August 27th, 2012
09:39 AM ET

Does world want Romney or Obama?

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is the director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. Full survey results are available here. The views expressed are his own.

At the Republican National Convention scheduled to take place this week and the Democratic National Convention beginning September 3, Americans will notionally be choosing their candidates for president of the United States. Effectively they will be deciding who will be the leader of the world for the next four years.

The world’s citizens get no say in this choice. Nevertheless, people outside the United States have definite opinions about Obama and some of the key issues in the campaign: about the state of the economy and what to do about it, climate change and how they think Washington should treat them.

Neither the GOP nor the Democratic nominee is likely to shape his electoral message to the American people to please foreigners. In fact, if he did, it would probably hurt his chances of winning.

But either challenger Mitt Romney or incumbent President Barack Obama is going to be the next U.S. president. And experience shows that the success or failure of his foreign policy may depend, in part, on how it is perceived abroad. So what people around the world think going into the final two months of the U.S. presidential campaign does matter, if not on November 6, then for the next four years.

Europeans have had a four-year love affair with Barack Obama: 87 percent of Germans, 86 percent of French and 80 percent of the British have confidence in Obama, according to a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes project. In each case this is higher than public confidence in their own national leader. And 92 percent of the French, 89 percent of the Germans and 73 percent of the British want Obama reelected.

In the long run, if Romney wins, none of this may matter, as Europeans get to know him. But, in the short run, it could matter. A 2005 Pew Research Center survey found that in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, strong majorities said the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush led them to have a less favorable opinion of the United States. A newly-elected Romney administration may have to contend with a similar European reaction if the popular Obama is defeated in what will come to a surprise to many of them.

But an Obama defeat may not play as poorly in the Middle East – in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia – where a median of only 29 percent approve of Obama and a median of just 25 percent want him reelected.

Elsewhere, foreign reaction to an Obama defeat could be mixed. In Asia, 74 percent of Japanese have a favorable view of the current U.S. president and 66 percent want him reelected. But Obama’s popularity is only 38 percent in China and only 31 percent there want him to get another term.

Similarly, in Latin America, while 68 percent of Brazilians like Obama and 72 percent want him reelected, only 42 percent of Mexicans are well disposed toward the current U.S. president and just 35 percent hope he has a second term.

Foreign expectations of the next American leader can, in part, be discerned from their current policy preferences and their judgment of the Obama foreign policy.

At a time of global economic turmoil, people outside the United States look to the U.S. president for strong economic leadership. Those who like Obama and want him reelected tend to approve of his handling of global economic problems. Those who dislike him disapprove. How they would feel about Romney’s custodianship of the U.S. economy, and by extension that of the global economy, is unknown.

Romney has charged that America has lost stature abroad during Obama’s presidency. And some foreign perceptions tend to bear out that observation. In 2008, across 14 countries surveyed by the Pew Center, a median of 44 percent named the United States as the world’s leading economic power, while just 22 percent chose China. Today, only 36 percent cite America, while 41 percent believe China is in the top position.

But the GOP candidate has also espoused fiscal austerity at home, while criticizing fiscal profligacy abroad. This runs counter to majorities in seven of the eight European nations the Pew Research Center surveyed this spring who oppose further belt tightening in their home countries. Notably, only in Poland did people support more austerity. Interestingly enough, it was Poland that Romney chose to visit in late July.

On foreign policy issues, foreigners have long complained about American unilateralism. They think Obama has acted unilaterally, much as they criticized his predecessor George W. Bush for such actions. That criticism has softened a bit in Europe and China during the Obama tenure, but it has worsened in parts of the Middle East. And it is largely unchanged in Japan.

It remains to be seen how foreigners will react to Romney’s promise of even stronger U.S. leadership abroad, in which Washington will no longer “lead from behind.”

On specific international issues, a median of 56 percent in 20 countries surveyed outside the United States in spring 2012 think Obama has not been fair in dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians. During the campaign, Romney has openly sided with the Israelis, a policy stance that is not likely to be perceived any better than Obama’s actions.

On climate change a median plurality of 48 percent believe Obama has not taken significant steps to deal with global warming. Romney says he doesn’t know the extent to which climate change is even occurring or whether it is caused by human activity, a view that is not likely to lead to the additional “significant measures” seemingly desired by global publics.

Over the next two weeks at their national political conventions Republicans and Democrats will hone their electoral messages aimed at domestic voters in the November presidential election. That is to be expected. But they need to keep in mind that the policy positions they stake out in the heat of an election campaign resonate abroad. And, whoever is the next U.S. president, the success or failure of his foreign policy will, in part, depend on what foreigners think.

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Topics: Barack Obama • China • Elections • France • Japan • Mitt Romney • United States

soundoff (448 Responses)
  1. lefty avenger

    Obama is a major disappointment, faking being a liberal nearly all the time. We all Know Mitt is a Top 1% Oligarchy Wall Street Banker stooge. Both Will keep the corporate Oil Baron Wars going while america disintegrates and all manufacturing is moved to China for slave sweat shop labor. Have a nice day.......

