Global Image Buoyed by Prospect of Change
WASHINGTON - After a virtually relentless fall during the seven-year reign 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 survey of 24 countries released here Thursday.
"For the first time we have some encouraging signs for the image of the United States," said the Project's long-time director, Andrew Kohut, who noted that the improvement may be due at least 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 of those respondents who said they were following the U.S. elections either somewhat or very closely voiced confidence in 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 eight of 10 respondents in France, Germany, and Australia and more than seven in 10 in Japan, Britain, and Spain said they had confidence in Obama. By contrast, only four in 10 in Australia and Japan and only about three in 10 in France and Germany said the same about McCain.
"McCain is probably associated with President Bush," said Kohut, who added that more respondents in almost all of the countries covered by the poll also expressed confidence in Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was still in contention when the survey was carried out in April, than in McCain. Obama, however, still did better than 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 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 Kohut, the polling was carried out amid international media attention focused on this spring's disturbances in Tibet, well before last month's earthquake that has 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 Thursday was the 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 dissatisfaction translated in some cases -- although by no means all -- in a decline in support for economic globalisation and trade, most notably in the U.S. where respondents, according to the survey, were the least supportive of increasing foreign trade compared to respondents from the other 23 countries.
In contrast to the widespread gloom, several countries were markedly more upbeat; none more so than China where more than eight of 10 respondents expressed satisfaction with their country's direction and economic situation. Respondents in India, Australia, Russia, and Poland were also more upbeat about the performance of their national economies.
The survey's finding that Washington's global image improved during 2007 bolsters a similar conclusion reached by a survey of 23 countries released by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in April. It found that "mainly positive" views of the U.S. had risen on average four points, from 31 percent to 35 percent, from late 2006.
The Pew survey found that favourable views of the U.S. had increased by at least one 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 Bush himself visited in mid-February; South Korea (12 percent), and Indonesia (eight percent). On the other hand, positive opinions of the U.S fell by 11 percent in Japan, nine percent in Mexico, and six percent in Nigeria.
But 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 Bush's departure.
"This is an anticipatory bump," Kohut told reporters, noting that the survey found a strong belief virtually everywhere except in the Islamic world that the next U.S. president, who will take office in January, "will change U.S. foreign policy for the better". That view was particularly strong in Western Europe, Africa, India, and Australia where between 53 percent (Britain) and 68 percent (France).
With the exception of Indonesia, respondents in predominantly Muslim countries covered in the survey were considerably more sceptical. "The levels of anti-Americanism are deeper there," noted Kohut. "Views of the U.S. there are, in a word, abysmal."
Indeed, 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 Obama, although, with the exception of Jordan, more of them expressed confidence in Obama than McCain.
The survey's findings showed a continuing decline -- first noted in last year's poll -- in China's global image, which in some ways is coming to mirror that of the U.S. as a superpower that exercises significant influence on other countries and that tends to act unilaterally. The latter view is particularly pronounced in Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Western Europe, according to the survey.
© 2008 Inter Press Service