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Global Survey Shows Obama More Popular Abroad Than at Home

A new international survey of 24,000 people in 22 countries shows U.S. President Barack Obama remains widely popular in most parts of the world, but both President Obama and the United States face some image challenges in predominantly Muslim nations.

Andrew Kohut is the President of the Washington-based Pew Research Center and the Director of its Global Attitudes Project.  He presented the survey's findings in Washington Thursday.

"Our headline today is that President Obama remains highly popular in most parts of the world -- even though his job approval rating has slipped considerably in the United States -- and his continued popularity around the world benefits the image of the U.S.," said Kohut.  "Opinions of the U.S. remain far more positive in 2010 than they were for much of the Bush years."  

Still, support for Mr. Obama among Muslims abroad was higher in a poll conducted last year, around the time the president reached out to the Muslim world in his famous Cairo Speech.  Muslims polled have grown disillusioned with Mr. Obama during the past year.  

Things have changed dramatically in Egypt, where the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Mr. Obama dropped from 41 percent to 31 percent.  In Pakistan, the level dropped from 13 percent to 8 percent.  Confidence in Mr. Obama remains high in Nigeria -- a whopping 77 percent of Muslims polled there approve of him, but that is still down from 81 percent last year.

In fact, confidence and approval levels slipped among Muslims surveyed everywhere but Indonesia, where Mr. Obama spent time as a child.

Significant percentages of Muslims surveyed see the U.S. as a military threat.  Overall, the U.S. is viewed as acting unilaterally.  And Mr. Obama has sub-par ratings on his handling of Iran, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

But Kohut says there is an even thornier issue.

"It's worth noting that his worst ratings are for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Kohut.

Mr. Obama and his policies are viewed more favorably outside the Muslim world, particularly among Western Europeans.  

"Overall opinion of Barack Obama remains broadly positive in non-Muslim countries," explained Kohut.  "The national median having confidence in Obama to do the right thing was 71 percent outside of the Muslim world, and
overall approval of his policies was 64 percent in the non-Muslim world."    

People abroad praised the president's handling of the global economic crisis, even as they express widespread dissatisfaction with the economy.

But what is the effect of having a well-liked president?

"Obviously President Obama's popularity is very important and a positive," explained former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is the co-chair of the Pew Global Attitudes Project.  "And generally Americans favorability ratings make a big difference, not just because we want to be liked, but because it makes a difference in the way that we're able to fulfill what the policies are and what is good for the American people operating in a globalized world."

Experts noted an interesting find  -- despite continued criticism of U.S. policies and approaches to world affairs, people around the world maintain positive views of the president and the United States.  They said this was not the case in polls conducted during the Bush administration.

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