    August 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  2. ryan

    The middle east and Muslims hate Obama, they socialists of Europe who want the government to raise, feed, clothe and bury them want Obama. Mitt is the man!

    August 28, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  3. ryan

    I see they have brought the word and sentence stealer back!

    August 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  4. AgrippaMT

    The civilized world definitely prefers President Obama. Romney proved himself to be a clumsy oaf during his recent trip to Europe.

    August 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  5. History Bear

    Foreign policy is by definintion, the policy of your nation towards others. It's supposed to be shaped to care for America and further American interest. In the past 24 years I've watch it become a tool for expanding US corporations who enjoy the benefits of American and contribute little towards it's welfare. I don't care what the rest of the world wants , I want an AMERICAN president with a PRO AMERICAN foreign policy.

    August 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  6. Tom

    are all Americans stupid. Or do just the dumb ones post here.

    August 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  7. NoMore

    All the more reason to vote Republican...who cares what europe thinks?

    August 28, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  8. Soothsayer

    You noticed all the huge crowds that Romney drew on his foreign policy trips to Great Britain, Israel, and Poland. How Romney melted with them. Romney will have their backs in case of trouble. Yeah!

    August 28, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
    • Hadenuffyet

      If Romney wins , which I don't believe he will , but if he does , I fully expect military action on Iran. Be it by Israel , Saudi Arabia , or anyone else , we'll be in the mix , and the majority player.

      August 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Reply
    • CJ

      And if Obama doens't win, I fully expect to see Iranian military action elsewhere, possibly here.

      August 29, 2012 at 11:10 am | Reply
  9. Hadenuffyet

    Well if the Chinese don't like him , he must be doing something right.

    August 28, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  10. Jason Glugla

    Come on folks, lets show those socialist Europeans with their healthcare and schooling how truly ignorant we Americans are, Romney Inc. for President.

    August 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Reply
    • CJ

      You are right! What we should do instead is show them how ignorant we really are and become socialist as well! Good plan. Fail.

      August 29, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply
  11. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    The reason people such as yourself don't like the ACA is because you have no frickin' idea what it actually is. It is NOT universal healthcare. But what if it was? Healthcare for all–what a horrible idea. There is only one reason we do not have it and it is because of the twisted paranoia, beliefs in falsehoods, inability to care about others and outright selfishness or those on the right.

    August 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  12. wolf776

    Of course the Chinese would rather have Romney, he sent them millions of jobs!

    August 28, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  13. maltytasker

    If the folks in the Middle East and China don't like Obama, what's wrong with that? If they did like him, then I would be worried.

    August 28, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  14. CNN I am Disgusted with You

    What a pandering piece of you know what to put up there for 'Sound Off' –> "Let them Die" I am disgusted that this is considered 'journalism' – you should be ashamed of yourselves. Regardless of your obvious and blatant political persuasion, biased and liberal rhetoric – this comes across as juvenile and trite. I am sure this post will never go live, but you need to know you crossed the line. Ridiculous, simplistic and stupid. GLOB = Great Liberal Obvious Bias – I am outta here.

    August 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
    • Clark Nova

      You want the truth? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

      August 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  15. Toby

    Who cares what the world wants. Americans want Romney / Ryan. That's REAL HOPE AND CHANGE.

    August 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • illuminated genius

      I DON'T WANT NEITHER OF THOSE TWO IN THE WHITE HOUSE. SHAME ON YOU FOR SUPPORTING EITHER ONE OF THEM.

      August 30, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  16. Iconoclast

    I believe the rest of the world sees Romney the way I see Romney, a mormon pimp! and yes, we do care about what the rest of the world thinks. Sorry, and no, that doesn't make me a communist fascist socialist kenyan terrorist. Have a nice day.

    August 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
    • ug

      It does mean you are a commie fascist socialist keyan terrorist and you don't know anything about Romney except from maggots like cnn says about him...so doe us all a favor...go k i l l yourself...

      August 28, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  17. ug

    The article is a lie and the writers like all lib media freaks are...is a suck up to odopey...

    August 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  18. Clark Nova

    Only in an ignorant, undereducated, backward country like the US could a monstrosity like Romney have ANY chance of being elected. Shame on us.

