July 21, 2008 — Most recent U.S. public opinion polls have the presidential contest between Democratic presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain relatively close, with a percentage point difference within single digits. But global opinion is far different, with Obama being the decisive favorite in many parts of the world including some African and European countries, recent polls and political watchers say.
A recent Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of more than 24,000 people in 24 countries found that people across the world have a high interest in the U.S. election. Japan has the highest level of interest, with 83% of people saying they were somewhat or very interested in the race, while at least half of those from Germany, Australia, Jordan, and Britain are interested. Of the countries surveyed, most people said they had more confidence in Obama’s abilities as a leader.
“For many foreign citizens, Obama’s candidacy is a symbol of a new international relations—new relationships and new hope for a more generally cooperative flavor and trend in international affairs,” says Gregory Hall, chair of the political science department at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Part of the appeal is the fact that Obama is a relative newcomer to the Washington political scene, so many foreigners believe he may approach foreign policy differently from those who have been entrenched in Washington for a longer period, such as McCain. “Obama has a different set of lenses for diplomatic relations and also for the role of the military,” Hall says. But Obama’s cultural background—the fact that he has an African father and a white mother—also gives foreigners a sense that Obama would have more of a global view that would influence his policies, he adds.
In some African countries in particular, Obama’s popularity is mixed with a sense of pride, says Benjamin Ola. Akande, dean of Webster University’s School of Business and Technology in St. Louis and also a native Nigerian.
“I just got back from Africa last week, and driving through Lagos, Nigeria, I saw bumper stickers that said ‘Obama ’08,’” Akande says. “They were celebrating his candidacy as if he were running for president of the world instead of the United States.” In fact, many Africans don’t consider Obama to be an African American, but rather “they see him as an African and an American. They see Obama as an extension of themelves,” he adds.
As Obama travels to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe this month, political watchers say his popularity abroad will be underscored by the large crowds that are expected to greet him. “You watch when he goes to Europe,” Akande says. “It will be the most dramatic visit by any American [presidential candidate] in recent history.”
Other polls support that view of Obama’s global popularity. A poll conducted on the Website of British newspaper the Telegraph found that 52% of people in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia favored Obama, compared with only 15% for McCain. A poll of Britains alone by British newspaper the Guardian found that Obama