June 17, 2015 | By Karl Friedhoff

President Obama's Australia Appeal

John Lennon famously declared the Beatles to be bigger than Jesus, and now it seems that President Obama is bigger than the Pope—at least in Australia. According to a new Lowy Institute report authored by Lowy’s polling director Alex Oliver, 86 percent of the Australian public cited admiration for President Obama with Pope Francis garnering a respectable 73 percent. In second place? Hillary Clinton with 77 percent.

President Obama’s popularity in Australia seems to have induced a recovery in the American reputation in the country. Under George W. Bush in 2007, just 36 percent of Australians cited the US alliance as very important to Australia’s security. In 2015, that number was 53 percent.

Skeptics may say that this increase could have come from any number of changes, the most likely source being shifting threat perceptions among the Australian public and a greater recognition of the role the United States plays in ameliorating those threats. The data seem to disagree.

In 2008, President Bush’s last in office, 42 percent cited the alliance with the United States as very important. In 2009, President Obama’s first year in office, that number jumped to 55 percent. In the 11 years that the Lowy Institute has been asking this question, no year-on-year change has been greater than 6 percentage points.

But couldn’t the increased standing of the United States in Australia be a result of the rise of China? Unlikely. Nearly eight-in-ten see China as more of an economic partner and fewer than two-in-ten see China as a military threat. According to the report, Australian sentiment towards China has remained relatively stable.

While the American and Australian publics apparently disagree on the qualities of President Obama (and Mrs. Clinton[1]) Mr. Obama’s tenure seems to have improved the standing of the United States in Australia. But those results are not universal. Pew’s Global Indicators Database suggests, unsurprisingly, that the image of the United States has declined in the Middle East while having improved in Europe and East Asia.

Of course, these polls cannot tell us if this improved image of the United States under President Obama in some parts of the world has made it easier for American officials, both at home and abroad, to accomplish US goals. For that, we need to hear from the officials themselves. If the recent past is any indication, there will be no shortage of source material in the very near future.
[1] No Republican candidates were included in the question, likely due to the fact that the poll was conducted from February 20 – March 8, 2015. At that point, no Republican candidate had enough name recognition or profile to warrant inclusion.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


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