When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he cited "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind" as a reason for the new nation to explain itself. The respect of Americans for world opinion hasn't always been so high, but we the people are still proud enough to care.
That pride has a reason to swell a bit, according to the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. The overview of the 25-country survey, conducted May 18 to June 16, put it succinctly: "The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama. In many countries, opinions of the United States are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office."
The irony is that the survey's findings, released July 23, coincide with a time when the sour economy and doubts about health care reform have taken their toll on President Obama at home, with his popularity dipping to 55 percent in a recent Gallup poll.
The world may be lagging behind that perception, but it's still good to see that the "Yankee go home" mentality seems to have softened. Big, positive boosts in attitudes toward the United States were recorded in Britain, Spain, France and Germany (64 percent of the Germans had a favorable view this year compared to 31 percent in 2008).
The favorable thoughts were not limited to traditional U.S. allies. In Indonesia, where Mr. Obama lived as a child, the positive rating went from 37 percent to 63 percent.
Some will say so what. While improvement was seen in some predominantly Muslim counties that had negative views during the Bush years, the Pew researchers noted that opinions of the United States among Muslims in the Middle East remain largely unfavorable. Animosity "continues to run deep and unabated in Turkey, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan."
In short, Mr. Obama has made a good start in changing the world's perceptions of America, but the hardest challenges still remain.