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. joe

    Let's see. Most of Europe and S. American countries want to see Obama reelected. All the more reason to vote for Romney!

    August 30, 2012 at 10:07 am | Reply
    • illuminated genius

      Those who actually are smart would vote for neither Obama nor Mitt Romney. Ron Paul should be our president with all due respect. The Democrats and Republicans are nothing but hypocritical parties today and both have failed America.

      August 30, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
  2. illuminated genius


    August 30, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
  3. Dino

    The only people outside the U.S. who prefer Romney are those who think they can profit from him. Think in terms of the Bush administration. They are a very select few like rich Arabs with oil or owners of other huge corporations who have influence over their country's media.

    Looking at the numbers, Romney supporters world wide are a tiny fraction of the 1% we speak of at home. 2

    August 30, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply
  4. johnny

    Absolutely true Dino.

    Hidden behind all of his wonderful rousing convention speeches are other unspoken agendas.

    "America will show the world we are strong" which literally means US will go to war again, and soon after the election!

    The defence contractors are jumping for joy, finally another warmonger coming to the White House.

    Obama is soft, Romney will be tough – he will not hesitate to order an invasion of Iran,

    "Let's bomb the hell out of them" .... "The more bombs the USAF dropped the better to create jobs back home. Its good for business"

    Romney afterall is a businessman, and a shrewd one who did not hesitate to fire his workers in order to make higher profits.

    August 30, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
  5. David

    I think both parties dont care but if i have to choose then i choose obama. why? because if mitt romney really cared about his people then he would ATLEAST have canceled the convention and made sure that the lives of the people attending were secured when a hurricane is passing by.(even though they are republicans). After bush no way no how i will ever vote for a republican!

    August 30, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
  6. NuffSaid

    The "World" is afraid of Romney.
    So they want Obama.
    I'm afraid of what Obama will do to my American Independence.
    So I want Romney.

    August 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  7. Ken

    It's simple folks. The world will want someone in the presidency who will be more willing to do things that benefit them (the world) over Americans. Someone who will take their interests and concerns into any decision, even if it mean it harms the U.S. Someone who won't wield the power the US has economically and militarily. And to that end, the world LOVES Obama.

    So if you a President who will lead the US to better times, a stronger economy, and will take actions that benefit Americans above all else, just look at what the world wants (a weak president) and who they support, and go the opposite way.

    August 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
    • jim

      you sir scare me as a voter, and make the world think Americans are less intelligent than they really are.

      August 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  8. DRyano

    What total arrogance, Mr. Stokes. So you think the POTUS is the defacto "leader of the world"? Really? If Barack Obama is respected in Europe and elsewhere, it is in part because he knows that at most, the POTUS has the ability to demonstrate leadership globally. Or, the POTUS can be a parochial cowboy like George W. Bush was for 8 years. Europe just wants to see the US avoid putting another idiot in the White House.

    August 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  9. Jim

    I was in Germany during the 2008 election and found the vast majority favored Obama. I learned two things about the German people:

    (1) They love black politicians
    (2) in the U.S.A.

    In other words, very few would consider voting for racial minorities in their own country.

    August 30, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  10. Extremophil

    Determine who the world wants for president, and then elect the other guy.

    August 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  11. John

    Europeans were also dead set against us re-electing Bush. We should have listened then and we should definitely listen now!

    August 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  12. jim

    The world says ron paul.

    August 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  13. Obelisk

    The world needs a gentler softer personality. Vote for Kali and kiss your life goodbye. Who needs Dr. Death Kevorkian. LOL !!!


    A recent report by United Press trust of India (UPI) stated that during the past three years more than 2,500 young boys and girls were sacrificed to goddess Kali in India. Another of AFP's recent reports say: hundreds of young boys and virgin girls are sacrificed every month for the deity Kali. In one case Rama Sewak hacked his eight year old son to death in broad daylight in Delhi because goddess Kali had told him he would come back to life and bring him good fortune. Bloodthirsty Kali is worshipped openly the length and breadth of India. Kali's statue stands naked astride the inanimate body of the Hindu deity Shiva, tongue stuck out with blood dripping from fang-like teeth. She holds a noose, a skull-topped staff, a blood-encrusted sword and a severed head. She is also known as Durga, Devi, Shaktima, Uma and Parvathi in other manifestations. The priest of Delhi, Kali Bari, says that a child sacrificed to Kali ensures a man the birth of a son. Human sacrifices are also made to these gods or goddesses, either to appease them or to ask favours of them.

    August 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  14. Johnnie

    The worldview of President Obama is very positive because it’s not laced with any racial bias, e.g. "a Kenyan with colonialist revenge, not one of us or has robbed Americans of their birthright or else his birthing." The world view him as human, a black man from mixed racial background and versioned to do his best for United States and the world. He is not perfect and was not received by some as not one of them. Despised by some, rejected and alienated and yet is still the president voted by majority of Americans.

    August 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  15. Dennis

    The country is really in trouble if this message board is and indication of the collective wisdow. The internet should be totally transparent, No more masks to hid behind so we can say stupid things and act like morons.

    August 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  16. np

    If Americans are surprised at this article then they must have head their head in the sand.
    I am Canadian and I have no doubt that Canadians feel the same way as Europeans. The international community wants leadership and statesmanship, not a Republican leader leading a bunch of narrow-minded sandbox obstructionists that have no vision. Obama is the man and needs the support of Americans to allow him to lead unimpeded.

    August 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
    • Karen Saucedo

      Beautifully said. I can't do it better so I will simply 'second' your comment. Thank you.

      August 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • What???

      You can keep your Canadian opinion just where you are, in Canada and you can take Fareed Zakassiass's a$$ & Bruce Stokes with you!

