Sure, polling may suggest that the world isn't following the 2012 U.S. election as closely as it did the 2008 presidential race, when a wildly popular Barack Obama embarked on his quest to replace the deeply unpopular George W. Bush. Heck, 40 percent of Russians in one survey this month didn't even know the U.S. election was taking place this year.
But that doesn't mean people overseas don't care about the campaign's outcome. In a recent UPI/C-Voter/WIN-Gallup International poll, which surveyed more than 26,000 men and women in 32 countries, 62 percent of respondents said that the U.S. president has a high or very high impact on their lives, and 42 percent felt they should have the right to vote in this year's contest for that very reason. When you call yourself the leader of the free world, you'd better believe the world is going to take an interest in who you are.
So what would the election look like if the world really could vote? The short answer: nothing like the razor-thin race unfolding at home. Obama is preferred over Mitt Romney in 31 out of 32 countries in the UPI poll and 20 out of 21 countries in another BBC World Service/GlobeScan/PIPA survey. Fifty-one percent of respondents in the UPI poll said they would cast a ballot for Obama, with more people saying they wouldn't vote for either candidate (18 percent) than would vote for the Republican nominee (12 percent). In the BBC survey, 50 percent of respondents chose Obama and only 9 percent selected Romney.
When translated into headlines, these results can paint the misleading picture that the world is crazy about Obama and dismissive of Romney. But a look at all the polling that has been conducted abroad in recent months suggests that the reality is far more nuanced. You have the French supporting the U.S. president in droves while the Pakistanis spurn both candidates, with most countries falling somewhere in between. If we were handicapping the election using the lingua franca of American politics, here's how we might break down the global electorate.
There is really only one red (foreign) state in this election, and it's Israel. In a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University last week, 52 percent of Israelis said a Romney win would be preferable for Israeli interests, compared with 25 percent who said the same about Obama. The divide was starker among Jewish Israelis, who backed Romney by a 57-22 margin, with support for the GOP candidate strongest among right-wingers. A plurality of Arab Israelis, by contrast, favored Obama (45 percent) over Romney (15 percent). Earlier this fall, a YouGov-Cambridge survey found that 0 percent of Palestinian respondents felt that Romney's election would make them more favorable to the United States (nearly 50 percent said it would have no impact on their feelings toward America).
During the campaign, Romney has taken an aggressive stance on Iran's nuclear program, repeatedly emphasized the importance of U.S.-Israeli relations (he visited Jerusalem over the summer), and expressed skepticism about the Palestinians' commitment to peace. Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't expressed a preference for Obama or Romney during his effort to get the United States to commit to clear "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program, but the Israeli press has speculated that the prime minister's meddling in the race could invite U.S. payback if Obama is reelected.
The world over, the American president may have no stauncher friend than France. In poll after poll after poll after poll, the French top the list of Obama backers, with support ranging from the low 70s to the low 90s, depending on the survey. France's Socialist President François Hollande appears to be one of those boosters, though he also recognizes that France's love could go unrequited during a campaign in which Romney has accused Obama of endeavoring to turn the United States into a "European-style welfare state." Hollande recently joked that he should endorse Romney just to sink the candidate's chances.
Many Western and Northern European nations -- including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom -- are similarly enthusiastic, though the UPI poll suggests that countries such as Finland and Ireland are less passionate about Obama than, say, Germany. A couple Southern and Eastern European countries -- namely Italy and the Czech Republic -- belong in this category as well.