22 Jan : As Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, a new 17-nation poll conducted for BBC World Service finds widespread and growing optimism that his presidency will lead to improved relations between the United States and the rest of the world.The poll also shows people around the world are looking to President Obama to put highest priority on dealing with the current global financial crisis.
In 15 of the 17 countries polled, majorities think that the election of Barack Obama will lead to improved relations with the rest of the world. On average 67% express this upbeat view, while 19% think relations will stay the same and just 5% that relations will worsen.
This is up sharply – by 21 points among tracking countries – from polling done for BBC World Service six months ago, before Obama was elected. At that time just 47% expressed optimism that an Obama presidency would lead to improved relations with the rest of the world. The number of people giving no answer to the question is also down sharply.
This optimism does not necessarily mean, however, that views of the United States itself have changed. BBC World Service is currently completing its annual poll assessing views of major countries’ influence in the world, which will be released within the next few weeks and will show whether views of US influence are improving.
Asked to rate six possible priorities for the Obama administration, the top priority in all countries polled was the global financial crisis. On average 72% said that it should be a top priority.
This was followed by withdrawing US troops from Iraq – with 50% saying this should be a top priority – then addressing climate change (46%), improving America’s relationship with the respondent’s country (46%), brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians (43%), and supporting the government of Afghanistan against the Taliban (29%).
Polling was completed prior to the current Gaza conflict in all countries except Egypt and India. In Egypt, 75% said brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be a top priority.
The results are drawn from a survey of 17,356 adult citizens across 17 countries conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork between 24 November 2008 and 5 January 2009.
“Familiarity with Obama seems to be breeding hope,” commented Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes. “But then again,” he added, “he is starting from a low baseline, following eight years of an unpopular US president. Maintaining this enthusiasm will be a challenge given the complexities he now faces.”
Even nations that last summer had few people expressing optimism have come to have hope in an Obama presidency. The number of those predicting better US relations with the rest of the world have jumped from 11 to 51 per cent in Turkey, 11 to 47 per cent in Russia, 29 to 58 per cent in Egypt, and 39 to 68 per cent in China.
Interestingly, two of the countries showing the largest improvement are majority Muslim countries (Egypt and Turkey). Indonesians are also optimistic (64%) and have shown an 18-point increase in optimism from last summer.
The most optimistic views are expressed in Ghana (87%) and in Europe–in Italy (79%), Germany (78%), Spain (78%) and France (76%)–followed by Mexico (74%) and Nigeria (74%). Americans are also quite optimistic, with 65 per cent expressing hope that America’s international relations will improve.
The only two countries where less than a majority express optimism are Japan and Russia. In Japan 48 per cent express optimism, while 37% think relations will stay the same and 8% think they will get worse. In Russia, 47% expect improvement, 26% no change and 5% – a worsening.
All of the foreign policy goals tested in the poll were seen as at least an important priority by clear majorities in virtually every country, highlighting the many serious challenges facing the incoming president.
Europeans, in particular, are looking to the new US president to prioritise tackling climate change, with 58 per cent of French, 63 per cent of British, 65 per cent of Spanish and 68 per cent of Italians seeing it as a top priority.
There are marked differences of opinion on the priority of brokering peace in the Middle East, with 75 per cent of Egyptians but only 17 per cent of Russians seeing it as a top priority for the Obama administration. However, polling was completed in all countries except Egypt and India prior to the current Gaza conflict began.
Americans’ priorities are somewhat different from the world as a whole. While they agree with the highest priority being the global financial crisis (75% say top priority), they are higher than any other country in placing a top priority (46%) on supporting the government of Afghanistan against the Taliban. They also show substantial concern for improving America’s relations with the world – 60 per cent say it should be a top priority; this is substantially higher than the global average (46%) saying that it should be top priority for the US to improve its relations with their region.
In total 17,356 citizens in Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the USA were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone mainly in November and December 2008. Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. In 5 of the 17 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/-2.4 to 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Polling from last summer was conducted in the same countries from 8 July to 15 September 2008.
For more details, please visit www.globescan.com or www.worldpublicopinion.org.
GlobeScan Incorporated is a global public opinion and stakeholder research consultancy with offices in Toronto, London, and Washington. GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 50+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organizations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies.
The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) is a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. PIPA undertakes research on attitudes in publics around the world on a variety of international issues and publishes the website/webzine WorldPublicOpinion.org.
The BBC exists to enrich people’s lives with great programmes and services on television, radio and online that informs, educate and entertain. Its vision is to be the most creative, trusted organization in the world. BBC reporters and correspondents at home and abroad can be called on for expert coverage across a huge range of subject areas. With over 70 foreign bureaux, the BBC has the largest newsgathering operation in the world. BBC World Service provides international news, analysis and information in English and 31 other languages.
Indians have seen a large increase in optimism that US relations with the rest of the world will improve under an Obama administration since last summer, along with most other countries polled. Although Indians agree with most other publics that the US should make dealing with the global financial crisis a top priority, the number holding this view is less than one-half and lower than all other countries polled.
· Sixty-three per cent in India see US relations with the rest of the world improving under President Obama, up from 45 per cent last summer.
· Indians believe the US should put emphasis on dealing with the global financial crisis (47% top priority, 21% important) and improving America’s relationship with their country (42% top priority, 22% important).
· Thirty-five per cent of Indians says addressing climate change should receive top priority from the US, while 33 per cent believe it should be important.
· On other issues where the US could take action, Indians say attention should go to brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians (28% top priority, 27% important), withdrawing US troops from Iraq (27% top priority, 28% important), and supporting the government of Afghanistan against the Taliban (26% top priority, 32% important).