Germans were ecstatic when Barack Obama took over the keys to the White House from George W. Bush. Now, though, a new Pew Research Center survey shows that disillusionment with the US president is widespread in Germany and that Obama has not lived up to the high expectations Europeans had of him.
In July 2008, in a speech at the base of the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten park, before tens of thousands of deliriously adoring onlookers, then US presidential candidate Barack Obama promised a renewal of America's stature in the world. After his election that November, Germans, other Europeans and many people around the world embraced Obama in large part because he was not George W. Bush. Reversing a half-decade of profound anti-Americanism, support for the new US president and America soared to what has now proven to be unsustainable levels, especially in Germany. Obama's honeymoon with the German people is not over. But now, as he seeks re-election, the first indications of friction in the relationship are emerging.
In a new global survey released on Wednesday, approval of President Barack Obama's policies has declined significantly since he first took office. Overall confidence in Obama and attitudes toward the US have slipped modestly as a consequence. By several measures some of the greatest slippage has occurred in Germany, especially with regard to America's image and Obama's foreign policies. After more than three years in office, Germans are disappointed in the US president's unilateralism; his use of force, particularly drone strikes; his inaction with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian situation and his lack of effort in curbing climate change.
Nevertheless, they still have overwhelming confidence in Obama's overall international leadership. In fact, at 87 percent, Germans are the most supportive in Europe. By comparison, in 2008 only 14 percent of Germans had confidence in then US President Bush. And nine out of 10 Germans want to see Obama re-elected. The survey of more than 26,000 people was conducted in 21 countries around world by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project.
Not an Economic Superpower
Obama's personal popularity has always exceeded German support for America. And today only half the Germans (52 percent) have a favorable view of the United States, down 10 percentage points since just last year and 12 points since Obama was elected. Among the eight European nations surveyed, only in Greece (35 percent) is pro-American sentiment weaker. And German views of the United States divide along generational lines. Germans 50 years of age and older are now far less pro-American (49 percent) than Germans ages 18 to 29 (61 percent). But overall German support for the United States is still far greater than in 2007, when only 30 percent of Germans had a positive view of the US.
Germans also don't see America as an economic superpower. In 2008, only 30 percent of Germans named China as the world's leading economic player. Now 62 percent do, while only 13 percent say the U.S. plays that role. No other Europeans judge American economic prowess so harshly.