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Poll: Obama more popular abroad than at home

While President Obama’s approval rating has slipped in the United States after the partisan fight over health care and during a struggling economy, a survey released today by the Pew Research Center indicates that Obama is more popular abroad than he is at home.

It also suggests that his presidency has increased the United States' favorability in other countries, particularly in Europe, since the Bush years.

The Pew Global Attitudes poll found that a majority of individuals in 16 of the 21 countries surveyed feel confident in Obama as an international leader. Ten of these countries, in fact, express a higher confidence in the president than America does (at 65%). Obama’s popularity remains high in Europe, especially in Germany (where he enjoys a 90% confidence rating), France (87%), and Great Britain (84%).

That said, confidence in Obama fell in Asian countries. Still, more than seven in 10 in Japan (76%), South Korea (75%), and India (73%) approve of the president and his actions. Even in China, a slim majority of the population (52%) has confidence in the American president. Global support for Obama’s foreign policies is not as widespread as it was when he first took office in 2009, but still remains favorable in most countries.

Also in the poll, 17 out of the 21 countries surveyed reported a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of the United States, including significant popularity increases over the past year in Russia (up 13%) and China (up 11%). The rehabilitation of the American image after the steep decline in popularity during the Bush presidency is especially visible in Western European nations, where American favorability ratings remained positive and relatively stable, with little change from last year’s numbers.

“We are documenting a revival of the global image in many parts of the world ... reflecting confidence in Barack Obama. Opinions about the U.S. are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office,” says Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Project, noting the overall revival of America’s global image in the past year.

Obama’s popularity abroad is directly responsible for the improved view of America internationally, Kohut added. “Analysis of the survey ... shows that this new attitude toward the United States is being driven by personal views of Obama and confidence in him. I don’t only mean style but confidence in him rather than opinions about his policies or expectations about specific things he is going to do.”

Yet despite Obama’s repeated rhetorical efforts to promote approval of the United States in the Muslim world -- from his call to “seek a new way forward” in his inaugural address, to his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo last year -- Obama’s (and America’s) biggest decline in popularity over the past year occurred in predominately in Muslim countries. A majority of the population in five out of the six Muslim nations surveyed lack confidence in the president. The exception is Indonesia, where the president lived as a child. But even there Obama’s popularity has slipped 4% in the past year.

It remains to be seen whether this overall improvement in the American global image will encourage other nations to support the United States in the implementation of American foreign policy. “World opinion likes the idea of Obama more than the reality of Obama,” said former GOP Sen. John Danforth, a co-chair of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, at a breakfast with reporters this morning. “The numbers fall off very dramatically the more concrete the issue…the harder the issue, the more concrete the problem, the more concrete the actions, the less support they receive.”

Danforth, a former ambassador to the United Nations, debated the effect of the president’s popularity on America’s international relations with his fellow co-chair, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“It is going to be very important for [Obama] to translate his personal popularity into the actions that are supportive of a different agenda,” Albright said.