President Obama is far more popular worldwide than his predecessor, according to an annual Pew Global Attitudes survey of 24 countries, but he hasn't done much to improve relations with a critical global demographic--in fact, the demographic he's most actively courted: Muslims.
Some of the changes in opinion are striking. In 21 of the 24 nations surveyed, an average of 71 percent of respondents had at least some confidence in Obama's handling of world affairs--up from 17 percent for President Bush in 2008 in those same countries. Favorability of the U.S. is up at least 10 points in 11 countries.
But in Turkey, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories, "[a]nimosity toward the U.S. ... continues to run deep and unabated," the report states. Western Europe loves Obama--French and Germans have more confidence in Obama than in Sarkozy and Merkel--but the Muslim world is apparently unconvinced.
(UPDATE: The survey is now out--link added above. Looking at the data, it's clear that Muslim countries prefer Obama to Bush.
In Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories, people are 20 percent more confident that Obama will do the right thing than they were that Bush would, on average.
Confidence in Obama is still below 50 pecent in all of those countries--the lowest being Pakistan at 13 percent, and the highest being Lebanon at 46 percent.
Favorability of the U.S. remains low in those countries. It's 25.33 percent on average, with Lebanon standing at a notable exception with 55 percent favorability toward the U.S. That's gone up 2.8 percent on average, not counting the Palestinian territories, for which there was no data last year.
Pakistan is the only of those countries where favorability has decreased: it dropped three poitns, from 19 last year to 16 in 2009.
The Muslim counties polled were those listed above, plus Indonesia. Obama is wildly popular there, as discussed below--likely because he spent part of his childhood there--so I've left it out of this update.)
An irony here is that attitudes toward the U.S. have dipped in Israel. Given that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict--and U.S. support for the Jewish state--is a prime complaint cited by anti-U.S. hardliners in the Muslim world, one might think that a drop in popularity among Israelis would correspond to a surge in Muslim support, as the Obama administration has been tougher in its dealings with Israel than the Bush administration had.
But not so. Opinions rose slightly in Egypt and Jordan, but Obama's high-profile address to the Muslim world in Cairo this summer apparently has yet to mend the fences Obama sought out.
That speech was meant to pave the way toward better relations, and perhaps it has. But according to Pew, Obama's not there yet.
A BBC survey in March reported Muslim populations in Turkey (51 percent) and Egypt (58 percent) were optimistic that Obama would improve America's relations with the rest of the world. Today's report of deep mistrust are about achievement, not aptitude: they simply prove Obama hasn't won people over--not that he can't.
Indonesia, apparently, is basically in his pocket, probably because he spent part of his childhood there (of which 80 percent of Indonesians are aware). More than 70 percent expressed confidence in him, according to Pew's numbers. And that's a good thing: the Council on Foreign Relations earmarked Indonesia as a haven for terrorists four years ago, so it's strategically advantageous to have a foothold of popularity there. Only 23 percent of Indonesians had confidence in Bush.
It's important for Western Europe to love Obama: France, Britain, and Germany represent key allies and powerful international players, the former as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council; Bush's tenure marked a deterioration of relations with France, especially, and domestic criticism aimed at Tony Blair for his allegiance to America. Obama is a liberal, and it makes sense that Western Europeans have reveled in the defeat of Bush's party in 2008.
But Obama has sought out friendlier relations with the Muslim world. The lack of progress in Pakistan, particularly, sounds a bit ominous, especially given that Pew sampled mostly urban Pakistanis, who might hold the U.S. in higher esteem than those living in rural areas, where the U.S. fears Taliban incursion could upset the region, turn Afghanistan and Pakistan into one big mess, and potentially lead to loose nukes.
So Cairo and the promise of Guantanamo's closure haven't won them over yet, but it looks like Obama is off to a good start, globally, especially compared to his predecessor.
UPDATE: With the full poll released (link added at the top of this post not too long ago), here are some more detailed stats:
-The U.S. is less popular in Pakistan than it was last year: America's favorability rating fell from 19 percent to 16 percent--one of the lowest rating across the board.
-America's lowest favorability rating (of the 24 countries polled) is in Turkey: it's 14 percent there, up from 12 percent last year. In 2007, it actually dipped to 9 percent.
-Favorability in the Palestinian territories is 15 percent; in Israel, it's 71 percent.
-Here's the full list of countries polled, accompanied by opinion results on whether Obama "will do the right thing in world affairs": U.S. (74), Canada (88), Britain (86), France (91), Germany (93), Spain (72), Poland (62), Russia (37), Turkey (33), Egypt (42), Jordan (31), Lebanon (46), Palestinian territories (56), China (62), India (77), Indonesia (71), Japan (85), Pakistan (13), South Korea (81), Argentina (61), Brazil (76), Mexico (55), Kenya (94), Nigeria (88)
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