View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Obama Raises US Image in World but Little Change in Muslim Countries

While President Barack Obama has succeeded in improving the global image of the United States, many Muslim countries have scarcely revised their views of Obama’s America, according to a new report by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Surveying 25 nations and testing between 750 and 3,169 respondents in each country [the UAE does not appear to be included], Pew found U.S. favorability ratings had increased virtually everywhere — and nowhere more sharply than in Europe. It said the higher ratings were “being driven much more by personal confidence in Obama than by opinions about his specific policies.”

Confidence Booster
The new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted May 18 to June 16 2009, finds that confidence in Barack Obama’s foreign policy judgments stands behind a resurgent U.S. image in many countries. Belief that Obama will “do the right thing in world affairs” is now nearly universal in Western countries, where lack of confidence in President Bush had been almost as prevalent for much of his time in office.

In most countries where opinions of the U.S. have improved, many say that Obama’s election led them to have a more favorable view of the U.S.

Obama’s Cairo Speech
The polling in the Muslim world took place around the time of President Obama’s Cairo speech. In some countries, interviews took place both before and after the speech, providing some gauge of the effect of Obama’s remarks on his image and opinions of the U.S. more broadly. In Turkey a sufficient number of interviews wereconducted before and after the speech to allow for an analysis of how much impact it had on public opinion. This analysis suggests that the speech had little measurable impact on views of the U.S. or Obama himself. However, the pre-post comparisons were rudimentary ones that could only have detected a major swing in public opinion.

Favorability ratings for the U.S. have increased slightly in Jordan (+6), Egypt (+5), and Lebanon (+4), although positive views have declined in America’s closet ally in the Middle East: Israel. While 71% of Israelis continue to express a positive opinion of the U.S., this is down from 78% the last time Israel was surveyed in 2007.

Many in Muslim World Still See U.S. Threat
Despite increases in favorable ratings of the U.S. in some Muslim nations, the perception remains widespread among many Muslims that the U.S. could pose a military threat to their country someday.

Majorities in six of the seven majority Muslim nations where this question was asked say they are very or somewhat worried that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country. The only exception is Jordan, although even about half (48%) of Jordanians are very or somewhat concerned.

Rating the American People
The American people receive largely positive ratings in this survey, with majorities saying they have a favorable view of Americans in 17 of 24 nations.

The worst ratings for the American people are in three mostly Muslim nations: Turkey (14%), Pakistan (20%) and the Palestinian territories (20%). In all three nations, attitudes towards Americans have shown little change in recent years.

Confidence in Obama Lifts US Image Around the World: Overview-Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2009.
Full Report, PDF, Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2009.
Slide Show with Commentary, Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2009.

Barack Hussein Obama Says Assalaamu Alaykum to Egypt and the World, ETE, 4 June 2009.
Obama in Egypt Calls for Religious Freedom, Interfaith Dialogue and Service, ETE, 4 June 2009.
To Polish His Speech to Arabs and Muslims Obama Should Watch Al Jazeera, ETE, 31 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: President Obama speaking in Egypt.