Foreign Policy Blogs

Europeans, Weary of US, Vote Obama

The conservative-leaning London newsdaily the Daily Telegraph commissioned a poll on Europeans’ preferences for the next US president.

The poll of 6,200 people in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, finds that, across all countries polled, Senator Obama received 52 percent of the popular vote, while Senator McCain received 15 percent. Senator Clinton was not included in the poll.

The survey was carried out by the British survey research company YouGov.

The poll inspired a variety of reporting from the Telegraph's correspondents throughout Europe, discussing the findings of the poll in each of the six countries.

First, the poll inspired this insightful article about the French public's penchant for Anti-American, and how this becomes channeled into Anti-Sarkozyism, due to his strong pro-US stance.  The article also discusses this public's views of Senator Obama, their choice for US President:

“Overwhelming support for Barack Obama in the YouGov poll is logical: the French always back the Democrat candidate ‚ considered more conservative than their mainstream right-wing party.

But with Mr Obama, that tendency is even more marked than usual. Last year, France voted for a "clean break" with past ways of governing by electing Mr Sarkozy. "There is a desire to see the same change in the US, with a young, half-caste leader. The anti-Bush candidate par excellence," said Miss Lepri.

Although few French know his economic programme, they trust him to solve the world's financial problems more than Senator John McCain because of his perceived "multilateral approach, open to others, which is a good thing for the international community," she said.

Mr Obama's election also appeals to high-minded French idealism as proof that America is open-minded and not racist, Mrs Lepri said. But this view was hypocritical, she added, as the French were far from ready to elect a black president themselves.”


Second, the Telegraph's Rome correspondent discussed the Italian findings of the poll, namely the fact that Italians were the only public to diverge from the European majority and say that the US is a force for good, rather than evil, in the world.

In regards to the presumptive presidential candidates, the article relates:

“Out of their disappointments with President Bush has grown from a love of Barack Obama. Fan clubs for the Illinois senator have sprung up across Italy and on the Internet. Italians see him not only as stylish and sharply dressed, but, as one commentator put it: “he is the sense of change incarnate”. An astonishing 70 per cent of respondents supported him in the Telegraph poll.

Italians yearn for a similar political change , their politicians remain in the system for decade after decade. In the Italian election in April, Walter Veltroni, the leader of the Italian Democratic Party, tried to capitalise on the popular support for Mr Obama.

Not only did he refer to himself as an “Italian Obama” throughout the campaign, he even appropriated his “Yes We Can” slogan and translated it into Italian “Si puo fare!” Sadly, the tactic only served to highlight the differences between the two.

Unlike the stylish black senator, John McCain is seen in Italy as a slightly crumpled version of Silvio Berlusconi, due to their similar ages. Mr McCain is one year older than Italy's prime minister.

He unwittingly reinforced his antiquity in a recent interview with Il Sole 24 Ore, a financial newspaper. Seeking to boost his popularity in Italy, Mr McCain spoke gushingly about Italy as “the scene of all [his] best memories”.

“Ah Italy, Italy, the best parts of my life were there. To be a single young man, well, Italy was a paradise,” he said. However, those memories date back from the early 1960s, when he was a pilot with the Sixth Fleet in Naples.

He did score some points, however, by referring to his 95-year-old mamma, always a strong card to play in a land where every man speaks to his mother at least once a day.

His lack of general support, however, was reflected in only 20 per cent of Italians thinking he is better equipped than Mr Obama to steer the US out of its economic woes. “


The Telegraph's Moscow correspondent set the Russian public opinionwithin the broader historical context of US-Soviet relations. According to this report, these relations have lead to slightly more favorability toward the Republican party among Russians, compared to the other nations polled.

“The survey shows that John McCain enjoys more support in Russia than most of the G8. While he still trailed Barack Obama by seven per cent, 24 per cent of Russians said they could vote for him if they could ‚ compared to just eight per cent of French respondents.

In Soviet times it was generally agreed that the Kremlin preferred to see a Republican in the White House. Conservatives were more straightforward to deal with because they acted from self-interest and were less concerned with human rights than their Democratic rivals, it was reckoned.

Mr McCain, however, has been roundly criticised in the Russian media for his antagonistic opinions towards Moscow. He has long called for Russia's expulsion from the G8, has been scathing about Mr Putin and dismissed the country's presidential elections in March as "rigged".

