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Global BBC poll shows improved U.S. image

The wide-ranging survey, conducted in 34 countries, also found that Russia's status has significantly increased.

By Mark Rice-OxleyCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 2, 2008

SOURCE: BBC / GlobeScan / PIPA/Rich Clabaugh–STAFF



The world may not be ready to forgive George Bush, but it is slowly starting to forgive America. That was the strongest message to emerge from a survey of attitudes in 34 nations toward the world's leading powers released here Wednesday.

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"There are a number of reasons to think this is ultimately a turning point [in perceptions of the US]," says Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, which helped conduct the BBC World Service poll of more than 17,000 people.

Previous surveys showed global dismay about US influence in the world, especially its handling of prisoners at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, as well as White House inertia on climate change and Middle East peace.

Since the annual survey was established in 2005, an increasing percentage of respondents have said that America exerts a negative, rather than a positive, influence. But this year, US ratings improved in 11 countries and worsened in only three; on average across the entire survey, 35 percent of people said the US had a positive influence, compared with 31 percent a year ago; the percentage that discerned a negative influence fell to 47 from 52.

Analysts involved in the survey said a number of factors were at play. The US presidential primaries have showcased a less ideological, more approachable America and at the very least raised hopes of a more conciliatory approach to foreign policy once President Bush steps down.

"The image of the US is already being influenced by the prospect of one of the candidates becoming president," says Dr. Kull of PIPA. "All three talk more about multilateralism and cooperation; all express concern about the US image in the world; all express substantial concern about climate change and signal readiness to take action on that front."

He adds that some late-term Bush administration initiatives – the Annapolis conference on the Middle East, cautious noises about climate change action – may also have helped America's stock rise. Another positive has been the fact that "the threat of unilateral action against Iran has diminished in people's minds."

The US picked up good marks in a number of countries, from South Korea to Portugal. The French softened their negative view of America dramatically, while the Americans similarly improved their view of France. Painful memories of "freedom fries" may be receding.

Russia's status: most improved

If America's report card reads "some improvement – could do better," the verdict on Russia is something like "impressive progress – but I wouldn't want to live next door to you." Despite its muscular, even menacing, diplomacy, Russia emerged as the country with the most improved image, though many Europeans are still wary of their vast eastern neighbor.

Experts in Moscow said the world could not help but admire Russia's startling economic renaissance, and may also appreciate that a strong Russia could help restore a multipolar global order.

Highlights from an international report card

In its annual poll on global attitudes, the BBC World Service found that the percentage of those holding positive views of the US increased in 11 of 23 countries polled last time.

Country Positive view Percent change

Biggest increase: S. Korea 49 percent 14 percent

Biggest decrease: India 18 percent -12 percent

Most support: Kenya 80 percent 10 percent

Least support: Mexico 10 percent -2 percent

Source: BBC World Service poll, conducted in 34 countries including Canada, the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, India, China, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia.