Polls Don’t Back Hillary Clinton’s Claim That She Restored U.S. Leadership

By Patrick Goodenough | June 11, 2014 | 4:28 AM EDT

President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrive in Yangon, Burma on Air Force One on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Opinion polls during Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary of state raise questions about her claim this week that her most important achievement in that position was “to help restore America’s leadership around the world.”

While America’s global leadership image, as measured in international polling, improved significantly immediately after President Obama came into office, a slow but steady decline was seen in the ensuing years.

Gallup’s annual international surveys found worldwide approval of U.S. leadership fell from 49 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2010, 46 percent in 2011, and 41 percent in 2012 – the last full year Clinton served as America’s top diplomat.

Gallup’s most recent poll in the series, released in April, found that worldwide approval of American leadership improved again last year, rebounding to 46 percent – but for 11 of the 12 months of 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry was at the helm of the State Department.

During a book-promoting interview on National Public Radio Tuesday, Clinton was asked whether there was one issue she felt she “owned” during her time as secretary of state.

“Oh absolutely, but the most important thing I did was to help restore America’s leadership around the world,” she said. “We were flat on our back when I walked in there the first time.  We were viewed as being untrustworthy, as violating our moral rules and values.”

(During her first year in office Clinton frequently cited problems “inherited” from the Bush years.)

‘We have restored confidence’

Improving America’s image around the world was a key pledge during Obama’s first election campaign, and during his first term, Clinton’s State Department colleagues touted accomplishments in that field.

“We’ve repaired frayed relations with countries around the world,” then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said in 2011. “We’ve ended needless American isolation on a wide range of issues.”

“The U.S. emphasis on engagement, on seeking shared solutions to common challenges, has been one of the key means by which we have restored confidence in America’s global leadership, and with it increased our ability to advance U.S. foreign policy goals on difficult and complex issues,” then-assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs Esther Brimmer said in 2012.

U.S. favorability ratings as tracked in major opinion polls did shoot up when the Obama administration took office in 2009, but over the following years they declined in many regions of the world. Polls showing that trend include:

--A Zogby International poll in mid-2011 found that favorable views of the U.S. had dropped by more than half in six key Arab countries over two years, from an average 33 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2011.

--A Pew Global Attitudes Project report in June 2012 found that U.S. favorability ratings had dropped in nine out of 14 countries surveyed between 2009 and 2012. In four key Muslim countries – Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon – the ratings were even lower in 2012 than they were in 2008, the last year of a Republican administration accused by some Muslims of having “declared war on Islam” after 9/11.

--A 2012 Transatlantic Trends report, an annual survey of U.S. and European public opinion, found that between 2009 and 2012, the approval rate for Obama’s international policies had dropped in a number of countries, including by 21 percentage points in Bulgaria, 17 points in Italy, 16 points in Slovakia and Spain, 15 points in Britain, 13 points in Germany and by 11 points in the Netherlands and Portugal.

--In a BBC/GlobeScan/University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes poll in 2012, across 21 countries surveyed an average of 47 percent of respondents held positive views of United States’ influence in the world, down one percentage point since 2011; while 33 percent held negative views, up two points since the previous year.

--A poll by Gallup and the Meridian International Center released in April 2012 found a decline in U.S. leadership ratings in a number of countries.

A comparison of the ratings between 2009 and 2011 found sizeable declines in some countries, including Slovenia (a 32 point drop since 2009), Mexico (-27 points), Panama (-27 points), Chad (-24 points), Croatia (-21 points), Japan (-20 points), Uruguay (-20 points), Greece (-19 points), Chile (-18 points), Argentina (-17 points), Germany (-17 points), Afghanistan (-16 points), Tanzania (-14 points), Brazil (-14 points), Venezuela (-14 points), Colombia (-14 points), Niger (-14 points), South Africa (-13 points), Spain (-12 points), Egypt (-12  points), Ireland (-12 points), Uganda (-12 points), France (-10 points), India (-10 points), Canada (-10 points) and Kenya (-10 points).

--A 2013 Transatlantic Trends poll found that U.S. favorability across European countries surveyed had dropped by four percent from the previous year.

--Not only polls gauging the views of foreigners have recorded dimming enthusiasm over the issue. In a Fox News poll of Americans last March, 59 percent of respondents said Obama had mostly failed at improving America’s international image, while 33 percent said he had mostly succeeded.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow