Poll: U.S. Image Abroad Up Under Obama A new poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center says that while the U.S. image is improving around the world thanks to President Obama's popularity, in the Middle East its image still needs a lift. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, offers his insight.
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Poll: U.S. Image Abroad Up Under Obama

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Poll: U.S. Image Abroad Up Under Obama

Poll: U.S. Image Abroad Up Under Obama

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.


And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

Candidate Barack Obama promised a new era of international diplomacy with open channels of communications, even with America's enemies, a time when America would be more of a help than a hindrance on the international stage.

Well, today an early progress report. A new poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that opinions of America are improved under the new administration. Some bad news: animosity toward the U.S. still runs deep in some places, including Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.

Joining me now is Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center here Washington.

Thanks for coming in, Andy.

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Happy to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: Where do you see initial progress from President Obama in improving the U.S. image around the world?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, it's all - in most parts of the world, but it's most dramatic in Western Europe. In fact, when the numbers first came in I didn't believe them. Last year: 31 percent of the Germans said they had a favorable view of the U.S., 64 percent this year, 42 percent favorable in France last year, 75 percent this year.

We see increases, more modest in Brazil, Mexico, India, Japan, all around the world except in the Muslim world. But what really comes home is no surprise that Barack Obama is popular. But really a great surprise by how much he changed basic attitudes toward the United States in just one year.

SIEGEL: Of course, we're talking about the change from the levels during the presidency of George W. Bush, which, in some cases, was a pretty low standard to meet.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah. Well, we saw the image of the United States decline over the course of President Bush's terms in office. But in many countries now, we are back to where we were in terms of the image of the United States, pre the Bush administration, back to the numbers as they were in 1999 and 2000.

SIEGEL: President Obama has taken great interest in addressing Muslims in the world with his speech at the university in Cairo. When you look at predominantly Muslim countries, what do you see?

Mr. KOHUT: He hasn't moved the needle very much. In Turkey, 12 percent last year favorable, 14 percent this year, in the Palestinian territories very low, 13 then, 15 now, Pakistan comparably low. There were some small gains in Egypt and Jordan, a big boost in Indonesia where the favorable rating of the U.S. doubled because 85 percent know that Obama had lived there.

SIEGEL: Spent his childhood there, yeah.

Mr. KOHUT: That's right.

SIEGEL: Part of it, anyway.

Mr. KOHUT: So, it's really a very mixed message in the Muslim countries. Some signs of progress but no sea change as there was a sea change in much of the world.

SIEGEL: You also did some polling about people's views about Osama bin Laden. What did you take away from the answers that you heard?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, for the first time in this decade, we see people having more confidence in the president of the United States than in Osama bin Laden in many of these Muslims countries. Let me give you an example. Last year, only seven percent of the Jordanians had a positive view of President Bush, 28 percent had a positive view of bin Laden. This year, that 28 percent is at least matched by Obama with 38 percent. And we see similar numbers in most countries in the poll.

SIEGEL: You're measuring favorable and unfavorable views of the U.S. There's a different question, which is do people regard us with hostility? I mean do they see us as an enemy? Is that a common sentiment around the world?

Mr. KOHUT: Only in a few countries are we seeing as an enemy, in Pakistan, people in the Palestinian territories. In many countries where we're not particularly well liked, in Argentina, for example, we're not seen as an enemy but they have their complaints with us.

SIEGEL: In Pakistan, we actually are an ally of the government. So the fact that we're seen as an enemy is important.

Mr. KOHUT: You could have fooled me by looking at these numbers. Similarly, our NATO ally, the Turks, have a very negative view of the United States. Fourteen percent of the Turkish public say they have a favorable view of the U.S. Many Turks worry that the United States might use military force against Turkey some day.

Views about the U.S. in many of these Muslim countries are very extreme. They're very hostile, and there's great distrust of the United States. And that's why in six months, Obama couldn't turn it around the way he's turned it around in Western Europe.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Andy.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut is the president of the Pew Research Center, which has polled nearly 27,000 people in 24 countries and the Palestinian territories about their opinions of the United States and President Obama and other matters.

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