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Obama Remains Popular in Europe

A newly-released survey shows that U.S. President Barack Obama is vastly more popular in Europe than his predecessor, George W. Bush, but that transatlantic differences remain on critical foreign policy issues and global challenges. 

The annual public opinion poll, conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or GMF, shows that 77 percent of respondents in the European Union plus Turkey approve of President Obama's handling of international affairs.  By comparison, just 19 percent backed former President Bush's foreign policies in 2008.

GMF Transatlantic Fellow Bruce Stokes presented the findings at a Washington forum.  He said the so-called "Obama bounce" is the biggest ever recorded for a U.S. president in modern history.

"The numbers jump in an almost not-credible fashion," said Stokes.  "If this did not reflect the findings that other surveys have found as well, [then] one might want to question these numbers.  But the reality is we feel very confident in these numbers because others surveys have found similar results."

The upswing in sentiment toward America's president is most pronounced in Western Europe.  German approval, for example, jumped 80 percent since Mr. Obama came to office.  Eastern European nations also recorded higher favorability ratings for the U.S. president, but the increase was more modest.  Half of Turkish respondents back Mr. Obama, compared to 8 percent that supported President Bush.

According to Bruce Stokes, the difference in public sentiment across Europe is significant.

"Western Europeans are just much more confident in President Obama than Central and Eastern Europeans," he said. "Central and Eastern Europeans, over half the population has confidence in the president. That is not bad.  It is just compared to Western Europe that you see a real distinction."

Is Mr. Obama's popularity in Europe bridging transatlantic gulfs over thorny international and global questions?  Not to any significant degree, according to the poll.  At a time of expanding U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, a majority of Europeans are pessimistic about the prospects for achieving stability in the country and favor reducing or withdrawing NATO troops deployed there.

When it comes to Iran, a smaller percentage of Europeans than Americans favor maintaining a military option to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear arsenal.

On combating global warming, the poll shows Europeans, on average, are far more concerned about climate change than Americans.

"If these differences cannot be bridged, it is quite likely that the Obama honeymoon [in Europe] could be shortlived," said Bruce Stokes.

But the poll showed continued majority support in Europe for NATO, as well as a free market and liberalized trade.  The survey did not reveal strong resentment against the United States for its role in precipitating last year's global financial crisis.

The presidential popularity findings mirror a global poll conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center.  The Pew survey concluded that -- with the exception of Israel -- much of the world has come to view the United States more favorably under President Obama's leadership.

At home, Mr. Obama's favorability ratings have declined in recent months.  The latest Gallup poll shows 52 percent of Americans approve of the president's performance, down about 20 points from the early weeks of his administration.

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