in GAP’s latest release cover a wide range of issues, including global sentiment toward China, perceptions of the relative economic strength of and prospects for both the U.S. and China.)

Biggest Gains Among US Allies

Favorable sentiment toward the United States has also become significantly more pervasive around the world compared to the same moment in Bush’s presidency.

Majorities in only 25 of the 47 countries that were surveyed in 2007 expressed either “somewhat” or “very favorable” (as opposed to “somewhat” or “very unfavorable”) views of the United States. Eight years later, majorities in 30 out of the 39 foreign countries polled said they held favorable views of the U.S., with significant advances in several key countries, including Turkey (from 9% favorable in 2007 to 29% in 2015), Indonesia (29% to 62%), South Korea (58% to 84%), and France (39% to 73%).

Moreover, the average increase in the 33 countries in which the question was asked both in 2007 and 2015 was nearly 15 percentage points.

The biggest gains in the U.S. image abroad over the eight years were found among Washington’s NATO allies, East Asia, and Latin America. Net gains were also registered in sub-Saharan Africa where U.S. standing was already high under Bush, in important part due to his President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

At the same time, Washington’s overall ratings in the Middle East have remained dismally low, as they have been since the 2003 invasion of Iraq (although the newest poll also shows relatively strong support for U.S. military actions against ISIS in Iraq and Syria within the region, particularly in Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan).

In any event, you can see the country-by-country favorability findings—arranged by region—in Table II.

Appropriate for July 4

It seems somehow appropriate to highlight these results, which the mainstream media has almost completely ignored, on the day that commemorates the Declaration of Independence whose signers noted in the very first line the importance of the new nation showing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

Such counsel, of course, provokes only scorn from aggressive nationalists like Dick Cheney and John Bolton (not to mention virtually the entire field of Republican presidential candidates), as well as hard-line neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, who share and celebrate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contempt for the United Nations and any foreign criticism of Israel’s occupation and settlement policies. Of course, these forces believe that true power ultimately comes out of the barrel of a gun (which is why the U.S. military must be totally dominant). They also take to heart Machiavelli’s words, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” For them, the kind of deference and respect Obama, in particular, has shown toward “the opinions of mankind” is a sign of fatal weakness leading to appeasement, retreat, decline, and so on.

But it was George W. Bush himself who came to recognize the importance of being loved, as well as feared. By 2007, after all, nearly all of the prominent neo-cons in his administration had been effectively purged from his administration. Cheney was marginalized. And Rumsfeld had been ousted, replaced not only by a far less pugnacious defense secretary but also one who actually and publicly acknowledged that the world had become “multipolar,” a circumstance that essentially required showing a decent respect at least toward other major powers. In fact, GAP’s 2008 poll of two dozen nations found a modest bump in favorability towards the U.S. in all but a handful of nations that had been surveyed the previous year, a trajectory that moved sharply upward after Obama’s election and that appears to have been largely sustained since.

The Polls



Country         % Confident in Bush           % Confident in Obama             Difference

                                     2007                                       2015

U.S.                                 45                                           58                                      +13

Canada                           28                                           76                                     +48


France                             14                                           83                                      +69

Germany                         19                                            73                                     +54

Italy                                 30                                           77                                       +47

Poland                             29                                           64                                       +35

Spain                                 7                                           58                                        +51

UK                                   24                                           76                                        +51

Russia                             18                                           11                                          – 7

Ukraine                           19                                           51                                        +32


Israel                               57                                           49                                        – 8

Jordan                               8                                           14                                       + 6

Lebanon                         34                                           36                                       + 2

Palestine                           8                                           15                                       + 7

Turkey                              2                                           45                                        +43


Australia (2008)            23                                           81                                       +58

China                               31                                             44                                       +13

India                                50                                           74                                       +24

Indonesia                       14                                             64                                       +50

Japan                               35                                           66                                       +31

Malaysia                         14                                             61                                       +47

Pakistan                           7                                             14                                       + 7

