The world will be watching the U.S. presidential election carefully, and unlike Americans, who are roughly equally split on who to vote for, the rest of the world seems to prefer President Barack Obama.
A recent BBC World Service poll shows that foreigners favor the president over Mitt Romney, and not by a small amount. Of the 21 countries polled across Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa, an average of 50 percent would like to see Obama reelected, while only an average of 9 percent of those polled would like to see Romney win. An average of 10 percent of respondents can’t see a difference between the two major candidates.
If it's a bit shocking that Obama has a good international reputation despite the fact that his administration continued the foreign policy of one of the most hated American presidents in history, it's important to note that Obama's decisions have taken a toll on his reputation.
Although the difference between approval of Obama and Romney across the world is huge, Pew has shown that there has been a decline in the confidence foreigners have in Obama since he came into office. This is most notable in China, where between 2009 and 2012 confidence in the president fell 24 percent, from 62 percent to 38 percent. China is also amongst the most critical of Obama’s foreign policy. Of all of the countries and regions surveyed by Pew, China’s approval of Obama's foreign policy dropped the most, even more than the Muslim countries surveyed, which overall remained the most critical, with only 15 percent of respondents approving of Obama’s foreign policy.
Obama began his presidency looking to repair relations with the Muslim world, a geopolitical arena that fostered a huge amount of tension during the Bush years, which Obama acknowledged in his 2009 Cairo speech. Yet despite the good will that Obama expressed early on in his presidency, many in the Muslim world have yet to see any tangible evidence of serious change in American foreign policy.
The surge in Afghanistan has resulted in more deaths with little progress being made in eliminating the Taliban’s influence in the country. The Afghan government is corrupt and unstable. Afghan police regularly kill the coalition troops who have trained them.
The weapons with which Obama is enforcing his foreign policy and their frequent use are unpopular. As noted by Pew:
There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries. In predominantly Muslim nations, American anti-terrorism efforts are still widely unpopular. And in nearly all countries, there is considerable opposition to a major component of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policy: drone strikes.
Of the countries polled by Pew, only in the U.S. do over 50 percent of respondents support drone strikes. Not only are the strikes internationally unpopular (especially in Pakistan), they are also not achieving their objectives.
Interestingly, Pakistan is also the only country surveyed by the BBC where more respondents wanted Romney to beat Obama, though only by 14 percent to Obama’s 11 percent.
The change in attitude in Europe should be of particular concern to Americans. Europe is a major trading partner and many European countries contributed soldiers and equipment to our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the 2008 campaign Obama made sure to visit Europe, where he was well received. Romney made a similar trip during this year’s campaign; it did not go down well.
Many Europeans identify with Obama’s domestic agenda, whlle Romney’s brand of economics is foreign to most Europeans. During the debate on health care reform, meanwhile, many Europeans were completely bemused that a first-world country could still be without some form of socialized medicine. The attacks used by many American conservatives on European-style health care policies were seen as lazy, ill-informed, and abrasive, earning American conservatives few friends abroad.
It is not only conservative health care policy that confuses Europeans, but also the social issues endorsed by Republicans. This election cycle has provided more than enough examples of scientifically illiterate positions on abortion, and many conservatives’ positions on gay marriage, gun rights, and the death penalty are completely alien to most Western Europeans.
In Europe, economics and social issues contribute to a disliking of Mitt Romney. While Europeans do object to much of Obama's foreign policy, they remain supportive when it comes to domestic politics and economics.
Around the world Obama is more popular than his main opponent, but his popularity is sliding. If the president would like more support abroad, he would do well to rethink his foreign policy choices. However, as the third presidential debate showed, Obama has no intention of changing course.