      August 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  17. Neal Smyth

    I have nothing personal against President Obama, but it's time the United States move away from Presidents who watch the National debt rise beyond what we can possibly pay back and at least try someone else. He isn't working out. He'll be alright though, unlike the poor people of the United Sates.I cannot find steady employment and have had to sell everything I own and I'm down to the truck my dad left me when he died. I have always worked and I have never had such a bleak and pessimistic outlook for the future. Whatever they have to do to get the U.S. back on track, it needs to get done. It doesn't involve re-electing Obama I'm afraid, but we have shown superior resiliency in picking presidents who aren't effective and are quite okay with running the United Sates into the ground.

    August 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  18. outawork

    All politicians really care about is getting elected the next time. And a little money on the side too.

    August 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  19. mike

    I say vote Libertarian. If you dont know what they are about, stop being lazy and google it. Gary Johnson 2012!!!

    August 30, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  20. jaylee

    Buzzman, sorry to hear about your arm. A PERFECT example of why we should concentrate of getting rid of insurance companies. They are making money on people's illnesses. That should be criminal. It is definately unethical. AND it does raise the cost for all.

    August 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Reply
  21. johnny

    Grand Old Politician Ryan is blowing alot of hot air, he is telling everyone like he can resolve Americans National Debt with a wave of his magic wand.

    Ryan is a dreamer, he dreams about money fallling from the sky, and that America's US$16 trillion debt (a legacy of GOP Bush Jr) will disappear if he steps into the White House.

    Dream on Ryan,

    because it's guaranteed not to decrease the National Debt, by a GOP Presidency. In fact there is an even stronger possibility a GOP Presidency will increase America's fiscal debts because both men are just not bred to tackle such a big problem. Especially when its been said Ryan and Mitt are already disagreeing, or having different opinions, on certain issues .

    No heavily indebted Government will be able to create jobs – by reducing taxes. Without jobs there will be less spending by people. The economy shrinks. Resulting in higher unemployment.

    I am beginning to believe that Ryan and Romney are misleading Americans, and the world, that they can solve America's woes. Based on what have been said by them, there is nothing substantial to support their wishful thinking about the National Debt.

    America's National Debt is going to hang around for the next decade or more. No one, repeat nobody, is able to dissolve this monster debt in 5 years or even 10 years. It will take time and prudence to see this debt completely demolished.

    The careless damage to America's national wealth , by the Republicans, will not go away just because Ryan says so.

    August 30, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  22. Bill in VA

    Who cares what the world wants? All that matters is what the U.S. voters want......and when I say that I do mean to exclude those in this country that don't vote.

    August 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
    • What???

      Amen to that Bill!!! If you don't like America you carry your A** to where ever the hell you want to go!

      August 30, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  23. Christopher

    Why should I give a SH** what the "world" wants?
    Foreign enemies not liking my right to vote for someone they don't like.

    Boo hoo hoo...

    August 31, 2012 at 1:31 am | Reply
  24. Willie12345

    Fareed: I thought you were fired for misconduct as a journalist ? Too bad you're still writing.

    August 31, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
  25. Barry G.

    I didn't catch the convention.

    Did Mitt say anything about hiding his money in off-shore bank accounts, about his tax returns for the last several years, or about what happened to the workers and businesses that experienced the services of Bain Capital?

    August 31, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
  26. Barry G.

    What I want to know is how is Mitt going to fix the mess that was initiated by the Republicans?

    Didn’t Regan repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which permitted the banks to merge with the investment firms on Wall Street? And wasn’t that what largely contributed to the economic destruction we’re currently experiencing?

    Does Mitt intend to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which incidentally was implemented after the stock market crash in 1929, to prevent another Great Depression—or in our case, Great Recession.

    Are we not suffering the consequences of poor physical policies, irresponsible management, and corrupt political processes?

    Is Mitt going to correct these errors, or give us more of the same?

    August 31, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply
    • Barry G.


      Of course I meant fiscal policies.

      Of course it was the irresponsible fiscal policies and mismagement of the past twenty to thirty years, which resulted in disasterous physical conditions we're now suffering.

      Freudian slip!

      August 31, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  27. Barry G.

    We shouldn’t be so hard on Mitt. I’m sure he’s doing his best, given that he’s trying to put a good face on a bad situation and a flawed party.

    Isn’t the country suffering because of the past twenty to thirty years of irresponsible and bad fiscal policies, mismanagement and a corrupt political system (vis-à-vis lobbyists)?

    Wouldn’t mean that George Bush is responsible for much of the trouble we’re having now. Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan also share responsibility for this, of course.

    Wasn’t it Ronald Regan who repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which permitted the banks to merge with the investment firms on Wall Street? And wasn’t that what largely contributed to the economic destruction we’re currently experiencing?

    Give the guy a break.

    Does Mitt intend to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which incidentally was implemented after the stock market crash in 1929, to prevent another Great Depression—or in our case, Great Recession.

    Does Mitt intend to prosecute the Wall Street and bank CEOs?

    Does he intend to prosecute any accounting firm, which aided and abetted the fraud and perjury that was committed?
    Are we not suffering the consequences of poor physical policies, irresponsible management, and corrupt political processes?

    Is Mitt going to correct these errors, or give us more of the same?

    August 31, 2012 at 10:09 am | Reply
  28. Surakij Vuthikornpant

    Obama . ^^

    September 2, 2012 at 7:57 am | Reply
  29. John

    Before I go out and vote during the presidential elections I just ask myself and my whole family one question. Who is the lesser evil? After a short consensus we all go out and vote for the lesser evil.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
  30. Harry


    September 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
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