Overseas Popularity Gives Obama a Leg Up In Foreign Affairs

It has implications for the U.S. abroad, as well as for domestic politics in other nations

Release Date: November 13, 2008 This content is archived.


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Political scientist Michelle Benson says President-elect Barack Obama's strong approval ratings overseas are likely to lead to effective foreign policy.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Barack Obama's extraordinarily strong approval ratings abroad bode very well for the effectiveness of his foreign policy, says a University at Buffalo political scientist with expertise in international conflict and intergovernmental organizations.

Michelle Benson, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at UB, says the high opinion in which the overseas public holds him "bodes very well for his ability to alter the outcome in issues of international concern to the United States, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and international cooperation in Afghanistan.

Benson notes that "President-elect Obama's popularity will not make political adversaries turn in to staunch allies; however, it will likely alter the ability of the U.S. to influence and alter conflicts around the globe.

"For example, it was relatively easy for world leaders to reject proposals by President Bush due to his high level of unpopularity among the populations of relevant countries," she says.

"Those same leaders will now face important pressure from their constituencies to consider and likely support proposals from this new president.

"In essence," Benson says, "President-elect Obama has a historic amount of international goodwill and therefore an important but limited opportunity to further U.S. interests and submit proposals that might have been met with immediate dismissal during the last eight years under George Bush."

Benson believes his election could also have implications for domestic politics and policies in other countries.

She says, "The election of an African American -- and one of mixed race and a mixed religious heritage -- has been hailed as proof of an exciting and historic change of values and ideals for the U.S., which remains the most powerful state in the world."

She points out that, unlike in the U.S., in many regions of Africa an Obama candidacy would have been rejected out-of-hand because the light color of his skin. In many other countries, she say, his mixed-race heritage would make him a nearly impossible candidate for political office at any level.

"Despite this," she says, "from Europe, Africa and Asia we see a huge outpouring of enthusiasm at the election of this historic figure. Perhaps his election and the excitement it has engendered is the harbinger of a new wave of change and political tolerance in countries around the world."

Benson's current research focuses on the international status quo and conflict, trade and conflict, IGOs and conflict and determinants of ethnic conflict.

Her research has been published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Comparative Political Studies, British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Peace Research, International Interactions, Social Science Quarterly, Conflict Management and Peace Science, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics and the Journal of Political Science.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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