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During a joint speech with her husband, Newt Gingrich, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Callista Gingrich criticized several aspects of Barack Obama’s presidency, including his global leadership.
Newt Gingrich said, "It's striking how President (Jimmy) Carter and President Obama both took our nation down a path that in four years weakened America's confidence in itself and our hope for a better future."
Callista Gingrich continued, "Both weakened the respect for America abroad."
We wondered whether that was correct. So we turned to international polling data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The surveys were based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. We didn’t find any data that went back to the Carter administration, but we did find surveys that allowed us to assess global views before and after Obama became president.
While surveys are currently being undertaken in 20 nations, only 14 of those have been done for long enough to shed light on Callista Gingrich’s claim.
The question asked is, "Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of ... the United States." While favorability isn’t exactly identical to respect, we think it’s very close and a good approximation.
A crucial issue in analyzing Callista Gingrich’s claim is determining the right timing. The polls are typically taken in the spring or early summer, so the 2008 numbers refer to the nation’s standing under President George W. Bush, while the 2009 numbers refer to attitudes in the early days of the Obama administration. The 2012 numbers give us a snapshot of the current moment
Let’s look at each of them.
Comparing 2008 to 2012
Looking at the 14 nations in question, 10 gave the U.S. higher favorability rankings in 2012 than under Bush in 2008, compared to four that recorded declines. The nations that gave improved favorability ratings were primarily in Europe (Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and Russia) and Asia (China and Japan). Turkey and Mexico also recorded increases.
The declines were primarily in the Middle East -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon -- as well as Pakistan.
Lumping together all of the increases with all of the decreases, America’s favorability went up an average of 7.4 points among the countries polled. So by this measure, Obama has made views of America around the world more favorable than under Bush.
Comparing 2009 to 2012
While this measurement is less relevant for the issue Callista Gingrich raised, it still provides some useful context.
In 2009 -- when Obama was a fresh face -- approval ratings of America in many countries were unusually high. Since then, they’ve fallen.
Since 2009, America’s favorability has risen in four countries, fallen in nine and remained constant in one. The only countries to see a rise were Poland, Russia, Turkey and Japan.
On average, America’s favorability declined 3.7 points among the countries polled. So the view of America in the world has declined from its unusually high peaks at the beginning of the Obama administration.
Callista Gingrich stated that Obama has "weakened the respect for America abroad."
Using the most reasonable yardstick -- comparing Bush’s last number to Obama’s most recent number -- the United States on average has higher favorability ratings in most countries Pew surveyed. However, America’s favorability has eroded somewhat since Obama’s first year in office, though it’s still above the final levels of the Bush administration. On balance, we rate Callista Gingrich’s statement Mostly False.
Pew global attitudes survey, 2012
Pew global attitudes survey, 2009
Pew Global Attitudes Project, "Global Public Opinion in the Bush Years (2001-2008)"
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