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Obama’s engagement policy: good for the U.N., bad for Obama?

Americans are responding to President Obama’s embrace of the United Nations with increased support of the organization, even as their support of Obama himself declines, according to a new survey released Wednesday. New polling data shows that nationwide, Americans view the United Nations with increased praise and support. The national survey of 900 likely voters ...

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Americans are responding to President Obama's embrace of the United Nations with increased support of the organization, even as their support of Obama himself declines, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

New polling data shows that nationwide, Americans view the United Nations with increased praise and support. The national survey of 900 likely voters was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates from April 10-14 on behalf of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity that works closely with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The firms also conducted four focus groups in Virginia and Washingon, D.C. to round out their findings.

But while the survey had some good news for the U.N., the news on respondents' views of the direction of America and the Obama administration wasn't so rosy.

Americans are responding to President Obama’s embrace of the United Nations with increased support of the organization, even as their support of Obama himself declines, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

New polling data shows that nationwide, Americans view the United Nations with increased praise and support. The national survey of 900 likely voters was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates from April 10-14 on behalf of the United Nations Foundation, a public charity that works closely with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The firms also conducted four focus groups in Virginia and Washingon, D.C. to round out their findings.

But while the survey had some good news for the U.N., the news on respondents’ views of the direction of America and the Obama administration wasn’t so rosy.

According to the data, 60 percent of those surveyed had a positive view of the United Nations, that’s up ten points from data only 10 months ago. Two-thirds said it is “an organization that’s still needed today.” Thirty percent said they viewed the U.N. unfavorably and 26 percent said it had “outlived its usefulness.”

“This new data confirms that Americans recognize that working together with our international partners through the U.N. is more effective than trying to solve the world’s challenges alone,” said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation.

Natural disasters are the top news stories of the past few months, the survey found, and “The U.N.’s image has been impacted by a very positive news environment around the organization providing humanitarian relief during the natural disasters that have happened recently around the world,” the organization’s press memo argues.

But the same respondents criticized the Obama administration while praising the U.N.

As of April, only 36 percent of those surveyed said they believed the U.S.  is going in the “right direction,” down from 41 percent last June. Fifty-eight percent said the country is on the “wrong track,” up from 51 percent only 10 months prior. (That’s still up from the 21 percent of people who said America was headed in the right direction when Obama took office.)

President Obama’s direct approval rating fell to 49 percent in April, down from 57 percent last June. His disapproval rating rose from 38 to 47 percent during the same time period.

The survey also revealed some serious gaps in the knowledge base of Americans following foreign policy. For example,  although 78 percent of respondents claimed to “closely” follow international affairs, an equal 78 percent said they had “never heard” of Ban Ki-moon when asked about him.

When those surveyed were told that Ban was the secretary-general of the United Nations, 41 percent of respondents still had no idea who he was.

One of the main goals of the survey was to gather opinions on U.S. foreign assistance and the U.N.-led Millennium Development Goals. Eighty-seven percent said they supported U.S. involvement in achieving the goals by 2015.

But in a blow to Bono and a boost to North Dakota Sen.  Kent Conrad, only 40 percent of respondents said they would support spending an additional 1 percent of the U.S. budget on foreign assistance, with 55 percent opposed.

The margin of error for the sample was +/- 3.27 percent.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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