While Mr Obama has hardly been fulsome about Russia, his criticism has been far more muted. That his lead over his Republican rival is so slim probably has much to do with prejudice in a country where old-fashioned racism is still largely acceptable.

Many respondents, however, were equally dubious about both candidates with some 45 per cent saying they did not know who they would vote for or admitting they would vote for neither ‚ a much higher proportion than the samples taken in other G8 countries.”


In the article titled “Germany seduced by ‘Messiah’ Barack Obama: US election 2008,” the Telgraph's Berlin correspondent relatesthat for Germans, “The survey shows that those hopes [for a better US-German relationship] are pinned squarely on one man: Barack Obama.”

The article continues:

"Germans are very much taken with his multi-cultural background and particularly his air of aristocratic humility," said Constanze Stelzenmuller, director of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

So while the outgoing American President will visit Germany in two weeks time, on a trip sure to bring protests, the real buzz is coming from rumours that Mr Obama is to visit Berlin too.

For the man so-often described as "the new Kennedy”, an address in the city where one of America's favourite leaders made one of his most famous speeches in 1963 would be a powerful statement of a new US entente with Europe.

“If a US presidential hopeful visits Berlin, holding a speech at the Brandenburg Gate and going afterward to the Kennedy Museum, it provides powerful images," said Karsten Voigt, envoy for German-American relations.

Whether or not Obama declares "Ich bin ein Berliner" any visit would be a throwback to a much happier time when German-US relations were not soured by Iraq.

Just last month, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a new turn in the EU-US relationship, and said he had spoken personally to Mr Obama on the issue.

Two months before that, Germany's celebrated magazine Der Spiegel called him a political 'Messiah' and previous polls have found he is the most popular of all three potential US presidents in Germany.

But analysts warn that enthusiasm could be misplaced.

"There could be a crisis of unfulfilled expectations," said Constanze Stelzenmuller. "Germans have this notion that Bush was a nightmare from which we are all about to wake up, but the truth is the world really has changed since 9/11."


Last but not least, the Telegraph's coverage of the poll included an article about Briton's views toward the US Presidential campaign. The article starts off by warning: “Whoever becomes the next US president, the poll suggests he or she will have a great deal of work to do to repair the Special Relationship and restore the standing of the US in the eyes of the British public.”

The article continues: “Asked about November's presidential election, British people overwhelmingly want the Democrats to capture the White House and end eight years of Republican rule in the US.

Some 49 per cent of UK respondents said that if they could vote in the contest, they would back Mr Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black president in US history.

By contrast, only 14 per cent said they would vote for Mr McCain, a veteran Arizona senator best known in the UK as a former Vietnam prisoner of war.

British voters have slightly more faith in Mr McCain as an economic leader, however.

Asked which of the two contenders would be "better equipped to lead the world economy out of its current difficulties," Mr Obama's lead narrows. The UK poll puts him on 37 per cent, ahead of Mr McCain on 17 per cent.”

The presumptive candidates have had a bit more contact with British political leaders, the article tells that these two nations’ corresponding parties have already made ties:

Mr Brown met both Mr Obama and Mr McCain , along with Hillary Clinton , on a visit to the US last month.

The Prime Minister has been careful to remain neutral about the race in public, but the Labour Party's historic ties to the Democrats and widespread unease about the Bush Administration's foreign policy mean that most Labour ministers and MPs would back Mr Obama over Mr McCain.

The Tories, however, have a more ambiguous view of the presidential battle.

Mr McCain has a long-standing relationship with the Conservatives, and has appeared at Tory conferences as a guest of David Cameron, the Conservative leader.

Mr Cameron has even tested diplomatic convention by coming close to endorsing Mr McCain as the next president, telling the World Economic Forum in Davos in January that he "admired him a great deal".

Liam Fox, the Conservatives shadow defence spokesman, has strong ties with senior Republicans and members of the Bush Administration.

But with US polls suggesting the Democrats are the favourites in the November vote, and with evidence emerging that British voters are warming to Mr Obama, Mr Cameron has sought to strengthen his party's relationship with Democrats.

Some Conservative commentators have even sought to draw parallels between Mr Cameron and Mr Obama, pointing out that both are young, charismatic and relatively inexperienced politicians who have taken on their party's establishments.”


No doubt polling is incredibly expensive. That the Telegraphwould go to the trouble to measure the attitudes of six publics on political leaders that they won't actually have the opportunity to elect speaks to what's at stake in this election–and more broadly the extent to which the United States’ leadership stands to effect the lives of Europeans.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.