South Korea                   22                                           88                                       +66


Argentina                        5                                             40                                     +35

Brazil                             17                                             63                                       +46

Chile                              29                                             60                                       +31

Mexico                           28                                             49                                       +21

Peru                               29                                            53                                       +24

Venezuela                     23                                             26                                     + 3


Ethiopia                       48                                              65                                     +17

Ghana                           69                                             82                                     +13

Kenya                           72                                              80                                     + 8

Nigeria                          64                                             73                                     + 9

Senegal                         38                                            77                                     +39

South Africa                 37                                             77                                     +40

Tanzania                       40                                            78                                     +38

Uganda                         52                                             69                                     +17




Country       % Favorable 2007             % Favorable 2015                   % Difference


Canada                   55                                             68%                                  +13


France                    39                                             73                                    +34

Germany               30                                              50                                     +17

Italy                        53                                               83                                     +30

Poland                    61                                               74                                     +13

Spain                      34                                               65                                     +31

UK                           51                                               65                                     +14

Russia                    41                                              15                                       -26

Turkey                     9                                               29                                     +20


Jordan                  20                                               14                                     – 6

Lebanon               47                                               39                                       – 8

Palestine               13                                               26                                      +13

Israel                     78                                               81                                       + 3


China                    34                                               44                                      +10

India                     59                                               70                                     +11

Indonesia             29                                               62                                       +33

Japan                   61                                                68                                        + 7

Malaysia              27                                                 54                                       +27

Pakistan               15                                                 22                                      + 7

South Korea       58                                                 84                                       +26


Argentina           16                                                 43                                      +27

Brazil                  51                                                 73                                       +22

Chile                   55                                                 68                                       +13

Mexico               56                                                 66                                       +10

Peru                    61                                                 70                                       + 9


Ethiopia              77                                                 81                                       + 4

Ghana                 80                                                 89                                       + 9

Kenya                 87                                                  84                                       – 3

Nigeria               70                                                   76                                       + 6

Senegal               69                                                  80                                       +11

South Africa       61                                                 74                                       +13

Tanzania             46                                                 78                                      +32

Uganda               64                                                 76                                       +12


Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. To hear any and every rightwinger, we have somehow been diminished by Obama. They are once again SHOWN to be liars about almost anything concerning Obama.

  2. Thanks for this survey . Its time to give this to the MSM . Oh sorry ,even if they were fed as a baby they would refuse to give the public the truth. By belief is ,very soon the MSM will loose their listenership if they don’t wake up and realize that the Public is hungry for the real News not what they want to broadcast.

  3. Well, we should celebrate that Obama has a better publicity/propaganda campaign. It’s sad when we think progress is measured by how well a president is liked because of his color and his rhetoric. The Obama administration is the worst in prosecuting whistleblowers and spying on U.S. citizens, is starting another cold war by supporting a coup in Ukraine and trying to provoke a military response from Russia, remains a corporate puppet much like the previous administration, is responsible for the chaos in Libya and is promoting the most secret and worst trade agreement (TPP) in recent history and the list goes on and on.

    Since Obama’s foreign policy has been mostly a failure he realized that he had to do something to create a legacy and an agreement with Iran and establishing relations with Cuba fit the bill. I give him credit for those efforts but overall he’s been as much of a corporate puppet as Bush.

  4. @Jim Lobe, this is good news for the current US administration which followed GWB’s disastrous foreign policies and blunders! However, there still are many countries around the world still opposing the US foreign policies but unfortunately were not included in this survey! Realizing that appeasing every country around the world is more difficult than it appears to be on the surface. But Mr. Obama himself said that “he’d like to hear all the for and opposing views in regards to any issues being discussed around the table” Which I took it as it means, that he wants an in depth and a very thoughtful process for the U.S. behavior around the world which it can win the hearts and minds of others including U.S. perceived enemies! For that, I believe this survey is skewed and impartial and it is only a feedback from the hearts and minds of people who are living in the US friendly countries?

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