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Story Archives: Prophesy: Obama wins over world
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|Prophesy: Obama wins over world|
It was March 2007 and the Republican Party had just taken a beating in the mid-term elections of 2006, losing control of both the House and the Senate. President Bush had just announced that, despite the defeat of his party at the polls, he would actually increase the number of American troops in Iraq rather than decrease them as was clearly the public will.
The war was still going poorly and there was great skepticism over whether the "surge" of U.S. troops would reverse America's waning influence over the country it had occupied for almost four years.
I was attending, as is my habit in the early spring, the annual Government Affairs Conference of the National Newspaper Association. It was my fate to be invited along with the Nebraska delegation of newspaper folk for a guided tour through the headquarters of the world's leading survey company, Gallup. Gallup, I learned, had actually been founded at the University of Nebraska by two psychology professors. As it enjoyed financial success, the company moved first to Omaha, and then to downtown Washington.
After our tour, we were shown recent polls the company was taking in 141 countries around the world, polls that measured public opinion about, among other things, the United States. At that point in time, U.S. fortunes around the world looked glum indeed. Although America had at least enjoyed the respect, if not the love, of most people, that respect had clearly been reduced by both the invasion in Iraq and the persona of President George Bush.
The next day, one of a series of speakers to our group was former House Republican leader Newt Gingrich. I asked him two questions. First, did he think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake? And second, given the demise in American popularity and respect around the world, how would he suggest the United States regain some of the luster it had lost?
Gingrich answered no, he did not think the war in Iraq was a mistake. He said something had to be done about Saddam Hussein, and nothing short of a military invasion had proved effective. He preached patience, and voiced confidence in the surge of American troops.
That answer was to be expected. But the answer Gingrich gave to the second questioned stunned me, and surprised most of the newspaper people in the audience. Gingrich, who teaches at the graduate school run by Gallup, said he was well aware of the negative opinion toward the United States around the world. He said he thought the election of a president like Barack Obama, then a Senator from Illinois, would shift opinion toward America immediately.
These were strange words indeed from a professed conservative Republican who harbors his own desires for the White House. But they have proved prophetic.
Last week, the Pew Center for the People and the Press, one of the most accurate and politically neutral sources of public opinion, released a worldwide survey testing public attitudes in 25 countries toward the United States. They found a remarkable turnaround since the Bush presidency ended.
The shift in public opinion has been particularly pronounced in Western Europe and Asia along with Latin America and Canada. The population in Muslim countries is still cooler toward the U.S. than the rest of the world, but it too has improved in its view of America since Obama took over.
In a 2008 worldwide survey, people in 25 countries were asked the question: "Do you believe George Bush will do the right thing in world affairs?" In mid-July of 2009, the same question was asked in the same countries with the name Barack Obama inserted in lieu of Mr. Bush.
In the U.S., 27 percent thought Bush would do the right thing in 2008. Today, 74 percent of Americans think Obama will do the right thing. In Canada, the swing was 28 percent to 88 percent; in Britain 16 to 86 percent; in France 13 to 91 percent; in Germany 14 to 93 percent; in Spain, 8 to 72 percent.
In China the difference in confidence was 30 percent for Bush, 62 percent for Obama; in India, 55 percent to 77 percent; in Indonesia, 23 percent to 71 percent; in Japan 25 percent to 85 percent; in South Korea, 30 percent to 81 percent.
In Argentina, only 7 percent thought Bush would do the right thing with foreign affairs in 2008, but in 2009 that shifted to 61 percent for Obama; in Brazil Bush's rating was 17 percent a year ago, Obama's 76 percent now; and in Mexico, the percentage rose from 16 percent confidence in Bush to 55 percent confidence in Obama.
In Africa, Bush confidence was already higher than in his home country, but Obama scored better. In Kenya, Bush received a 72 percent confidence rating in 2008, with Obama rising to 94 percent in 2009; in Nigeria, the percentages were 55 Bush to 88 Obama.
The two countries showing the least increase in confidence between the two American presidents were Pakistan, where percentages rose from 7 for Bush to 13 for Obama, and Israel, where the rating actually dropped from 57 percent confident in Bush to 56 percent confidence in Obama.
The irony of Obama's rise in the polls around the world is his corresponding drop in popularity inside the United States. The health care debate has dragged the president from an approval rating of 70 percent to a recorded 53 percent last week. Still, Newt Gingrich, the Republican leader, was right. The election of Barack Obama has improved America's image around the world. For what that's worth.
Jeff David owns and publishes The Livingston Parish News, an award-winning newspaper located in Denham Springs. David is a past president of Louisiana Press Association and National Newspaper Association.