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Romney, Obama And International Opinion

In an op-ed this week, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”

A reader wrote FiveThirtyEight to ask whether Romney’s claim stands up to scrutiny. It doesn’t. The main problem with Romney’s analysis is the start date he chose; Obama took office at a time when international views of the U.S. were in bad shape.

Both Gallup and the Pew Research Center have taken surveys throughout the world to gauge opinion of the U.S.

In 2012, Gallup asked whether people “approve or disapprove of America’s leadership” in 130 countries. It had asked the same question in 2008 in most of those same countries.

In 2012, the percentage of people approving of America’s leadership was up 7 percentage points in the median country since 2008. It was up 6 points in the Americas, 6 points in Asia and 18 points in Europe. It was down 3 points in Africa. More people approved than disapproved in every region.

Pew has conducted international polling asking whether people had a “favorable or unfavorable view of the United States” in every year since 2002. Pew has surveyed countries as diverse as Argentina and Uganda, but it has polled a different set of nations each year. The best years to look at are probably 2007 and 2013, when Pew polled more countries than usual.

From 2007 to 2013, Pew found that views of the United States improved in 22 countries. Eight nations’ favorable ratings increased by at least 20 percentage points; only four saw a decline. The median country’s views of the U.S. went up by 9 points.

So, Romney seems off base, but there’s a catch. Gallup did find that approval of U.S. leadership — after improving upon Obama taking office — declined in many regions. From its Obama-era peak, approval has fallen 8 percentage points globally (although it’s still above where it stood at the end of the George W. Bush administration).

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.