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Obama's foreign policy is much more popular abroad than it is in the US

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Obama's foreign policy is not particularly popular here in the United States: Every poll since March on Obama's handling of global affairs, as tracked by RealClearPolitics' average, has had more Americans disapproving than approving.

Obama's foreign policy, though, tends to be pretty popular out in the rest of the world. Of 40 countries surveyed by a new Pew Research Center poll, majorities in 29 of those countries said they had confidence in Obama to "do the right thing regarding world affairs." Often, those majorities are quite wide.

Here's a chart of the results — and look how popular Obama is!

pew obama global popularity

The median result was 65 percent confident in Obama's foreign policy, 27 not confident — a pretty wide 38-point gap.

A majority of Americans were confident in Obama — about 58 percent, suggesting Obama does much better with Pew's phrasing than in domestic approval polls. But that's still 7 points below the global median, and way below most American allies. The US ranked 26th in the poll by confidence in Obama's foreign policy.

Obama has strong results in every major region surveyed except the Middle East, where a plurality or majority in each country had no confidence in the president. Given the skepticism toward the US in the region regardless of who is president, that is perhaps not shocking.

American presidents aren't always this popular. Pew conducted a similar poll in 2007, the equivalent point in George W. Bush's presidency. It found that in 37 out of 47 countries, "majorities say they have little or no trust in Bush to do the right thing in world affairs." Only "Israel and six of the 10 nations surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa" had majorities that had confidence in Bush.

happy obama

(Brendan Smilowski/Getty Images)

Pew's data shows that Obama is getting more popular internationally, not less. "Overall, Obama's image has improved in the last year," Pew's Richard Wike, Bruce Stokes, and Jacob Poushter write. "In 14 countries of the 36 countries where trends from 2014 are available, more people now say they have confidence in the U.S. president."

Why? Pew suggests some country-specific factors mattered in both positive and negative ways: Obama's visit to India seems to have generated some goodwill, and his fights with Israel's prime minister and unpopular outreach to Iran appears to have tanked his approval rating in Israel. It's also possible Obama is getting credit for recovery from the recession: his handling of the global economy is, per Pew, the issue on which he's by far the most popular internationally.

But maybe the more important point here is that it's easy to get a skewed perspective domestically about how presidents are playing abroad. Obama seems to be fairly popular around the world — and is definitely doing a lot better than his predecessor was at the same time in his term.

*The survey counted Israel and the Palestinian territories as separate countries, which isn't true as a matter of law but makes sense from a polling perspective.