Historic Obama win ushers in hope for change (FCN, 06-13-2008)

WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – After a virtually relentless fall during the administration of President George W. Bush, Washington’s image abroad rebounded modestly in 2007, according to the latest edition of the annual Pew Global Attitudes Project.

“For the first time we have some encouraging signs for the image of the United States,” said the survey’s longtime director, Andrew Kohut, who noted that the improvement may be due in major part to anticipation of the election of a new president later this year.


And if the new president turns out to be the presumed Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, Washington’s image would likely get an additional boost, according to the latest poll results.

In all but two of the 24 countries polled–the United States and Jordan–significantly more respondents who said they were following the U.S. elections voiced more confidence in Sen. Obama than in his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.

The gap was particularly striking among respondents in some of Washington’s closest allies: More than 8 of 10 respondents in France, Germany and Australia, and more than 7 in 10 in Japan, Britain, and Spain said they had confidence in Mr. Obama. By contrast, only 4 in 10 in Australia and Japan and only about three in 10 in France and Germany said the same about Mr. McCain.

“McCain is probably associated with President Bush,” said Mr. Kohut, who added that more respondents in almost all of the countries covered by the poll also expressed more confidence in Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was still in contention when the survey was carried out in April, than in McCain. Mr. Obama, however, still did better than Mrs. Clinton.

The full survey, additional findings of which will be released in July and August, also found that China’s global image suffered during the past year compared to 2006 and that, like the U.S. under Mr. Bush, Beijing is increasingly seen as taking a unilateral approach in its relations with other countries that does not take their interests into account.

Large majorities of most of the 24 countries also found fault with China’s human rights record, although, as noted by Mr. Kohut, the polling was carried out amid international media attention focused on this spring’s disturbances in Tibet, well before a May earthquake, which gained Beijing widespread sympathy.

The survey, which has been carried out on an annual basis since 2002, included a total of nearly 25,000 respondents in the 24 nations, about half of the 47 countries covered in last year’s survey.

In addition to Washington’s four Western European allies, the countries covered this year included Russia and Poland in Europe; Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in the greater Middle East; Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan and South Korea in Asia; Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in Latin America; and Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania in sub-Saharan Africa; as well as the U.S. itself.

One of the survey’s more striking findings released June 12 was widespread dissatisfaction by majorities–most of them between 60 percent and more than 90 percent–with the direction of their countries and the state of their economies in all but six nations.

Compared to the previous year, declines in satisfaction with the economic situation of their countries were particularly significant in Britain (from 69 percent to 30 percent), the U.S. (from 50 percent to 20 percent), Spain (from 65 percent to 35 percent), Turkey (46 percent to 21 percent), Argentina (45 percent to 23 percent) and Pakistan (59 percent to 41 percent).

The Pew survey found favorable views of the U.S. had increased by at least 1 percent in all but five of the 21 countries that were polled in both 2007 and 2008. The biggest gains were in Tanzania (19 percent), which Mr. Bush himself visited in mid-February, South Korea (12 percent) and Indonesia (8 percent). On the other hand, positive opinions of the U.S fell by 11 percent in Japan, 9 percent in Mexico, and 6 percent in Nigeria.

But Mr. Kohut stressed that Washington’s standing remained at or near record lows, however–far short of a “sea change” in how the rest of the world sees the U.S. and attributable, in his view, to the anticipation of Mr. Bush’s departure.

Asked whether they considered the U.S. a “partner, an enemy, or neither,” 70 percent of Turks, 60 percent of Pakistanis, and nearly 40 percent of Lebanese, Jordanians and Egyptians opted for “enemy.” The same group of respondents was among those who expressed the least confidence in Mr. Obama, although, with the exception of Jordan, more of them expressed confidence in Mr. Obama than Mr. McCain.