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Sunday 13 Jul 2014

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Global poll uncovers growing optimism that Obama will improve US relations

As Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, a new 17-nation poll conducted for BBC World Service finds widespread and growing optimism that his presidency will lead to improved relations between the United States and the rest of the world.

The poll also suggests people around the world are looking to President Obama to put highest priority on dealing with the current global financial crisis.

In 15 of the 17 countries polled, majorities think that the election of Barack Obama will lead to improved relations with the rest of the world. On average 67% express this upbeat view, while 19% think relations will stay the same and just 5% that relations will worsen.

This is up sharply – by 21 points among tracking countries – from polling done for BBC World Service six months ago, before Obama was elected. At that time just 47% expressed optimism that an Obama presidency would lead to improved relations with the rest of the world.

The number of people giving no answer to the question is also down sharply.

This optimism does not necessarily mean, however, that views of the United States itself have changed.

BBC World Service is currently completing its annual poll assessing views of major countries' influence in the world, which will be released within the next few weeks and will show whether views of US influence are improving.

Asked to rate six possible priorities for the Obama administration, the top priority in all countries polled was the global financial crisis. On average 72% said that it should be a top priority.

This was followed by withdrawing US troops from Iraq – with 50% saying this should be a top priority – then addressing climate change (46%), improving America's relationship with the respondent's country (46%), brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians (43%), and supporting the government of Afghanistan against the Taleban (29%).

Polling was completed prior to the current Gaza conflict in all countries except Egypt and India. In Egypt, 75% said brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be a top priority.

The results are drawn from a survey of 17,356 adult citizens across 17 countries conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork between 24 November 2008 and 5 January 2009.

"Familiarity with Obama seems to be breeding hope," commented Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

"But then again," he added, "he is starting from a low baseline, following eight years of an unpopular US president. Maintaining this enthusiasm will be a challenge given the complexities he now faces."

Notes to Editors

Additional Highlights

Even nations that last summer had few people expressing optimism have come to have hope in an Obama presidency, according to the poll.

The number of those predicting better US relations with the rest of the world has jumped from 11 to 51% in Turkey, 11 to 47% in Russia, 29 to 58% in Egypt, and 39 to 68% in China.

Interestingly, two of the countries showing the largest improvement are majority Muslim countries (Egypt and Turkey).

Indonesians are also optimistic (64%) and have shown an 18-point increase in optimism from last summer.

The most optimistic views are expressed in Ghana (87%) and in Europe – in Italy (79%), Germany (78%), Spain (78%) and France (76%) – followed by Mexico (74%) and Nigeria (74%).

Americans are also quite optimistic, with 65% expressing hope that America's international relations will improve.

The only two countries where less than a majority express optimism are Japan and Russia.

In Japan 48% express optimism, while 37% think relations will stay the same and 8% think they will get worse.

In Russia, 47% expect improvement, 26% no change and 5% a worsening.

All of the foreign policy goals tested in the poll were seen as at least an important priority by clear majorities in virtually every country, highlighting the many serious challenges facing the incoming president.

Europeans, in particular, are looking to the new US president to prioritise tackling climate change, with 58% of French, 63% of British, 65% of Spanish and 68% of Italians seeing it as a top priority.

There are marked differences of opinion on the priority of brokering peace in the Middle East, with 75% of Egyptians but only 17% of Russians seeing it as a top priority for the Obama administration.

However, polling was completed in all countries except Egypt and India prior to the current Gaza conflict began.

Americans' priorities are somewhat different from the world as a whole. While they agree with the highest priority being the global financial crisis (75% say top priority), they are higher than any other country in placing a top priority (46%) on supporting the government of Afghanistan against the Taleban.

They also show substantial concern for improving America's relations with the world – 60% say it should be a top priority; this is substantially higher than the global average (46%) saying that it should be top priority for the US to improve its relations with their region.

In total 17,356 citizens in Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the USA were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone mainly in November and December 2008.

Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country.

In five of the 17 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/-2.4 to 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Polling from last summer was conducted in the same countries from 8 July to 15 September 2008.

Country-by-country results are available in a PDF on the right-hand side of this page.

BBC World Service Press Office

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