Saturday, May 12, 2012

Three years in with "the Obama Effect," part one

With President Obama's decidedly mixed foreign policy results and an approaching presidential election, I grew curious about the current state of "the Obama effect."  That's the name given to the tendency of foreign nations to view the United States more favorably with the election of President Obama.

I looked at the Pew Research Center data for its surveys on attitudes toward the U.S. of foreign nations.  I was disappointed that Pew Research did not have data posted to allow the comparison of some nations, such as Canada.  In other cases enough data exists for comparisons but not always using the same range of years.  For some nations I deliberately chose a different range to better represent overall trends in U.S. popularity.

I divided the data into three groups to keep the size of the graphic manageable.  The first group primarily represents European nations.

(click image for larger view)

Europe overall makes Obama look pretty good.

Each nation has two bar graphs representing the change in U.S. popularity over time.  The first shows the change from Bush through 2011.  The second reflects the change just since Obama took office.  The effect in France, then, shows an increase in popularity of over 30 percent.  No graph is visible in the space below, which means that the high opinion has held steady.

Western Europe just plain loves Obama, from the look of things.  I don't have any insight into the increase in popularity in Spain.  I don't know what Obama or the U.S. has done to produce it.

Improvements in Russia, I think, result from Obama's weak foreign policy approach. 

Poland surprised me.  Obama improved on Bush over time, which is somewhat perplexing given the Obama administration's soft stance on Russia.  Perhaps Iraq policy accounts for most of the modest change.

Turkey was the only nation from this group where the U.S. was more popular under Bush, but even in this case the numbers show that the drop since Bush was president is small--smaller, in fact, than the drop just since Obama took office.  That means that U.S. popularity initially went up slightly under Obama before sliding down lower than it was in 2008.

For context, it's true that in many cases U.S. popularity in 2008 is somewhat higher than in previous years.  While some of this may stem from Bush's actions in office, such as negotiating the path toward the end of the Iraq War, I wouldn't discount the possibility that the U.S. election had something to do with it.  Depending on when the data were collected, Obama might have something to do with the rise in popularity even in 2008.  The world does watch U.S. elections to some extent.

Parts two and three will show quite a few more negatives.

Part 2
Part 3

Addendum:  The Associated Press was thinking along the same lines and published a story today on international perceptions of President Obama.  Some of the information from that story helps illuminate information on the charts.  The AP story actually paints a less complimentary picture of Obama's image in Europe.

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