World Views of U.S. Leadership Under Obama Continue to Decline

By Patrick Goodenough | March 14, 2013 | 5:08 AM EDT

President Obama on Air Force One. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

( – The last year of President Obama’s first term saw a continuation of the slow decline in worldwide approval of U.S. leadership that has marked his administration, according to a new Gallup poll.

Across the 130 countries surveyed, the median U.S. approval rating in 2012 stood at 41 percent, down from 46 percent in 2011, 47 percent in 2010 and 49 percent in 2009. Last year’s 41 percent is only three points higher than the 38 percent Gallup measured in 2007, President Bush’s penultimate year in office. (In Bush’s last year it dropped to 34 percent.)

Overall, U.S. approval ratings between 2011 and 2012 dropped in 70 countries, and climbed in 42 countries. The rest showed no change, or in a few cases were not surveyed in 2011 so no comparison was possible.

Asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?” most of the countries producing the highest disapproval scores were in the Middle East and South Asia.

“This shift suggests that the president and the new secretary of state may not find global audiences as receptive to the U.S. agenda as they have in the past,” commented Gallup pollster Julie Ray. “In fact, they may even find even once-warm audiences increasingly critical.”

Some of the biggest year-on-year falls were recorded in Zambia, where approval dropped by 24 points to 59 percent; Kenya, with approval down by 15 points to 68 percent; and Pakistan, which accounted for a drop of 14 points, to just 12 percent – making Pakistan, jointly with Iran, the country where approval of U.S. leadership was the lowest tracked anywhere last year.

Some of the biggest year-on-year increases were measured in Chad (up 19 points to 81 percent), Bangladesh (up 14 to 37 percent), Thailand (up 12 to 56 percent) and Mexico (up 11 to 37 percent).

In 32 countries across the globe, 2012 U.S. approval ratings were 30 percent or lower. Of those, 13 were Islamic countries, including Egypt at 17 percent, Iraq at 22 percent and Turkey at 26 percent.

Among non-Islamic states in the 30 percent-or-lower category were Russia, at 13 percent – third from the bottom, just above Pakistan and Iran – Argentina (19), Greece (24) and India (26).

Regional trends showed approval ratings were highest overall in sub-Saharan Africa, although North Africa was largely negative – with the notable exception of Libya, where approval stood at 54 percent.

In the Americas, approval ratings declined in nine countries and rose in nine countries.

Argentina’s 19 percent approval placed it at the bottom of the list, below Nicaragua (28 percent) and Venezuela (31 percent).  At the other end, Haiti accounted for both the highest positive rating, 79 percent, and the biggest year-on-year increase, 12 points.

In Europe, approval ratings dropped in 25 countries and rose in 11. The median across the continent was 36 percent – down from 42 percent in 2011, and from 47 percent in 2009.

The survey found majority approval of U.S. leadership in only six countries in Europe – Kosovo (87 percent), Albania (80), Britain (69), Ireland (67), Netherlands (60) and Italy (51).

Russia in 2012 replaced Serbia as the European country with the lowest opinion of U.S. leadership, while double-digit losses were recorded in Belgium (-19 points), Croatia (-15), Hungary (-15), Macedonia (-10) and Austria (-10).

Ray said the European trend suggested that “the U.S. was likely shouldering some of the blame for the ongoing financial crisis in Europe.”

In Asia, approval ratings dropped in 18 countries and rose in 15. Among the highest were the Philippines (64 percent), Cambodia (62), New Zealand (56), Thailand (56) and Australia (55), while the bottom five were Iran and Pakistan (both 12), Sri Lanka (14), the Palestinian territories (15) and Yemen (18).

Gallup said it could say with 95 percent confidence that the margin of sampling error ranged from about 1.7 to about 4.8 percentage points.

“The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting,” it noted. “In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow