By Jill Chapin
August 3, 2014
Shortly after Obama became president, an international poll showed him to be the most admired person in the world. But that was then and this is now. Now his international image seems to have devolved to a seemingly deplorable level.
Whether or not you are a staunch supporter of President Obama, I imagine most of us are disheartened over U.S. polls conducted in the last few years showing most Americans to believe that Obama is disrespected and seen as weak around the world. I believe these polls, probably because they are an accurate depiction of how a majority in the U.S. see our president on the world stage. And getting these poll results from various U.S. media outlets kind of cemented their validity in the minds of the American public.
But what I and most Americans likely did with these numbers was conflate our assumption of world opinion with actual world opinion. It began to dawn on me that our news only reported Americans’ opinions on what they thought other countries’ assessment of our president to be. I naively assumed that if we believed Obama was seen as weak and ineffectual around the world, then it must be true.
Not exactly. A Pew Global Attitudes Project conducts polls with quite a different result from what we get from our media. Two relevant ones asked citizens around the world about their favorable opinion of the United States, and their confidence in our President.
Comparing 2008, inarguably President Bush’s most challenging year, with President Obama’s current 2014 severe challenges can add depth to our current shallow understanding of world opinion.
In 2008, more than half the respondents in 7 out of 21 countries said they had a favorable opinion of the United States; in the spring of this year, more than half the respondents in 27 out of 44 countries said they had a favorable opinion of the United States.
Regarding confidence in the U.S. president, in 2008, more than half the respondents in only one out of 21 countries said they had confidence in the U.S. president; in 2014, more than half the respondents in 28 out of 44 countries said they had confidence in the U.S. president.
As these numbers show, far from our prestige slipping around the world, it has actually risen, which is nothing short of remarkable considering what is currently happening at home and abroad.
Polling in the U.S. usually involves asking the opinions of about 1,000 people. There was a YouGov poll conducted in January of this year, asking 14,000 people from thirteen countries (UK, France, Germany, Russia, U.S., Australia, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, China, Egypt, Nigeria and Brazil) who they most admired in the world.
As you can imagine, President Obama was no longer number one as he was in 2009. No, he had slipped to number two, behind Bill Gates. Does this poll in any way suggest the precipitous fall from grace that our news outlets would have us believe about our president’s waning influence and prestige?