Global Popularity polls reflect Interest and Ideology
The more polls prove their fallibility, the more popular they become. Global polls have really taken off in total disregard to the fact that polls taken in dictatorships cannot be trusted. Why? Because they help undergird political arguments. Thus, presidential candidates use polls showing the decline in American popularity abroad to justify their demand that the US end, or at the very least, change the way it is fighting the War on Terror. In his excellent WP column The Myth of America's Unpopularity, Michael Gerson points out that American popularity has very little to do with American effectiveness and everything to do with American role as the world's premier peace guarantor.
He perceptively notes the rise of pro-American leaders in old Europe but fails to mention the relationship not only between the state of US relations with a particular country but also the correlations between ideology and American popularity. The best way to determine such correlations would be to have polls relate US popularity to domestic political parties as has been done by Gallup in its recent poll of American views of foreign countries.
As could be expected, the strong differences between Democrats and Republicans are reflected in their attitudes towards various countries. Long time allies, Canada, Britain, Germany and Japan are viewed most favorably by both parties. The same cannot be said about the two runners up, Israel and France. Though their overall popularity has been rising significantly, their is a marked difference between Republican and Democratic attitudes towards them. Israel is approved by 71% of the Americans up from 49% in 1992 (when victim Israel dutifully absorbed Scud missiles Saddam lobbed at her) and France is approved by 69% of them, up from 49% in 2004 (When Chirac led an anti-American coalition against the removal of Saddam).
Moreover, Republicans are markedly more supportive of Israel. 84% of Republicans approve of Israel but only 64% of the Democrats do. On the other hand, 73% of the Democrats but only 53% of the Republicans approve of France. Clearly Republican take longer to forgive and forget.
Why? Because Republicans believe in the War on Terror and, hence, approve of those they perceive to be allies, disapprove of those who stand aside and even more of those collaborating with the enemy. They support Israel because they value her the sole reliable American ally in the Middle East. Democratic attitudes are mitigated by their leftist ideology.
Iran, the Palestinian Authority and North Korea are almost equally disdained by both parties. But a larger minority of Republicans view Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan positively than Democrats because more Republicans see them as contributing to the war effort. On the other hand, more Democrats view Communist China, Venezuela and Cuba positively than Republicans (The same is true about Mexico but that difference has to do with the border issue).
In other words, it is reasonable to expect that the US will not be popular with supporters of anti democratic, leftist parties regardless of its particular policies. It is also bound to disappoint those populations that expect the US to secure their own liberation. In fact, pleasing one is bound to displease others. Moreover, as China is fast learning the more powerful the country, the greater the expectations. Power, principles (or the lack of them) and popularity flow in opposite directions. That is the nature of reality, whether Barack Obama likes it or not. Before one can effectively try "to change" reality, one must first understand it.