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World Opinion on U.S. Leadership Improves in 2013, but Still Down from 2009

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26 May 2014. Surveys in 130 countries through 2013 show world opinion about U.S. leadership rebounded last year from 2012, but levels were generally lower than the start of the Obama administration in 2009. The findings were contained in the fifth annual U.S. Global Leadership Report, compiled and published by Gallup and Meridian International Center. Excerpts from the report, released in April 2014, follow.

Median approval of U.S. leadership across these 130 countries stood at 46 percent, up from 41 percent in 2012. While not a full recovery to the 49 percent approval measured at the start of Obama’s presidency, it ended a downward trend. Asia and Europe largely led improvements, with the 45 percent median approval rating in Asia the highest Gallup has measured in the region during either the Obama or the Bush administrations.

U.S. leadership approval made substantial gains in 17 countries in 2013. Three of these countries — Mexico, Bangladesh, and Paraguay — also had double-digit gains in 2012. Approval of U.S. leadership dropped substantially — 10 points or more — in nine countries in 2013. This is fewer than the 13 countries in 2012. While major losses were distributed across regions in 2012, they were primarily clustered in sub-Saharan Africa last year.

The image of U.S. leadership continued to be the strongest worldwide in Africa in 2013, bolstered by strong majority approval in most of the sub-Saharan Africa region. However, approval ratings continued to erode in 2013, essentially negating any gains in the region even prior to Obama’s election. U.S. leadership remains far less popular in North Africa than it is south of the Sahara. Madagascar and Angola led the world in declines, with ratings dropping by 23 and 20  percentage points, respectively. Even in South Africa, which Obama visited twice in 2013, ratings dropped 16 points. However, with ratings high to begin with in Angola and South Africa, majorities still approved of U.S. leadership.

Europe led declines in U.S. approval in 2012 as America likely shouldered some of the blame for the financial crisis there, but ratings started to improve as Europe started to recover in 2013. A median of 41 percent approved of U.S. leadership last year, up from 36 percent in 2012. However, it is important to note that surveys in Europe were largely complete in the first part of 2013, before the revelations of NSA spying which were widely reported in Europe.

The U.S. retained majority support in 10 countries in 2013 that spanned all regions of Europe and included key allies such as Italy, Ireland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Of the 17 countries where there were double-digit increases in approval ratings, half were in Europe, with many of them clustering in southern and eastern Europe. However, U.S. leadership failed to regain favor in countries such as France, Spain, and Germany, where approval first fell below the majority level in 2011 and stayed there in 2012 and 2013.

Although the U.S. government shutdown in October kept the president from making his trip to Asia in late 2013, the image of U.S. leadership may be benefiting from the administration’s attempts to strengthen its alliances and trade partnerships throughout the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, the 45 percent median approval in 2013 is the highest rating Gallup has measured in the region under either the Obama or Bush administrations.

Rather than stemming from large, sweeping improvements, this change is chiefly attributable to ratings generally increasing in more countries than they declined in. However, four out of the 17 countries worldwide where approval ratings saw double-digit increases in 2013 were in Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Pakistan. Ratings still vary considerably across the region, but for the most part, they still tend to be more positive than negative. Countries in the Middle East and parts of South Asia, where residents were still more likely to disapprove than approve, continue to be the exception.

U.S. leadership approval ratings in the Americas started tumbling after Obama’s first year in office, along with many Latin Americans’ expectations for stronger ties between the U.S. and the region. The free fall ended in Obama’s fourth year, and in his fifth, approval ratings in the region remained stagnant at a median of 40 percent. However, there were double-digit increases in approval in four countries — including in neighboring Mexico — and a double-digit decrease in Colombia. Goodwill toward U.S. leadership continued to build in Mexico in 2013, likely further buoyed by the president’s visit there in May. Fifty percent of Mexico residents approved of U.S. leadership, representing a 13-point jump from 37 percent in 2012, on top of an 11-point increase from 26 percent in 2011.

Current ratings are approaching the 53 percent approval during Obama’s first term. Ratings jumped 14 points after the president’s visit to the next country on his Latin America itinerary, Costa Rica. For the first time since 2010, a majority (55%) of Costa Ricans approved of U.S. leadership, but this still fell short of the record 62 percent approval in 2009.

Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2012 in 130 countries and 2013 in 130 countries. With some exceptions, all samples are probability based and nationally representative of the resident population aged 15 and older.

The full report is found on Meridian International Center Web site.


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