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. Alexander

    "...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."

    I refuse to believe this was actually written in an article for CNN. The leader of the world. Seriously? Get off your high horse Bruce.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:29 am | Reply
  2. Jon

    My question is whether these foreign polls surveyed people who knew about our 2 party system and how black and white the differences between the 2 seem to be during election time. Mexico said that they don't want Obama re-elected, but do they know the party that they would then be putting into power?

    August 29, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
  3. Jazger


    why should we care who the world wants. its OUR POTUS. its for us to decide and them to deal with once we do.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:36 am | Reply
  4. Buzz Mann

    Recently broke my arm in 2 places and went to hospital for surgery,had no insurance and had to pay 4500 dollars at hospital before surgery was done.Was told that was with a 35% discount on bill for not using insurance.Wonder why it would cost more if I had insurance and could this maybe be why insurance costs are beyond a lot of working class peoples budgets.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply
  5. Toolttime

    No ones cares who wins. They are all the same.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
  6. illuminated genius

    I would honestly say based on what i seen is that neither candidate deserves to be president. Obama when he got elected made all these promises about how everything was going to get better and end economic hardship etc etc. The reality is that Obama has added 5 trillion to the national debt, the job market is weak and there are not many Jobs around and worse of all the economy itself is not expanding we are shrinking due to a lack of manufacturing as the vast majority of jobs today are shipped to China or India. Companies are hiring more over seas than here in the United States. Mitt Romney is a total fake, he states that he is in favor of one thing then says another thing. Romney is a typical politician, and will say anything to get elected. Obama does not deserve to be re-elected based on his performance and Mitt Romney does not have the integrity nor does he care about the Average American. It worries me that the Republicans are interested in cutting programs such as medicare and continue to protect corporate interests for the rich, while the poor will continue to get poorer. Ron Paul who is out of the GOP running, should run as a independent, he is the best candidate for president of the USA. They can force people to choose between Obama and Mitt Romney, but it does not mean that neither one of them is good. It is becoming a point to where we are choosing not who is better, but who is the least worse candidate. America should really reconsider voting for a third party candidate and stop the monopoly the Democrats and Republicans have on the government. The truth is both of these parties have failed the American people, and i personally lost respect for them given one claims they will make things better while the other makes things worse. I vote for Ron Paul, and i vote for a vote of no confidence in Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

    August 29, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • db

      I agree with you.

      The RNC just seemed like the Grammy Awards with attacks on Obama which were unprofessional,there was no substance in the convention. You can't blame Obama for everything its was boring to listen a Obama bashing event. To be honest Ron Paul seems more intelligent and level headed as a candidate. Finally, I don't see the logic why they would have Clint Eastwod at a conference? What did really have to say, he did not make my day!! What a joke!! All Mitt Romney is concerned about is getting into the White House he has no concerns for the ordinary folks he is looking out for himself..

      August 31, 2012 at 12:39 am | Reply
  7. Amargosa

    If you want more food stamps, vote for Obama

    August 29, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
  8. Jack

    Either the Romney or Obama also okay, in my opinion, as long as they really have a heart to serve the country well and want to make the country a better place to live. Compare to other country's leader that only look toward the money, they are better. Hope the Kechara Growth Chakras do bring the country a boost in most side like criminal, economy and others.

    August 29, 2012 at 10:36 am | Reply
  9. DJG

    The comments here illustrate a basic problem in America today – extreme polarization. Both parties have become enslaved to ideology whether it be far right or far left. It makes no sense to say that one party or the other has a greater interest in peace and prosperity, and to say that one party "cares" more than the other is just silly. Everyone wants success and security for America. The difference is how to achieve it. The Republicans have become too beholdin' to the far right and Tea Party, some of whose ideas are good and some appalling. The Democrats must pander to the far left who also have some reasonable and some atrocious ideas. Neither party is willing to compromise, or even conduct rational dialogue. Voters are to blame. It is time for the more moderate majorities of both parties, and independents to take control and get government back to pragmatic politics. Well considered compromise is the only way to start moving the country, and as a result, the world in the right direction. Let's have a rational, fact based approach to solving our problems by putting ideology and emotion aside for a time.

