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Obama's rating abroad: 61 percent positive. US image: 39 percent.

Views of the US and its role in the world remain about as negative as before Obama's election, according to new poll that represents nearly two-thirds of the world's population.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 7, 2009

Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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President Obama has zoomed to the top of world leadership charts – a far cry from the basement of global public opinion where President Bush found himself for most of his time in office.

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This is according to a new poll that represents nearly two-thirds of the world's population. But the same poll finds that as popular as Mr. Obama may be, overall views of the United States and its role in the world remain about as negative as before his election.

In a few countries of key interest to the US, like Pakistan, opinion of the US has sunk further.

The annual WorldPublicOpinion.org survey, coordinated by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), comes out just as Obama is in Russia on another global-outreach trip, aimed at improving perceptions of the US abroad.

As a presidential candidate, Obama often cited mending America's global image as a key task for any incoming administration. In the days before Obama's travel this week, White House officials cited the president's Cairo speech to the world's Muslim communities last month for the positive impact it had on America's image abroad.

But this poll finds a more "nuanced" picture. "General views of the US are still mixed," says Steven Kull, PIPA director and the poll's manager. Contrasting Obama's overall positive rating of 61 percent to a 39 percent "mostly positive" score for the US, he adds, "Putting it all together, there's only modest movement" upward for America's global image.

The reasons for the gap? Many publics in the world are attracted to Obama's personal story, but they remain suspicious and wary of American power. In most of the nations the poll surveyed, publics also think the US is hypocritical – for what they see as a failure to uphold the very values and international principles (such as the rule of law and human rights) that it publicly champions.

Still, Mr. Kull finds evidence that Obama's strategy of making major speeches to selected global audiences on their turf is having an impact. He points to Turkey, where opinion of the US, while still very mixed, improved noticeably after Obama's April speech in Ankara.

On Tuesday, Obama gave a major speech in Moscow, one in what White House officials say is a four-speech series. The Moscow speech was designed to address the role of major powers in the 21st century, officials said, while the first speech in the series, in Prague in April, addressed the role of smaller states in furthering international security.

The WorldPublicOpinion.org survey was conducted largely before Obama's speech in Cairo. Many analysts of Muslim and Arab countries say they expect the speech had a positive impact on opinion in a region that has been among the hardest nuts for the US to crack.

But Randa Slim, a visiting scholar at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, says she suspects only a "pause" in generally negative trends for the US in Muslim countries. It will take actual deeds – in terms of the settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promoting democracy in Arab countries – for the pause to translate into wider confidence in America's role, she adds.

"If [Obama] cannot deliver in a short period of time at least a minor success" – she offers a freeze on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories as an example – "this period of time is not going to last long."

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