Hopes that Barack Obama can improve US ties with the rest of the world have grown even stronger in the run-up to his inauguration as president, a poll said Tuesday.
But having such high expectations overseas presents Obama with a tough challenge, warned one of the pollsters who carried out the poll for the BBC World Service.
Once in office the global financial crisis should be Obama’s top priority, followed by pulling US troops out of Iraq, tackling climate change, and brokering peace in the Middle East, the survey said.
An average of 67 percent of people believe Obama will strengthen America’s relations abroad, with more than 50 percent thinking so in all but two — Japan and Russia — of the 17 countries polled.
The overall result was sharply up from a BBC-commissioned poll six months ago, when only 47 percent thought Obama would improve US overseas ties.
“Familiarity with Obama seems to be breeding hope,” said Steven Kull of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at America’s University of Maryland, which compiled the survey along with international polling firm GlobeScan.
“But then again he is starting from a low baseline, following eight years of an unpopular US president. Maintaining this enthusiasm will be a challenge given the complexities he now faces.”
Two mostly Muslim countries have shown particular spikes in hope for Obama: in Egypt 58 percent forecast better ties, twice as many as six months ago, while in Turkey the number has gone up from 11 percent to 51 percent.
Among Islamic countries Indonesia — where Obama spent part of his childhood — had the highest majority of those seeing bolstered ties with the United States, on 64 percent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Africans are among the most hopeful for Obama, the first African-American to be elected to the White House, while Europeans — angered by George Bush and the 2003 Iraq war — are not far behind.
Ghanaians are most positive, on 87 percent, followed by Italy (79 percent), Germany and Spain (78 percent each), and France (76 percent), followed by Mexico and Nigeria (74 percent each).
Japan and Russia are the only two countries where less than 50 percent of people think US ties with their countries will improve, on 48 percent and 47 percent respectively.
Asked what Obama’s top priority should be once in the Oval Office, 72 percent said dealing with the financial crisis, followed by 50 percent for withdrawing US forces from Iraq.
Third (46 percent) came addressing climate change — where Bush has been seen as holding back global action; then came 43 percent for brokering Mideast peace and 29 percent backing the Afghan government against the Taliban.
The survey was mostly conducted before the start of the three-week conflict in the Gaza Strip.
It was based on questioning of 17,356 adults between November 24 to January 5 in Britain, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
In the United States itself, 60 percent of those asked said improving their country’s relations with the rest of the world should be a top priority, much higher than the overall average of 46 percent.
A greater proportion of Americans than anywhere else think backing the Afghan government should be a top priority, with 46 percent saying Obama must focus on fighting the Taliban, more than seven years after 9/11.