Global poll finds views of U.S. leadership declining

March 13, 2013

American leadership received poorer marks around the world last year than at any time since President Obama was elected, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The slide recorded by the annual Gallup poll suggests that Obama has lost some of the global goodwill his agenda and unusual political biography inspired abroad.

The 41 percent median approval rating was higher than the 34 percent at the close of the George W. Bush administration, according to the survey. But it was down from a high of 49 percent in 2009, Obama’s first year in office.

The erosion highlights difficulties in several areas that will be key to the president’s foreign policy plans for his second term. In nuclear-armed Pakistan, regarded as crucial to the stability of Afghanistan once U.S. troops depart next year, 79 percent of respondents said they have a negative view of U.S. leadership.

The disapproval is nearly as high, 77 percent, in the Palestinian territories, where Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry hope to make progress toward an independent Palestinian state. The two are scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank later this month to begin that work.

“One of the challenges is that President Obama came in with really high expectations,” said Jon Clifton, the project director at Gallup.

Although people worldwide may think Obama is doing a good job overall, they may still be disappointed when measuring his record against their expectations, Clifton said. The median approval rate has dropped a bit each year of Obama’s presidency, slipping from 46 percent in 2011 to 41 percent in 2012.

The survey began in 2005, at the start of Bush’s second term. Global approval of U.S. leadership had dipped to a median of 34 percent in 2008, the last year of Bush’s presidency.

The survey of 130 countries, called the U.S.-Global Leadership Track, describes itself as the largest global public opinion study of views about U.S. leadership. The Pew Research Center does a smaller survey, which recorded similar results last June.

Results come from interviews with approximately 1,000 adults per country, ages 15 and older. Gallup said it is 95 percent confident that the margin of sampling error ranges from plus or minus 1.7 percentage points to plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

Obama and Kerry “may even find audiences increasingly critical, even in key partner countries,” the group’s report said. “Europe led the declines between 2011 and 2012, with losses in approval largely outnumbering any gains.”

Median approval of U.S. leadership in Europe is down 11 points since Obama’s first year in office, to 36 percent. That’s still about twice the rating for U.S. leadership at the close of the Bush administration, whose decision to invade Iraq soured traditional alliances across Europe.

In Libya, where the Obama administration supported the revolution that overthrew Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, 54 percent approved of U.S. leadership in 2012. The survey in Libya was done before the fatal attack last September on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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