Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama is pictured on stage during a campaign rally in Bristow, Virginia, June 5, 2008. [Agencies]
Washington -- People around the globe widely expect the next American president to improve the country's policies toward the rest of the world, especially if Barack Obama is elected, yet they retain a persistently poor image of the US, according to a poll released Thursday.
The survey of two dozen countries, conducted this spring by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, also found a growing despondency over the international economy, with majorities in 18 nations calling domestic economic conditions poor. In more bad news for the US, people shared a widespread sense the American economy was hurting their countries, including large majorities in US allies Britain, Germany, Australia, Turkey, France and Japan.
Even six in 10 Americans agreed the US economy was having a negative impact abroad.
Views of the US improved or stayed the same as last year in 18 nations, the first positive signs the poll has found for the US image worldwide this decade. Even so, many improvements were modest and the US remains less popular in most countries than it was before it invaded Iraq in 2003, with majorities in only eight expressing favorable opinions.
Substantial numbers in most countries said they are closely following the US presidential election, including 83 percent in Japan -- about the same proportion who said so in the US. Of those following the campaign, optimism that the new president will reshape American foreign policy for the better is substantial, with the largest segment of people in 14 countries -- including the US -- saying so.
Andrew Kohut, president of Pew, said many seem to be hoping the US role in the world will improve with the departure of President Bush, who remains profoundly unpopular almost everywhere.
"People think the US wants to run the world," said Kohut. "It's not more complicated than that."
Countries most hopeful the new president will improve US policies include France, Spain and Germany, where public opposition to Bush's policies in Iraq and elsewhere has been strong. Strong optimism also came from countries where pique with US policies has been less pronounced, including India, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa.
Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon have the strongest expectations the next president will worsen US policies, consistent with the skepticism expressed on many issues in the survey by Muslim countries. Japan, Turkey, Russia, South Korea and Mexico had large numbers saying the election would change little.
Among those tracking the American election, greater numbers in 20 countries expressed more confidence in Obama, the likely Democratic nominee, than John McCain, the Republican candidate, to handle world affairs properly. The two contenders were tied in the US, Jordan and Pakistan. Obama's edge was largest in Western Europe, Australia, Japan, Tanzania and Indonesia, where he lived for a time as a child.
The US was the only country where most expressed confidence in McCain. Besides the countries where he and Obama were tied, McCain's smallest gaps against his rival were in India and China, where neither man engenders much confidence.