Nahlah Ayed: Why the world wants Obama to win
By Nahlah Ayed, CBC News
Posted: Nov 1, 2012 5:19 AM ET
Last Updated: Nov 1, 2012 5:45 AM ET
It was described at the time as one of the most effective photo ops the U.S. president had had on the world stage.
Barack Obama, in a pub in Moneygall in the centre of Ireland in the spring of 2011, sipping Guinness and chatting with locals who could very well have been distant relatives on his mother's side.
Like all well-planned presidential stops, this was really a local event elegantly wrapped inside an international one — to curry favour with the millions of Americans of Irish descent in the long run-up to re-election, while also deftly endearing the president to another important audience, Europeans.
They had been charmed from the beginning, of course, as much by Obama's sunny optimism as by the stark contrast he presented to his predecessor, George W. Bush, who by the end of his second term had exhausted any lingering good will on the international stage.
Since then, Obama's failure to live up to the inspiration he initially generated has taken some of the shine off his reputation.
Still, four years on, much of his popularity endures, and in many places, including Canada, it far exceeds what it is at home on the eve of an election.
According to a recent BBC/Globescan poll, two-thirds of Canadians would vote for him if they could, including a whopping 79 per cent of Quebecers and 71 per cent of Canadian women.
Support for Obama was especially high in Europe, particularly France, with 72 per cent preferring to see him stay on as president.
The love affair in France extends from ordinary citizens to commentators in the media, even to the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who last week publicly endorsed Obama for president.Would you buy this man a beer? President Obama, in Moneygall in March 2011. (Associated press)
"If I were an American citizen, I wouldn't hesitate to vote for Obama," he said during an interview with local media.
Why such effusive affection for someone who seems to be struggling to persuade his own countrymen to give him a second term?
In France, this support is at least partly due to the perception that Obama's values mirror theirs, and it may also be because they are still charmed by that initial optimism.
"It's the nature of Obama to create expectation," French journalist and political commentator Anne-Elisabeth Moutet told me over the telephone from Paris.
Presumably the French find that sense of expectation eternally endearing.
Second coming of George W. Bush
They also seem to have bought into the Democrats' portrayal of Republican Mitt Romney in this election, Moutet added.
"They think he's a fanatic," she said. "The second coming of Bush, with Mormons added."
It's not a flattering picture of the challenger, who battles relative obscurity on the world stage, on top of the baggage the Republican brand still carries from Bush's almost unparalleled unpopularity in Europe.
But it is a picture that is reflected in other European polls as well.
Earlier this summer, one German think-tank survey found that some 75 per cent of Europeans would vote for Obama if they could, while a mere eight per cent would vote for Romney.
Another, UPI-sponsored poll in September found that Obama has a mind-boggling 98 per cent approval rating in Iceland, a 96 in Ireland, and that he would win by a landslide in 30 countries around the world.
But does any of this really matter?
"It's good to be loved and liked internationally, it always translates well in the U.S.," says Oliver Martin, director of Globescan's office in Toronto. He adds that's more likely to work for Democrat incumbents than for Republicans, either nominees or incumbents, as one of a number of factors that go into determining a candidate's ultimate popularity.
The unknown opponent
For his part, Obama has felt the love internationally from the beginning — remember the reaction to that speech in Berlin promising change when he was still a candidate, and later, that early Nobel Peace Prize?
All of that may have discouraged Romney from even trying to make his mark on the world stage, Martin suggests. Romney's handlers "don't want to play to a net strength for Obama" because they know their man "is not going to get any traction on it."
Romney's only notable attempt to woo Europeans was back in the summer, when he visited Poland, Israel and the U.K. on the eve of the 2012 London Olympics, the latter apparently to showcase his experience in helping rescue the Salt Lake City Olympics from debt and scandal back in 2002.
The plan backfired, however, when Romney seemed to criticize London's preparedness, which earned him a few sharp jabs from British media and politicians alike.
Romney has also bored Europeans by stating that Russia remains America's "number one geopolitical foe," and he has something else working against him, too: Europe simply tends to be more Democratic than Republican.
"Europeans specifically want someone who reflects their values," says Martin, "and Democratic presidents usually reflect more of the values of Europeans have."
'How scared should we be?'
Still, while it's no secret most European leaders would prefer Obama — given his international popularity they too stand to benefit even from just being seen with him — they are also preparing for the possibility of a Romney presidency.Mitt Romney, following a private meeting with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu in July 2010. (Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)
Indeed, some prominent analysts say that it ultimately makes no difference who the president is as long as Europe's interests are protected.
European leaders want a U.S. that will be "outward looking," and will approach world disputes in a way that "strikes a balance between active engagement, and if necessary, use of force," Maurice Fraser, an associate fellow for London’s Chatham House, and a European politics expert at the London School of Economics, said in an interview.
The other big concerns are maintaining a commitment to NATO and free trade, and on such matters, there is little difference between the two choices.
"How scared should we be of a Romney presidency?" asked an editorial in the Independent last Friday. "A Romney presidency might bring surprisingly little change, both at home and abroad," it concluded, taking comfort, oddly enough, in the polarized U.S. electorate.
"Mr. Romney will not, at least, be a conservative monster," the editorial said. "In today's evenly divided America, that would be a recipe for disaster."
Romney does have fans abroad, and polls well in Poland and Israel, both countries he visited this summer. In the Globescan survey, the only country where he polled better than Obama was Pakistan, obviously a protest vote over Obama's drone strikes there.
Pollsters defend these international surveys by pointing to the inordinate influence that the U.S. and its president have on the lives of so many in the world.
One of them, Gallup, also asked respondents whether they believed they should actually have a vote on Nov. 6. Some 42 per cent of non-Americans felt they should. It's good news for Romney that they don't.
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