WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama prepares to visit Turkey with the hopes of improving U.S.-Turkey and Israel-Turkey relations, Gallup surveys underscore the extent of the challenge he faces there. Before Obama took office, a majority of Turks disapproved of the job performance of the leaderships of the United States and Israel.
To put these findings in perspective, it is worth noting that Turkish respondents are cool toward the job performance of foreign organizations and country leadership in general. However, the United States' and Israel's leadership are the only two to have a majority of respondents disapprove.
The Road Traveled and the Road Ahead
U.S.-Turkey relations declined during the Bush administration (partly because of Turkey's refusal to serve as a launching pad for U.S. troops going into Iraq and the United States' reluctance to help Turkey's fight against Kurdish rebels), but Obama maybe better positioned to improve public sentiment. The Gallup Poll conducted in Turkey in July 2008 also asked respondents about whom they would personally rather see elected president of the United States: 22% chose Obama over McCain, but only about one in three believed the election's outcome would make a difference to their country. Obama's visit, just months after taking office, signals the significant role Turkey plays in his foreign policy.
Gallup also surveyed Turks on different approaches to improving U.S. policies toward their country and region. Gallup asked, on a 1 to 5 scale, how much hope people place in the role of several approaches to improving U.S. policies toward their country, where 1 signifies no hope at all and a 5 signifies a great deal of hope.
Among the options given, respondents did not express overwhelming hope for any one approach. Relative to the other choices, larger percentages of respondents felt there was no hope at all in influencing U.S. policies through interreligious dialogue or through terrorist attacks.
Along with improving U.S.-Turkey relations, Obama will likely address Israel-Turkey relations, which have likely deteriorated since Gallup last polled in the country. This January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ergodan spoke out against Israeli aggression in Gaza, telling Israeli President Shimon Peres that Israeli military action was "very wrong," and then left the forum, vowing not to return.
Obama's reception in Turkey, positive or negative, could signal whether Turks see government-to-government dialogue as a hopeful approach for improving relations. However, with citizens' low approval of the United States and Israel, Obama must make gains to ensure his appeals do not go unheard.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,004 adults in Turkey, aged 15 and older, conducted in July 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.