    August 29, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
    • Maegan

      "Let's have a rational, fact based approach to solving our problems by putting ideology and emotion aside for a time." Thank you for making this comment DJG, you highlight my sentiments on the issue almost exactly.

      Right now all I hear is clouded and scattered thoughts seemingly fueled by headlines or biased sources. We need to not sit blinded by out passions and emotions regarding this issue and take the time to develop a well-informed opinion on the issue.

      Let's not cheapen a potentially intelligent and productive argument with statements like "put the crack pipe down", "you sound like a dropout" and my personal favorite "complete nincompoop". What's right is subjective, everyone believes something different, clings to those who agrees with them and exiles those who don't or laughs and brushes their comments off as inferior or unintelligent. Let's take some time to listen, truly listen to the arguments coming from all sides, there's something of value coming from either end.

      That is all, attack me if you wish...

      August 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply
  10. Genie

    In every state there also will be non-republican and non-democrat candidates on the ballot.

    August 29, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  11. zestio

    what are you advocating here? I guess the problem WILL be solved (what with all "let them die mantra") there won't be any one left!

    August 29, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
  12. CJ

    What the world really wants is to see us brought to our knees financially. The poor envy the rich. It never changes. They want what we have. And if they can't have it, they want it taken from those who do. It's the way of the world. I think this country is on a down-hill slide to losing the democracy we were founded on. It's sad but it is reality.

    August 29, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  13. CS

    Maybe this will be the year that voters wake up and realize that we have more than two parties in our elections! If you don't like the two front runners, do your research on ALL of the presidential canidates!!

    August 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  14. rebounds3

    The world might not be so crazy for Obama, but after the 8 years of GWB and his bunch they might rather have BO than Mr Mittens. And they probably know if Mittens is elected, he will appoint a bunch of the Bush cronnies back into high government positions, taking america "back to the future". Can't you just see Karl Rove and Rumsfeld back in power? (Those were the day) How far back depends on how many TEA and Right Wing Christians get into office. Enough of those and it could be back to the mid 1770's, searching out those evildoers. Fox News and Rush radio will once again rally the voices of the people.

    And if BO is relected, those right wingers screaming about Obamacare ruining the country can always leave. Oops, most of the top tier countries you'd want to live in have socialized medicine. Darn.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • illuminated genius


      August 30, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
  15. No Romneycrat

    The Democrats and independents want policies that benefit all life, not just the unborn. Polices that help the poor, senior citizens, students, middle class, help us all. That is why the GOP anti-abortion stuff is so phony. They create all of these anti-abortion bills but offer nothing to assist the lives that are already here.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  16. GDawg1

    Hey Fareed, you're articel about wnating Obama or Romney, no mention of Canada...., you know, that big snowy, ice cold country of very nice people living to the north of United States. Jeesh man, wake up.
    Anyway, Canadians love Obama, vote him back in please.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  17. Army Wife

    Democrats care? Have you looked at Joe Biden's tax returns to see how much he gives to charity? Joe really cares?

    August 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • ACeBLazIn

      Joe Biden? Is that the best you can come up with? What about Obama? Not only does he give plenty to charity, he also pays more taxes than Golden Boy Mittens.

      August 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  18. Army Wife

    Do I really care whether the world likes Obama or Romney? I don't. Foreign countries haven't done anything for me,
    while historically, the USA has bailed them all out with foreign aid and my tax dollars, which woul be better spent helping the poor in our own country.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  19. anon

    A love affair? I don't know who they polled but I travel frequently between Europe and the USA and everyone in Europe I have talked to finds Obama to be stupid and weak. Trust me they love to bring up politics in conversation over there too.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  20. Will

    This article is weak. It tells us what many countries think about re-electing Obama, but doesn't say anything about if we elected Romney. I bet many of the Middle Eastern countries would have a low approval rating of whomever we elected, so we need something to compare.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  21. OldGuy1

    Europe loves Obama, he is abdicating the US's number one influence and dominance on the world stage.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  22. OnWisconsin!

