WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama embarks Friday for Latin America, Gallup surveys in 2010 find majorities in the three countries on the president's itinerary -- Chile (67%), El Salvador (61%), and Brazil (55%) -- approve of his job performance, but ratings are down in these countries and elsewhere in Latin America.
Obama's trip is a chance for him to engage the region, where U.S. efforts to write a new chapter in relations so far appear to be falling short of what the public expected. Although majorities in many of the 18 countries surveyed in 2009 and 2010 still approve of the president, Obama lost significant favor in 11 of them.
El Salvador led declines in the region, with approval tumbling 23 percentage points, but there were double-digit declines in six other countries as well, including Mexico. Approval remained stable in a handful of countries including strategic South American partner Colombia.
In Latin America, Gallup asks people to rate the president's job performance, in addition to the performance of U.S. leadership more broadly. Approval declined on both measures between 2009 and 2010, but Latin Americans still tend to give higher ratings to the president personally than they do to U.S. leadership generally.
At the same time, Latin Americans' doubts are growing about whether U.S. relations will change under Obama. Residents in El Salvador, Chile, and Brazil and 10 other nations are less likely than they were in 2009 to say relations will strengthen, and more likely to say they will stay the same. El Salvador again led declines in the region, but Chile was not far behind.
Education, Inequality Major Focus in Brazil, Chile, El Salvador
Obama may be able to reconnect with audiences in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador on topics that he has also recently been promoting at home such as education. Although Chile is one of the strongest economies in the region, less than half of residents (47%) say education is accessible to all. Residents in economic powerhouse Brazil see their situations marginally better; 52% say education is universally accessible. In contrast, 70% of residents say education is accessible in El Salvador, where improving education is a major focus for President Mauricio Funes.
Income inequality is another major issue in these three countries, which Obama may see firsthand if he visits one of Rio de Janeiro's slums on his trip as expected. Majorities in Chile, El Salvador, and Brazil perceive the gap between the rich and the poor as getting bigger, with the rich living better and the poor living worse. Of the three, Chileans are the most likely to perceive this inequality as getting worse (80%). Seventy-two percent of Salvadorans see the gap getting bigger, as do 55% of Brazilians.
After Obama's pledge at the 2009 Summit of the Americas that his administration would seek an "equal partnership" with the rest of the hemisphere, approval of his leadership soared in Latin America. As he heads to the region this weekend, the president is still popular, but his ratings since have come down slightly, possibly because Latin Americans perceive little change so far. If the president wants to forge new alliances in the Americas, the data suggest the U.S. needs to demonstrate more progress the people can personally see.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact SocialandEconomicAnalysis@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country for each year reported in this article. For results based on each sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.2 percentage points to a high of ±4.1 percentage points.