Image: Spain
Victor R. Caivano  /  Associated Press
“People have always found Spain appealing,” says Simon Anholt, an independent policy adviser to 20 national, regional and city governments. “It has a very strong personality: passionate, romantic and Mediterranean.”
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updated 10/16/2009 8:57:37 AM ET 2009-10-16T12:57:37

Chicago was dropped from hosting the Olympics in the first round of decisions. And stateside, Barack Obama’s average approval rating last month was 52 percent, according to Gallup. That's compared to spring numbers in the mid-60s.

But two recent reports show that globally, positive opinion of the U.S. has blossomed. Approval of America among the French rose to 75 percent this year, from 42 percent in 2008. In Britain, those numbers are 69 percent and 53 percent, respectively, according to this year’s Pew Global Attitudes Project. The recently-released 2009 Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index also supports this notion.

For the first time since 2005 when Simon Anholt — an independent policy adviser to 20 national, regional and city governments — started conducting the survey, the U.S. has been named the most admired country in the world, climbing six spots in the rankings from 2008. Rounding out the top five are other beloved countries like France, Germany, the U.K. and Japan.

Anholt attributed the U.S.’ rank to global confidence in Obama. He also believes that former president George W. Bush’s incredibly unpopular foreign policy pulled the country down in terms of image. After he left office this year, the only way for the U.S. to go was up. “The country's position was artificially depressed by Bush,” says Anholt.

An increase in U.S. popularity meant a decrease for its neighbor Canada. The country dropped three spots.

“I prophesied that if the image of the U.S. ever improved, the perception of Canada would suffer,” says Anholt. While Canada scores high for its friendly people and beautiful landscape, outsiders know little else about the country’s culture. All they do believe, Anholt deduces, is that Canada is the opposite of the United States in policy. “If the U.S. is illiberal, intolerant and aggressive, then Canada is liberal, tolerant and passive,” he says. “Now the seesaw has gone the other way, and Canada is losing its identity.”

Behind the numbers
To complete this survey, Anholt, in partnership with Princeton, N.J.-based market research firm GfK Roper, surveyed 20,000 people from 20 countries — chosen for geographic and economic diversity — over the summer of 2009. The survey asked respondents to rank 50 countries in six categories: governance, culture, products and services, people, tourism and immigration/investment.

The “governance” section of the survey included questions on human rights and foreign policy, while “culture” encompassed heritage, popular culture and sports. The “products and services” section asked about brands each country is known for (e.g., IKEA is associated with Sweden). The “people” category included queries on the perceived attitudes of each country's citizens (that is, whether or not they seem hard-working, warm, friendly or tolerant). Questions in “tourism” focused on whether or not the respondents would want to visit these countries on vacation. And “immigration/investment” asked about living in these countries and investing in their businesses.

Image: Canada
Mathieu Belanger  /  Associated Press
Anholt predicted that if the image of the U.S. ever improved, the perception of Canada would suffer. He was right. Canada dropped three spots in the 2009 rankings.

Most countries in the top 10 scored fairly well in every area, but with exceptional strength in one category. For example, Australia, with its enviable beaches, mountains and distinctive cityscapes, is “a tourist destination to die for,” says Anholt. And while the French aren’t, for the most part, thought of as particularly friendly or warm, Anholt says that in terms of culture and tourism, the country scores high. Germany is widely admired for its brands such as Adidas, Volkswagen and Hugo Boss.

Image: France
AFP/Getty Images
While the French aren't thought of as particularly friendly or warm, Anholt says that in terms of culture and tourism, the country scores high.

All in all, these are places many of us would like to visit, and possibly live. The question is, will the U.S. remain in the top spot next year?

“It'll keep its place for as long as Obama is in office,” says Jose Filipe Torres, chief executive of Bloom Consulting, a Madrid-based brand strategy firm with clients including Spain, which tied with Sweden for 10th place. However, he doesn't think that U.S.’ newfound branding power indicates anything about its economic future. “Good brand positing doesn't always mean more tourism, economic development and foreign investment.”

© 2012 Forbes.com

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