It's not just how it's playing in Peoria: President Barack Obama's standing overseas has eroded sharply since he took office three and a half years ago, even as many of America's closest friends increasingly say that China is now the world's dominant economic power, according to a report out Wednesday.
Solid majorities in Britain, France, Germany and Spain say China—not the United States—is the globe's most potent economy. That perception has changed markedly in the past four years. In Britain, for example, the margin in 2012 is 58-28 percent in China's favor, compared with 44-29 percent for the United States in 2008.
Those are some of the stark findings of Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, which also found that approval of Obama's handling of world affairs has plummeted 30 points in China, from 57 percent to just 27 percent.
That may not matter at the polls in November, but it could complicate Obama's efforts to hold together international coalitions on issues like Iran's nuclear program or forge a consensus to bring an end to bloody violence in Syria.
Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise to restore America's world standing after the George W. Bush era, which saw widespread global opposition to the war in Iraq and anger at war-on-terrorism policies, such as use of secret prisons and the Guantanamo Bay facility to hold suspected terrorists.
The Pew study suggests that Obama can claim "Mission Accomplished" on that front: Only a handful of countries hold a less sunny opinion of the United States now than in 2008. In Pakistan, for example, 12 percent of respondents expressed positive views of America, down from 19 percent four years ago. At the same time, 60 percent of Britons report warm feelings for America, up from 53 percent in 2008. Approval of America jumped from 53 percent to 74 percent in Japan, and even in China the number has ticked up from 41 percent to 43 percent.
And Obama's approval ratings in 14 countries surveyed remain better than Bush's in 2008—his worst showing on that score is in Pakistan, where he ties his predecessor's score with just 7 percent saying they have at least some confidence in his foreign policy leadership.
But Obama has seen an overall steady erosion of his own numbers. Take Japan, where approval of his foreign policy fell from 77 to 58 percent from 2009 to 2012. In Russia, it sagged from 40 to 22 percent. And many express disappointment with what they had hoped would be a new American commitment to multilateralism. In 2009, 69 percent of Germans predicted that he would consider their country's interests in making foreign policy. In 2012, just 45 percent say he has done so.
People outside the United States are similarly disillusioned with Obama on issues like the Middle East peace process and efforts to combat climate change. Seventy-nine percent of Britons predicted in 2009 that Obama would be fair with Israelis and Palestinians. Just 47 percent now say he has been. In France, 81 percent of respondents predicted in 2009 that the president would take steps to address global warming. Just 27 percent now say he has done so.
The Pew study also highlights global opposition to the drone strikes that Obama has boasted are a major weapon against suspected terrorists. While 62 percent of Americans (including 58 percent of Democrats) approve of such operations, they are broadly unpopular almost everywhere else. Britons are divided, with 44 percent in favor and 47 percent against, while Indians split 32 to 21 percent against. But 90 percent of Greeks, 89 percent of Egyptians, 85 percent of Jordanians, 81 percent of Turks, 76 percent of Spaniards, 76 percent of Brazilians and 75 percent of Japanese disapprove. Results for Pakistan, where the government has loudly denounced drone strikes inside its territory, were not available but are expected in a subsequent survey.
That suggests an uphill fight for the president to fulfill his re-election campaign promise to "remind the world just why it is the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth."