Foreign Policy Blogs

Obama's Trip Part III: The Endgame

This post will conclude this blog's three-part discussion of Senator Obama's trip overseas. Rather than look at the foreign reaction, let's consider what effect the trip had here at home.

Here's what the Senator said he took away from his travels upon arriving back to the US:

“One of the key insights that I come away with is, it is very difficult for us to meet these 21st century challenges unless we get more effective partnerships with our allies in other countries overseas. And I think they are ready for it.”

But most importantly, after all the hype about the trip abroad fades from our collective consciousness, has the Senator's "rock star" reception abroad made anyone more likely to vote him?

Fox News put this question to Americans themselves. Their poll (question 31) conducted July 22-23rd found that plurality Americans (41%) said that Obama's popularity overseas would make "no difference" on their opinion to vote for him.

This is not a surprising conclusion; a President's likability abroad doesn't trump characteristics like “Presidential-ness” or great plans for health care, reducing oil costs, or fixing the economy.

This unfortunate for Senator Obama, not because he doesn't necessarily posses these qualities, or have these plans, bu because in this department the Senator has a clear advantage over his Republican counterpart. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll (question 21), Americans said–by a margin of two to one–that Senator Obama "would do more to improve America's image abroad" if elected President, over Senator McCain. That is, regardless of who they plan on voting for in November, sixty-two percent of Americans said Obama is more likely to improve the US image, while 30 percent of Americans chose Senator McCain.

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll (Q16) conducted in June found a similar result, but with a tighter margin. When asked: "Regardless of your choice for president, who would be best at building respect for the United States around the world: Barack Obama or John McCain?" 49 percent of Americans said Obama while 35 percent said McCain.

It appears as if the Senator's campaign promise of “listening” to foreign publics has been captured by the memory of both Americans and foreigners. In the end, though–since he needs to get elected before he can do any listening–the Senator would be wise to ignore his popularity abroad and stay focused on the issues Americans say they care about.

But it's interesting to note that a fair number of Americans do consider improving the US image abroad an important issue. A recent Pew Global Attitudes poll finds that a majority Americans (56%) feel that the US’ loss of respect in the world is “a major problem.” Similarly, according to a spring 2008 Public Agenda poll, strong majorities of Americans say (Q11) they are worried that “there may be growing hared of the US in Muslim countries” (73%) and the US “may be loosing trust and respect of people in other countries” (78%).

Even still, I think it is safe to say that in the US, public diplomacy issues will never, ever, be a deciding issue in a Presidential campaign.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.