    August 28, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  19. bluerain

    It seems the author of this article is far left leaning.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
  20. bluerain

    I left CNN a long time back when I clearly saw what the main stream media as well as CNN is feeding the American people. This is an injustice to the American people. I could not clear my head as to what was really happening among the two parties until I started tuning in to both sides. It was a real eye opener for this Independent. This author is far left leaning and I wonder if his sources of info is a reliable source? Do your country a favor and tune in to both sides and delve into reliable sources.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:30 am | Reply
  21. n0ble

    Let's be honest, most of Europe is liberal leaning...and we all see how their economies are doing. What is sad is they all want America out of the world affairs...that is until a threat breaks out. Pfft, voting Democrat is a vote for poor foreign policy, bad economics, a healthcare plan that is going to ruin much of the country, and bad for jobs...I don't understand why so many people can't see this.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply
    • fatblackfrancis

      Strange, our economy was fine before George W, that fine upstanding republican who thought America had 49 states. The USS Missouri had it's 15 mins, John Wayne had his, and now if you keep going down the republican route your country will either burn out be extinguished by someone else ("Oh, no, but we're #1!" he huffs), your military gets weaker by the day while Russia rearms, Europe unites and China rises.

      Vote democrat and have your country gradually build a position for itself in the remainder of the 21st century (it wasn't gonna happen in 4 years...) or stick with the GOP and fade out of sight, without dignity, like a tired old man from a different generation.

      Peace from the UK, GObama!

      August 29, 2012 at 2:49 am | Reply
      • DaveYoung

        Put down the KoolAid and the crack pipe. You sound like a fool.

        August 29, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • DaveYoung

      Because they are poorly educated and easily led

      August 29, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  22. Geoff

    Republicans are war-mongers. They love war because it provides a good excuse to build up the defense budget and it kills off the poor and uneducated who are the first to be put on the front lines. Romney is a republican. Therefore, he's a warm monger. Give me the alternative anytime.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:50 am | Reply
  23. Chris

    The world wants Obama because he at least has good foreign policy. We like Hilary and Obama on the world stage. The republicans just embarass the US when on the international stage. OBAMA 2012! Wish I could vote!

    August 29, 2012 at 5:17 am | Reply
  24. Bizzness

    THE REVOLUTION IS COMING...No matter who is our President, until these politicians actually voice "OUR" opinions, we will be ran by the people who can pay "OUR" representatives what they want...We need to OVERHAUL the system...We need a GOVERNMENT that can actually GOVERN...Because of the lack of working together for the common goal of the people, we have POLITICIANS arguing about he said she said, we will ALWAYS be in the same position...

    August 29, 2012 at 6:51 am | Reply
    • illuminated genius

      YES A THIRD AMERICAN REVOLUTION IS COMING AND THIS TIME IT WILL BE TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT RULED BY THE DICTATORS OF THE DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS WHO HAVE MONOPOLIZED AND FAILED TO IMPROVE OUR COUNTRY.

      August 30, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply
  25. joe d

    only AIPAC, the traitor neocons, jews and the turdstain calle Israel wants Mitt-wit..the rest of the world and U.S. sayz pizz off Mitt-wit

    August 29, 2012 at 7:09 am | Reply
    • DaveYoung

      Put down the crack pipe before you self destruct completely

      August 29, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply
  26. izlumuk11

    Obama is failure and misery.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  27. Pinkflam

    "Does world want Romney or Obama?"
    In spite of Obamy's best efforts, "the world" still doesn't have anything to say about it. What a waste of time!

    August 29, 2012 at 8:20 am | Reply
  28. Jean Malloy

    Why should the U.S. give a R-A about the world. When it is all said and done U. S. need to take care of Americans. We have long learned that the "world" likes the U. S. only for what it can get–usually money. Money from the pockets of the American Tax payer, which is only about 50%. IMO the other no-tax-paying 50% of Americans can are no better than "the world" they too have their hands in the pockets of the American tax payer-99.9% of the time vote for only what they can get free.

    August 29, 2012 at 8:51 am | Reply
  29. Akahn

    Well Al Qaeda wants Romney because they know the Republicans are ineffective in hunting them down. Many of the dictatorships will probably want him as well, because he's wanting to deny the rights of Americans and send the US back into the stone age with their line of thought and the denial of rights for women and society as a whole.

    The civilized world will go for Obama, because he's at least trying to get the US caught up to the rest of the world in terms of government. He realizes we have fallen very far behind (think useless wars like Iraq) because of stupid decision makings, rather than focusing on Americans and American soil. When the US catches up to all the other 1st world nations, it will make the world a much better place...

    August 29, 2012 at 8:55 am | Reply
    • DaveYoung

      Go back to your comic book and video game. You sound like a dropout.

      August 29, 2012 at 9:01 am | Reply
  30. DaveYoung

    The basic rationale behind this article is flawed. The pre-emptive world opinion of the next U.S. President is irrelevant.and immaterial.
    It is American policies that shape world opinion, not personalities. Obama has practiced and preached communist policies and is an apologist to other countries. He is a failure as an American President.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:00 am | Reply
    • ThisHAStoBeaJoke

      Really CNN? REALLY? The leader of the world??????? what is this now? another reality show you americans love? DaveYoung is so right: policies, my friend, lead the world not characters. Shame on you CNN, you lost my respect and the respect of all the "foreigners" I am going to share this with

      August 29, 2012 at 10:06 am | Reply
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