    Obama must not be re-elected. We are not better off as a country, and continue to travel down the same unsustainable road of spending and dependence. All of our $800,000,000 in tax money that was dumped into a stimulus package only worked for 3 months. That was Obama’s only plan to jump the economy, now he is leaving it up to his buddies on Wall Street (YES, they are his #1 campaign financer behind the unions). He has no plan for our future. Obama's Hope and Change really is Ignore and Blame. Sorry, he wasn’t our savior after all, dawn is rising on your dream.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • illuminated genius

      Obama does not deserve to be re-elected and neither does Mitt Romney, both of them stink to high heaven. America should wake up and vote in someone who actually cares. I will vote Ron Paul as a write in.

      August 30, 2012 at 10:42 am | Reply
  23. literate

    Obama 2012.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  24. OtherSF

    Whoever wins, we are doomed.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  25. Matvei Leshchyov

    I think it is quite amusing when some foreigners bash on America with knowing nothing about how things work. although I've only lived in america a short time, at least I've actually studied the policies before making outrageous accusation.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  26. Army Wife

    "MIttens" set up a scholarship for students in Massachusetts to attend college tuition free. I don't see Obama doing that
    and it looks like Biden is representative of Liberals, who give less to charity than conservatives. Do some research,
    please, before you attack me.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  27. mike smith

    I see a lot of profiles with a picture of a angry white guy holding a firearm, impressive! It defines the republican party, a bunch of backwoods rednecks ready to shoot-up a movie or mall or whatever to show their patriotism, Yahoo! Who profit from it all, mainly the NRA and the undertakers assc. It will only solidify the push for the U.N to enact a control law regime. They intend to turn the country into the Wild Wild West, not the Dixie South they long for. What a pack of dumb-asses.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  28. Federenko

    When the government begins to control the economy you get what happened in Ukraine in the 1930's. Scholars are still counting up the millions of dead. By the way "reply to stupid Jew" please learn grammar before posting, you spit drooling moron. I think you got Jew on the brain. Years of therapy might help. Or better, just chew on a bullet, say 50mm.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  29. Nat

    To dismiss what the world thinks is arrogant. As long as the U.S. is involved with the rest of the world the rest of the world will be interested in what goes on in the U.S. Your last president was a disaster, responsible for an illegal war, illegal torture and a near total collapse of the world economy. He truly was a hated and despised president. Obama may be the lesser of two evils ( you really need a 3 party system ) but at least he has some sort of vision for your country. That is what the world likes about him rightly or wrongly. For the life of me and just about every non-American in the west at least can not understand how someone can vote for a candiate that has lied in the past ( Romney lied about his residency when running for governor ) won't release the needed tax returns, has no interest in helping the middle-class or poor. Obama at least is trying to bring the U.S. into the 21st century socially. The anti-woman anti-gay rhetoric is astounding for 2012. Obama may not be the best, but he's really all you've got. Romney and his ilk will make the Bush years seem like a picnic.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  30. Cheeseburger

    Who cares if we are "liked?" The goal should be "respected." I don't hire people because of the prospect of them being liked, I hire them because they have the skills to get the job done. All this Entertainment Tonight-culture popularity/liking is symptomatic of a extremely self-absorbed American society. I've been going to Europe for over 30 years and they have never "liked" us but they have always been falling all over themselves to emulate us. I don't want a European-style nanny state. If I did, I would live there.

    August 29, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • TSB8C

      Well stated.

      August 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Nat

      Acceptance of pop culture isn't really emulating.

      August 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Reply
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