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Popularity contest

September 10, 2009

European support for US President Barack Obama's foreign policy has soared compared to the approval they gave to his predecessor, George W. Bush. Central and Eastern Europeans are less enthusiastic.

A foto montage of former US president George W. Bush (left) and Barack Obama
Obama has achieved remarkable popularity in EuropeImage: AP GraphicsBank/DW

In the annual survey "Transatlantic Trends 2009 Partners” published by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), 77 percent of all Europeans approve of US President Barack Obama's handling of international affairs compared to just one in five, or 19 percent, who approved of the foreign policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush in 2008.

All 13 nations surveyed favoured Obama over Bush. The biggest change of opinion was recorded in Germany. A full 92 percent of Germans approve of Obama's handling of international affairs compared to just 12 percent who supported Bush. That's an increase of 80 percent.

Similar trends were confirmed in Italy, France and the UK where support for US foreign policies soared between 64 and 77 percent to 91, 88 and 82 percent respectively.

A remarkable shift in opinion

President Barack Obama (right), Vice President Joe Biden (left), and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House in May this year.
GMF believes Obama's popularity can open doors to bridge differencesImage: AP

“American leadership is enjoying unprecedented modern popularity, this represents a remarkable shift in transatlantic opinion from the previous administration” said GMF president, Craig Kennedy.

Obama's personal popularity has failed to bridge serious transatlantic differences over Afghanistan, Iran and climate change, the GMF survey found. His appeal could pave the way towards closing the gap, said Angelo Benessia, the chairman of the Compagnia di San Paolo, which conducted the survey with GMF.

“European leaders can build on Obama's popularity to talk to the White House in an environment that is all but anti-American, and thus speak clearly when it comes to sensitive issues, such as Afghanistan, Iran, or Middle East,“ he said.

Central and Eastern Europeans less sure

Barack Obama delivers a speech in front of thousands of people on the Hradcanske square near the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, on Sunday, April 5, 2009.
Picking up considerable support in Central and Eastern Europe.Image: AP

Even though all Central and East Europeans were more supportive of Obama than Bush, they were less enthusiastic about Obama's handling of international affairs than Western Europeans.

Eighty six percent of West Europeans gave Obama's foreign policies the thumbs up, compared to 60 percent in Central and Eastern Europe. The country that least changed its opinion about the US leadership was Poland. Polish nationals gave 55 percent support Obama, compared to 45 percent who supported Bush.

GMF found that only one-in-four Eastern and Central Europeans believe that relations between the United States and Europe had improved over the past year.

The country that least supported Obama in the survey was Turkey. Half of Turks support Obama. Still, that's a five-fold or 42 percent increase over what Turks thought of Bush. Only eight percent approved of Bush in 2008.

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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