Foreign Policy Blogs

World Views of the Elections: So What?

A poll released yesterday by the German Marshall Fund basically echos one released the previous day, and, for that matter, echoes most other polls conducted on the subject of world views on the Presidential candidates. From the press release:

“A survey released today shows that nearly half of Europeans (47%) believe that relations between the United States and Europe will improve if Senator Barack Obama is elected the next U.S. president, compared with 29% who believe relations will stay the same, and 5% who believe relations will worsen. If Senator John McCain is elected, only 11% believe that transatlantic relations will improve, compared to 49% who believe relations will stay the same, and 13% who believe that relations will worsen.”

But as the polls continue to verify the same result, that people around the world prefer Barack Obama to be the next President of the US, the “so what?” question gets raised more and more vociferously. (My critics will be elated to see that I am finally raising this issue on the blog). That is, why does it matter that people abroad prefer one candidate over the other?

Take this example. The BBC 22-country poll released this week, which found (surprise, surprise) that the respondents for the most part prefer Obama, was the subject of harsh criticism from the Daily Mail newspaper in London for wasting lots of money on a “meaningless poll.”

The Mail explains “the move has created anger from critics who claim the entire project is a massive waste of time as it is only the views of Americans that matter. They also point out that the US presidential elections are already the subject of endless polls in the US, which provide much more useful information.”

I would have to say that this Daily Mail article, rather than the poll, was a waste of time. I could launch into a long diatribe about why world public opinion is extremely important to take into account. For now, here's my short answer.

First, it should be noted that most international respondents in each international survey about the US elections did choose to express a preferred candidate, as opposed to choosing neither or either candidate (as if to say, it doesn't matter because the two candidates do not differ significantly). While the American political system is known for its narrow political spectrum, these results show that in this election, there is a palpable difference–even to foreigners (and I mean that in the best way)–between the two candidates.

Second, not only did the BBC poll ask which candidate people preferred, they also asked whether the respondent feels an Obama or a McCain presidency would improve US relations with the world, worsen US relations with the world, or have no effect. This is where the survey connected the respondent's electoral preferences to the election's impact on the rest of the world.

Now that is useful because this election serves as a much needed turning point in the US’ relationship with the rest of the world. That people abroad think an Obama presidency would improve US relations with the world will have no effect on American voting patterns in the least, but it will serve as an important indicator of how we can expect the world to sit with our decision, or what foot Obama or McCain will start off with–whichever candidate we choose.

What do you all think? Please chime in with your views; give me some better reasons why world opinion of the US presidential candidates matters, or why you think it doesn't matter all. Here's someone who agrees with me; here's someone who disagrees.



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.