Poll: US image abroad surges under Obama

President Barack Obama’s popularity has boosted America’s image abroad even though deep suspicions about the U.S. persist in the Muslim world, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey of two dozen nations conducted this spring by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that positive public attitudes toward the United States have surged in many parts of the world since Obama’s election.

Positive opinions about the United States have returned to higher levels not seen since before President George W. Bush took office in 2001. The Bush presidency marked a steep decline in U.S. popularity overseas, notably after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, because of a perception that the post-9/11 war on terrorism was targeted at Muslims.

“The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama,” the center said in its annual Pew Global Attitudes Report.

The only exception was Israel, where attitudes toward the U.S. have dipped since Bush left office.

The improvements “are being driven much more by personal confidence in Obama than by opinions about his specific policies,” Pew reported.

At the same time, several specific administration policies drew near universal acclaim, including Obama’s pledge to close the Navy-run detention facility for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the U.S. timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, the survey found.

The Pew report found that in 21 of the countries surveyed, an average of 71 percent of respondents had at least some confidence in the U.S. president’s handling of world affairs. In 2008, when Bush was in the White House, the figure in those same countries was only 17 percent.

The center said the most profound shifts came in Western Europe, notably in France and Germany, where confidence in Obama exceeds that for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In addition, U.S. favorability rose by at least 10 percentage points in 11 countries over last year, including in Latin America, Africa and Asia ? largely as a result of Obama’s election, the center said.

Still, the poll registered continuing levels of profound distrust about U.S. influence and motives among Muslims, particularly in Turkey, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories. There, the report said, “animosity toward the (United States) … continues to run deep and unabated.”

Attitudes toward America also rose slightly in U.S. allies Egypt and Jordan and registered some improvement after Obama’s much-heralded speech to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo on June 4. But Palestinians appeared unmoved and Israelis were unimpressed, according to the findings.

Indonesia, where Obama spent part of his childhood, was a major bright spot in the Muslim world. More than 70 percent of Indonesians expressed confidence in Obama, up from 23 percent for Bush in 2008. Nearly 80 percent of Indonesians were aware that Obama had lived in their country when he was a boy.

Favorability ratings for Obama and the U.S. were also high in Kenya, where the new president’s father was from. Ninety percent of Kenyans surveyed had a favorable opinion of the United States and 96 percent knew that Obama’s father was a Kenyan, according to the poll.

The poll, which surveyed nearly 27,000 people, also found:

? While the U.S. image abroad has largely improved, foreign populations are still concerned about what they see as unilateralism on the part of the United States and the economic and cultural influence that America exerts across the world.

? Foreign publics have largely negative views of their own nations’ economies, especially amid the global economic downturn.

? Huge majorities see global warming as a serious problem.

The polling was conducted from May 19-June 14, interviewing adults face to face in 18 countries and by telephone in the other seven.

The number interviewed in each country ranged from 700 in Japan to 3,169 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 or 4 percentage points in every country but China and India, where it was 2 points.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.