One of the ways folks often verify the effects of public diplomacy on foreign publics is through public opinion polling. The most extensive public opinion poll for Latin America is the annual Latinobarometro poll, which can be viewed here (The Economist’s breakdown of it).
My favorite section is how leaders of other countries are perceived throughout the region. This year, Obama bumped the popular populist, Brazil’s Lula da Silva from the top spot. I’d attribute Obama’s popularity to his speeches at the Summit of the Americas (in March) expressing shared responsibility, multilateralism and equal partnership in Hemispheric issues; he was also quite skillful in addressing past mistakes in U.S.-Latin America policy. The thawing of U.S. Cuba relations was no doubt another factor as Obama’s popularity has also contributed to a resurgence of favorable opinions of the United States itself, up to 74% from 58% last year.
Despite these positive stats, the majority of South Americans (mainly Argentines) I talk to seem to regard Obama with “guarded optimism” and the United States with historical suspicion of Yankee Imperialism. At least they can recognize some difference between the two; now if we could only begin to change their preconceived notions regarding American tourists….