President of the World


“Of course world affairs are a challenge for every candidate. After — some of you guys remember — after my foreign trip in 2008 I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas and I have to say I am impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem.”

Barack Obama,  Alfred E. Smith Dinner, October 2012

President Obama must really wish that foreign voters were included in the Electoral College. After all, numerous polls demonstrate the wide preference gap he holds over Romney amongst foreigners. One, the much-discussed poll of 21,797 respondents conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA for the BBC world service, found that Obama is preferred to Romney in 20 of 21 countries surveyed. In these 20 countries which account for 56.4 percent of the world’s population, Obama is favored to Romney by an average of 5:1 (or 50 percent to 9 percent). Another poll, by the firm Angus Reid, reveals that the President’s approval rating is 71 percent in Europe and that Britons prefer Obama to Romney by a 10:1 ratio. In terms of outright numbers, France is the most strongly pro-Obama, with 72 percent wanting his re-election versus 2 percent favoring a president Romney.

Another poll by the Pew Research Center this year revealed that 92 percent of the French, 89 percent of the Germans and 73 percent of the British have confidence in Obama and want him reelected.

These are striking numbers. Why do foreigners think so differently about our presidential candidates? Are they missing something, or are we?

Surprisingly, it’s not only foreigners that feel this way – American expats who will be voting next week may feel the same way too. In the absence of any polling data, Alan Benson, a leader of American Voices Abroad (which helps people register), told Reuters last week: "Based on what I'm hearing, I'd say most expats [in Berlin, Germany] are going to vote for Obama, probably about 90 percent."

There are a few reasons for Obama’s popularity. The first is that Obama’s economic policies are seen to be fairly successful compared to the austerity-based economic policies implemented throughout Europe post-2008. In general, adopting austerity as Romney espouses runs counter to the prevailing opinion that opposes further belt tightening in the seven of eight European countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

The European opinion is important because their economies are structurally more similar to our own than emerging market economies like China, which have recovered faster. Leaders of the largest EU economies — David Cameron, Nicholas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel — have all discovered how deeply unpopular and ineffectual austerity measures are. As Paul Krugman of the NYTimes puts it:

“When David Cameron became PM, and announced his austerity plans — buying completely into both the confidence fairy and the invisible bond vigilantes — many were the hosannas, from both sides of the Atlantic. Pundits here urged Obama to “do a Cameron;” Cameron and Osborne were the toast of Very Serious People everywhere.

Now Britain is officially in double-dip recession, and has achieved the remarkable feat of doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s.”

Let’s take a look at the UK now:

from Why Is the U.K. Double-Dipping?, The Atlantic Magazine

After recovering at a similar pace to the United States, the UK has fallen into a double dip-recession. Before you blame the rest of the EU for all of the UK’s problems, remember that the UK controls its own currency (like the States) and doesn’t have any issues with its sovereign debt. Furthermore, the UK’s recovery has been even slower than the rest of the EU, which should debunk the argument that less demand for UK exports is the only reason why the UK has fallen back into recession.

This next chart reveals that construction (and not manufacturing) has been the laggard in the UK and is dragging down GDP growth. Germany was able to survive Merkel’s austerity measures because manufacturing comprises a significantly larger portion of its GDP than the UK. Unfortunately, in the UK, reduced transfer payments and higher taxes as a result of austerity have resulted in reduced consumption because disposable incomes are decreasing. Cameron’s policies have destroyed investor confidence instead of increasing it. No wonder the Britons favor Obama so heavily.

Two important conclusions can be drawn from these polling numbers. The first is somewhat well known: Many liberal policies considered anathema in America are easily accepted in Europe and the rest of the developed world. Conversely, several conservative notions that are now mainstream ideas in America are frowned upon outside of the country. For example, European policymakers have long taken steps to combat climate change and implement universal health care systems. In America, the GOP’s insistence on policies so vastly different from the rest of OECD countries (dismantling welfare, policies which are likely to increase the already-highest income inequality), leads many Europeans to consider Romney an unserious candidate. Then again, who said Europe was right?

The second and more important conclusion is that Romney’s surprising competitiveness probably results from domestic anti-incumbent sentiment rather than any compelling or substantive policy proposals. The U.S. economy is sputtering along — GDP growth has been muted and unemployed has not dropped as President Obama once promised. Americans are unhappy, and rightly so. Frustrated by the lack of robust recovery, many are willing to take a chance withRomney in the hope that a change in leadership at the top will suddenly spur economic growth. I don’t think it will.

Many politicians in the US and Europe rode the wave of anti-incumbency into office after the 2008 recession. Their performance has, more often than not, left much to be desired. Let’s hope that the American public recognizes, like their American expat counterparts have, that there is a better basis for voting in time for next Tuesday’s election.

Correction: This article originally misstated Alan Benson's quote about 90% of expats voting for Obama and has been updated. The statistic is not for Europe but is for Berlin, Germany, and now has been corrected.