The excitement surrounding Barack Obama's bid for the White House apparently isn't confined to U.S. borders. A new Pew Research international survey [PDF] shows that the American presidential campaign -- and Obama's candidacy in particular -- has generated a very high level of interest throughout the world. The numbers also suggest that the attention surrounding the race could translate into some much-needed burnishing for the U.S.'s tarnished image abroad.
In nearly all of the 24 countries surveyed, respondents who said they were following the election closely placed more confidence in Obama "to do the right thing regarding world affairs" than they did in John McCain. The largest gaps were evident in Europe, where overwhelming majorities -- 84 percent of French respondents, 82 percent of Germans and 74 percent of Britons -- said they had confidence in Obama while fewer than half said the same of McCain.
The one region this trend didn't hold was the Middle East, where confidence in both candidates ran low: 34 percent of Lebanese respondents said they had confidence in Obama, and a quarter said the same of McCain. In Turkey, Obama garnered 20 percent and McCain a scant 5 percent. Jordan was one of only two countries surveyed that had more respondents express confidence in McCain than Obama, a close 23 percent to 22 percent. What was the only other nation to show more love for McCain than Obama? The U.S., where McCain received 60 percent support to Obama's 59 percent.
"There is a very strong international opinion of Barack Obama," said Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut at a press conference on Thursday. "And there is an increased set of expectations from him. From a long ways away, he does seem to be well regarded." New York Times columnist David Brooks, who also spoke at the conference, said the results only confirm what he's thought for quite some time. "Support for Barack Obama is real, and the global interest is big," he said.
Fully half of respondents in some countries, including Britain, Jordan, Australia and Germany, said they were tuned into the race. And more Japanese respondents reported following the election closely than did Americans themselves -- 83 percent to 80 percent. Kohut couldn't pinpoint a reason for this overwhelming interest from Japan, but one CNN correspondent chimed in that it may be a result of the large amount of media attention paid to the campaign there. Brooks echoed this thought: "It's stunning the number of foreign correspondents covering the election," he said.
Kohut also suggested that the international limelight on the election has had a ripple effect on America's global reputation. "For the first time in this poll, we have encouraging news about the U.S. image," he said.
Out of the 24 countries polled, 16 showed an improved view of the U.S. since 2007. Dramatic increases were evident in South Korea (12 points) and Tanzania (19 points). Opinions of the U.S. remain negative in the Middle East, though the poll does show that perspectives there are no more negative there than in past surveys. "Anti-Americanism in the Middle East runs deeper," Kohut said. "And there is no anticipation for change there."
Brooks said the poll's findings on America's image suggest the world is moving into a new era: "We're leaving an era where global opinion was dominated by 9/11, and we're entering an era dominated by other stuff" -- including the weakening economy, the end of President Bush's tenure and the presidential campaign. He concluded that this new phase will be highlighted by "the rise of the rest" -- a more balanced and widespread rivalry between the major countries of the world, including Japan, China and Britain.