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New Poll Shows Obama's Global Popularity Slipping

  • Heather Maher

The survey found what it calls “decidedly negative” views of the United States and the policies of President Barack Obama in four of the six Muslim countries polled.

The survey found what it calls “decidedly negative” views of the United States and the policies of President Barack Obama in four of the six Muslim countries polled.

Like all great love affairs that burn brightly at the beginning, this one was bound to end in disappointment.

The wave of worldwide affection that followed Barack Obama into the White House in 2009 has been replaced in many parts of the world by a feeling that the man hasn’t matched expectations, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

From Europe to Russia, the Middle East to Asia, support for Obama’s foreign policy has declined. In 2009, 78 percent of Europeans approved; now only 63 percent do. Among Muslim nations, the average approval rating has plunged from 34 percent to 15 percent. Similar declines have occurred in China, Japan, Russia, and Mexico.

The survey attributes the drop in large part to widespread disapproval of Obama’s heavy reliance on drones in the U.S. fight against terrorism, and the civilian casualties they often cause. More than half the people in 17 of the 20 countries surveyed oppose Washington’s use of unmanned weaponized aircraft to target terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Hasn't Lived Up To Expectations

Richard Wike, the associate director of Pew’s Global Attitudes Project, says the frustration with Obama’s foreign policies don’t end there.

“Overall approval of his policies has declined in most of the countries that we surveyed, and on some particular policy issues it’s clear that he hasn’t lived up to expectations," Wike says. "Things like acting multilaterally in world affairs, dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dealing with climate change – on all those issues we see that people don’t feel that he’s lived up to the expectations they had for him when he first came into office.”

Pakistani protesters burn an effigy of Obama in Lahore in May 2010.

Pakistani protesters burn an effigy of Obama in Lahore in May 2010.

In China, confidence in the U.S. president has plunged 24 points, to 38 percent. Chinese approval of Obama’s foreign policy has dropped from 57 percent in 2009 to 27 percent now.

Just over one-third of Russians still say they have confidence in Obama, but fewer Russians now approve of his foreign policy; 40 percent said they did three years ago, now just 22 percent say the same.

Nowhere are attitudes toward Obama and his foreign policies lower than in predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern countries, where, on average, fewer than one in four people approve of either.

Large majorities think the Obama White House acts unilaterally and doesn’t take into account their countries’ interests when making foreign policy decisions. Similar majorities oppose the use of drones – more than 80 percent in Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt. Pakistan was not included in that survey question.

Europeans don’t like the drone program too much, either. Approval rates are in the 30s among the EU countries surveyed and as low as 21 percent in Spain and 5 percent in Greece.

'Decidedly Negative'

Citizens of Muslim countries also like America less than they did three years ago. The survey found what it calls “decidedly negative” views of the United States in four of the six Muslim countries polled: Egypt (only 19 percent favorability), Jordan (12 percent), Pakistan (12 percent), and Turkey (15 percent).

Wike says the “Obama effect” that dramatically improved non-Americans’ view of the United States when he took office never really happened in the Muslim world. Since then -- despite Obama’s decision to end the war in Iraq and wind down the war in Afghanistan, and his speech in Cairo only a few months after his inauguration that tried to heal some of the wounds seen as inflicted during the George W. Bush presidency – things have gotten worse.

So while Europeans still feel mostly positive toward the United States, Wike says, "It’s not so true in most of the predominantly Muslim countries that we’ve surveyed. Places like Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan. In all those countries, America’s ratings were low at the end of the Bush administration and they’ve stayed low throughout the Obama era, as well.”

But as the survey also makes clear, almost everywhere in the world Obama still gets higher ratings than Bush did in his final year in office.

Of course, those numbers came at the end of Bush’s second term -- something Obama is still hoping to win in November.

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