People around the globe widely expect the next American president to improve the country's policies toward the rest of the world, especially if Barack Obama is elected, yet they retain a persistently poor image of the U.S., according to a poll released Thursday.
The survey of two dozen countries, conducted this spring by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, also found a growing despondency over the international economy, with majorities in 18 nations calling domestic economic conditions poor. In more bad news for the U.S., people shared a widespread sense the American economy was hurting their countries, including large majorities in U.S. allies Britain, Germany, Australia, Turkey, France and Japan.
Even six in 10 Americans agreed the U.S. economy was having a negative impact abroad.
Views of the U.S. improved or stayed the same as last year in 18 nations, the first positive signs the poll has found for the U.S. image worldwide this decade. Even so, many improvements were modest and the U.S. remains less popular in most countries than it was before it invaded Iraq in 2003, with majorities in only eight expressing favorable opinions.
Substantial numbers in most countries said they are closely following the U.S. presidential election, including 83 percent in Japan — about the same proportion who said so in the U.S. Of those watching the campaign, optimism that the new president will reshape American foreign policy for the better is significant, with the largest segment of people in 14 countries — including the U.S. — saying so.
Andrew Kohut, president of Pew, said many seem to be hoping the U.S. role in the world will improve with the departure of President Bush, who remains profoundly unpopular almost everywhere.
"People think the U.S. wants to run the world," said Kohut. "It's not more complicated than that."
Countries most hopeful the new president will improve U.S. policies include France, Spain and Germany, where public opposition to Bush's policies in Iraq and elsewhere has been strong. Strong optimism also came from countries where pique with U.S. policies has been less pronounced, including India, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa.
Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon have the strongest expectations the next president will worsen U.S. policies, consistent with the skepticism expressed on many issues in the survey by Muslim countries. Japan, Turkey, Russia, South Korea and Mexico had large numbers saying the election would change little.
Among those tracking the American election, greater numbers in 20 countries expressed more confidence in Obama, the likely Democratic nominee, than John McCain, the Republican candidate, to handle world affairs properly. The two contenders were tied in the U.S., Jordan and Pakistan. Obama's edge was largest in Western Europe, Australia, Japan, Tanzania and Indonesia, where he lived for a time as a child.
The U.S. was the only country where most expressed confidence in McCain. Besides the countries where he and Obama were tied, McCain's smallest gaps against his rival were in India and China, where neither man engenders much confidence.
The U.S. is seen as the world's leading economic power by 22 countries in the survey. Yet in 11 countries, more think China will replace the U.S. as the world's dominant superpower or has already done so than predict that will never happen.
At the same time, China's favorable ratings have edged downward since last year, with widespread worry over its military power, pollution and human rights record. The survey was taken during China's crackdown on unrest in Tibet, but before last month's earthquake in China.
The poll also found:
- Sixty percent or more had favorable views of the U.S. in South Korea, Poland, India, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa. One in five or fewer had positive impressions in Egypt, Argentina, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey.
- Nine in 10 in South Korea and Lebanon say their economies are in bad shape, while eight in 10 Chinese, seven in 10 Australians and six in 10 Indians say theirs are strong.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination to Obama, generally was rated higher than McCain overseas but lower than Obama.
- There is growing pessimism that a stable democratic government will take hold in Iraq, with majorities only in Nigeria, India and Tanzania predicting success.
- Only in the U.S., Britain and Australia do most want U.S. and NATO forces to say in Afghanistan.
- Iran is viewed mostly negatively. Even the eight countries in the survey with large Muslim populations have mixed views. In six of those eight, Muslims oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons.
The polling was conducted from March 17-April 21, mostly in April, interviewing adults face to face in 17 countries and by telephone in the remaining seven. Local languages were used.
The number interviewed in each country ranged from 700 in Australia to 3,212 in China. All samples were national except for China, Pakistan, India and Brazil, where the samples were mostly urban. The margins of sampling error were plus or minus 3 percentage points or 4 points in every country but China and India, where it was 2 points.