Obama's Nobel Prize: Public Opinion Context

by Frank Newport

Approval on foreign affairs similar to overall job approval rating; more perceive world respect

PRINCETON, NJ -- The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama comes at a time when Americans give Obama slightly below-average job approval ratings overall, and a 53% rating for his handling of foreign affairs.

Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way Barack Obama Is Handling Foreign Affairs?

The Nobel Committee gave Obama its 2009 award for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Obama's 53% job approval rating on foreign affairs is tied with or slightly higher than his job approval rating in several domestic areas and one point below his overall approval rating in the early August poll.

Approval Rating of Barack Obama on Issues

More generally, Obama's overall job approval rating has settled down in the 50%-55% range, just a bit below the average for all presidents since World War II. Although many factors go into a president's approval rating, including in particular the state of the economy and current domestic policy issues, the relatively modest rating suggests that the American people have not been overwhelmed to date by Obama's efforts on the international front.

According to news reports, the Nobel Committee cited Obama's "more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting" as one reason for his winning the award.

Gallup's March Environmental study did reflect a very substantial uptick in Americans' confidence that the president will do a good job of protecting the nation's environment, jumping to from 31% in March 2008 to 79% this year. George W. Bush began his presidency with relatively high ratings on this measure (51%), though not as high as Obama's initial 79% measure.

Will Barack Obama/George W. Bush Do a Good Job or a Poor Job of Protecting the Nation's Environment?

International Perspective

There is evidence that Americans expected a turnaround in the U.S. president's image internationally with the switch from George W. Bush to Obama earlier this year. Gallup's February 2009 Foreign Affairs survey found 67% of Americans saying "leaders of other countries around the world have respect for Barack Obama," compared to 24% who said the same a year earlier about then-President Bush.

Do Leaders of Other Countries Around the World Have Respect for Barack Obama/George W. Bush?

Perhaps reflecting the fact that Obama had not yet had the opportunity to accomplish anything internationally, the February 2009 survey found 45% of Americans saying the United States was viewed favorably in the eyes of the world, little changed from a year earlier.

How Do You Think the United States Rates in the Eyes of the World?

Gallup polling in countries around the world this year has shown that approval of the "leadership of the United States" has increased in a number of countries compared to last year. There are 16 countries in which 2009 Gallup data on this question can be compared to 2008 data, and in 13 of these, the "U.S. Leadership" rating increased from 2008.

International Approval/Disapproval of the Job Performance of the U.S. Leadership

Gallup tracks Obama's job approval in the U.S. daily and will monitor it over the coming days in order to report whether the awarding of the Nobel Prize has any effect -- positive or negative -- on Obama's ratings.

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