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Obama Boosts Global U.S. Standing with Publics, Investors

July 23, 2009

Just 48 hours after Liz Cheney blasted Barack Obama as "a president who is reluctant to defend the nation overseas," two new polls revealed his success in rapidly augmenting American "soft power" worldwide. A Pew survey of two dozen nations found that "positive opinions about the United States have returned to higher levels not seen since before President George W. Bush took office in 2001." Meanwhile, a new Bloomberg poll found that 87% of financial analysts in Europe and Asia view the new president positively.
To be sure, Obama's diplomatic initiatives and high-profile outreach are already paying dividends in restoring America's reputation left in tatters by George W. Bush. The improvement in U.S. standing is most dramatic among the nations of the Atlantic alliance, where the Pew Research Center report found favorability ratings jumped 33% in Germany, 33% in France, 25% in Spain and 16% in Britain over the last year:

Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well.

While the U.S. under President Obama has made only modest gains in reversing strongly negative attitudes in the Middle East and among Muslim countries overall (Indonesia being the one notable exception), American standing rose in 23 of 24 nations surveyed. Given Obama's tough line on West Bank settlements, the one small decline unsurprisingly occurred in Israel.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the global investor class in giving President Obama high marks. No doubt, as J. Ann Selzer, president of the Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based polling firm that conducted the survey put it, Obama's "stratospheric favorability ratings" reflects "the visceral distaste for George Bush outside of the U.S." But Obama's whopping 73% favorability rating also reflects the rebound in global equity markets since his inauguration:

Equity investors around the world have done well since Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. The gains were most pronounced in Asia, where the MSCI Asia Pacific Index has risen 28 percent. In the U.S., the S&P 500 Index has risen 19 percent. The benchmark index for U.S. equities has rallied 41 percent over the past four months, led by a 95 percent rise in financial firms. European investors, though they are more bullish on Obama than their U.S. counterparts, have fared less well: The Eurostoxx 50 Index has risen 14 percent.

Of course, the news isn't all good for the new president. The dip in Israel (78% to 71% since 2007) and the still-low if improving U.S. approval levels in the region (14% in Turkey, 27% in Egypt, 25% in Jordan) highlight the stiff challenge to the Obama administration's peace initiatives in the Middle East. And reflecting the partisan polarization at home, only 49% of Bloomberg's financial respondents viewed Obama favorably, with only a quarter rating his economic policies "good" or "excellent."
For many people around the world, Barack Obama's most laudable attribute may simply be that he's not George Bush. Still, the overall picture is a welcome thawing in the eight-year global chill towards the United States. And that's a climate change even Liz Cheney can believe in.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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