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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney’s Reach on World Opinion of U.S.

Mitt Romney said he couldn’t think of a single “major country” that “has greater respect and admiration for America today than it did five years ago when Barack Obama became president.” Although America’s stature worldwide slipped last year, its favorability was still much higher than during the last year of the George W. Bush administration, including in major countries such as France, Germany and Japan, according to the latest polls from the Pew Research Center.

Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, made the claim about the perception of the U.S. under Obama during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.

Romney, March 23: Our esteem around the world has fallen. I can’t think of a major country, it’s hard to think of a single country that has greater respect and admiration for America today than it did five years ago when Barack Obama became president. And that’s a very sad, unfortunate state of affairs.

When asked about Romney’s comments during a later segment of the show, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Romney was “suffering from political amnesia.”

Durbin, March 23: Does [Romney] remember the reaction of the rest of the world to our invasion of Iraq? The fact is that many of our stalwart allies of the past thought it was a terrible decision. What President Obama has done is restore a working relationship.

Romney’s comments align with the growing concern among Republicans that America’s standing in the world is falling. According to the latest poll, concluded in November 2013, from the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of Republicans (and 56 percent of Democrats) said they believe that the U.S. is “less respected by other countries than in the past.”

But what do residents of other countries actually think?

The Pew Global Attitudes Project conducts an annual international poll asking residents of other countries about their perceptions of America and its people. We couldn’t find any questions about “respect,” but Romney’s use of the word “admiration” matches up well with questions about U.S. favorability.

The Pew surveys released in July 2013 — the latest available — found that “the ‘Obama bounce’ in the global stature of the United States experienced in 2009 is clearly a thing of the past.” Still, half or more of those surveyed in 2013 expressed a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 28 of the 38 nations polled. That’s markedly better than under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. In its 2008 poll, Pew found only nine of 23 nations polled reported half or more residents with a favorable opinion of the U.S.

Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes, Pew Research Center, July 26, 2013: In the fifth year of the Obama presidency, the United States’ image remains strong around the world compared with the last years of the administration of President George W. Bush. Still, pro-America sentiment is slipping.

Here’s a Pew chart of the percentage of those who gave the U.S. a favorable rating, by country, over the last 13 years:

Balance of Power54

Part of the decline in U.S. favorability in recent years is due to the declining popularity of Obama internationally, Pew reported. Like favorability, international confidence in Obama is also declining, but remains high compared with Bush, Pew reported. For example, Britain’s “confidence” in Obama dropped to 72 percent in 2013, a 14 percentage point drop from 2009. But it was just 16 percent in 2008 under Bush. In Japan, the confidence measure dropped from 85 percent to 70 percent between 2009 and 2013, but it was just 25 percent in 2008 under Bush.

As we reported in an October installment of “Obama’s Numbers,” approval of the U.S. in key Muslim nations remains abysmal, despite the president’s early efforts to make a “new beginning” with Muslims around the world. In Pakistan, only 11 percent reported a favorable opinion of the U.S., down 1 percentage point from a year earlier and 8 points lower than in 2008. In Egypt, 16 percent said they approved of the U.S., down 3 percentage points from 2012 and 6 points lower than in 2008. And in Turkey — where favorable opinion of the U.S. improved by 6 percentage points in 2013 and by 9 points since 2008 — it still stood at only 21 percent this year.

Romney would have been correct to point out that the world’s opinion of the U.S. has been slipping in recent years. But it is still much better than it was before Obama took office.

— Robert Farley