A closer look at a deep blue world

Sick of the US election dominating all media coverage? Dreaming of a future date, perhaps two weeks away, when it’s possible that headlines won’t feature Sarah Palin?

You could always turn to international news, where the question seems to be, “What does the rest of the world think about the US election?”

In other words, “Enough about me, what do you think of me?”

That was more or less my response some months ago when some of the Global Voices team came to me and suggested we try to cover the US elections through the eyes of the developing world. Through the brilliant work of Amira Al Hussaini, support of authors like Hoa Quach and others, we’ve put together Voices Without Votes, a website that collects international blog perspectives on the US elections. Read today and you’ll discover reports on a shortage of pro-Obama yamulkes,
Voices without Votes, comments from the Philippines about a suspicious misspelling on New York ballots, and the reasons Cubans are hoping for an Obama victory. It’s been one of our most successful projects and one that I’m now inordinately proud of.

Just shows what I know.

Dominique Moisi at Real Clear World has an interesting essay wondering whether Europeans are “blue state voters” and Asians are “red staters”. Her argument is that Asians may be resistant to change and concerned about an Obama victory:

…a majority of Asian elites are awaiting the growing possibility of an Obama victory with some bewilderment and even apprehension.

For example, Japanese elites tend to favor continuity over change. In their mind, the hard power of the United States is more important than its soft power, and their vision of a United States that is “bound to lead” is largely unchanged. For them, Washington is above all the strategic counterweight needed to balance Beijing.


Recent image from theworldfor.com.

Guess those Asian elites aren’t participating in the various online polls designed to show how the world would choose to vote. TheWorldFor.com has Obama leading McCain 89%-11%, with only Afghanistan, the Ukraine and the Svalbard Islands favoring the Republican. Those change-phobic Japanese favor Obama 89-11, the same as the rest of the population sample.

Using a similarly unauthoritative methodology (allow people to identify whatever country they represent), the Economist has assigned the world an electoral college, offering electoral votes based on population. Obama’s dominating that competition, 8,954 to 88, with McCain claiming votes from Sudan, Georgia, Cuba and Macedonia. (How’s that for a voting bloc?) Oh, and the Japanese are 86/14 for Obama in their poll.

Foreign Policy’s map is lots more interesting to me, though somewhat less reassuring to fellow Obama supporters. Using data from the Gallup World Poll – which surveys people in 140 countries – they asked slightly more complex questions than “Obama or McCain?” Voters had the option to answer that they didn’t know or refused to answer. And they asked a second question – whether voters thought the US election would affect their own lives.

The addition of the third answer – don’t know or don’t care – is a fascinating one. In the Phillipines – one of the four countries where Gallup saw an advantage for McCain (28 versus 20), the majority (52%) didn’t express an opinion. Don’t know was the overwhelming majority in India, where 7% favor Obama, 2% McCain and 91% don’t have an opinion. Only 6% of Indian voters thought the US presidential election mattered to them – 87% answered that they didn’t know on that question as well. Given the shortage of undecided voters at this stage of the endless US election, perhaps it would behoove Obama and McCain to move their campaigns to the swing states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Even more interesting are the people who actively assert that the US presidency won’t make a difference to their country. 72% of people in Palestine state that it won’t matter who becomes the US president. (Israel is not included in the survey.) They lead a pack of nations that includes oil-rich Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, conflict-ridden Burundi, Pakistan and Lebanon, and some nations that are harder to explain: Estonia, Peru, Chile, Austria. The Palestinians, unfortunately, are probably right. And so are the Burundians, I fear.

For anyone who hopes that global support for Obama leads inexorably to victory… well, it’s worth reading up what happened when The Guardian’s “Operation Clark County” urged readers of that liberal British newspaper to send letters to citizens in a swing county of a swing state. Some argue that the letters – which were not well-received by many voters – swung the county for Bush instead of for Kerry.

One way or another, it’s safe to say that you won’t hear Obama claiming global support via any of these polls any time soon.

In the meantime, I’m getting a great deal more from the comments from individual bloggers from the rest of the world. An interesting – and cautionary – note from Naseen Tarawnah of the excellent Black Iris blog (from Amman, Jordan):

My reluctance to get on the Obama bandwagon has mostly been due to the fact that he has this seemingly cult-like following. He is seen as this messiah of change, and is described and depicted as almost prophet-like. I have a problem with anyone who puts that much faith in a single politician, especially an American president. If the on-going history of America has shown the world anything, it’s that change (in the positive sense of the word) is not a big factor in a US presidency. So I am constantly astonished by any Arab who is entranced by Obama and have to constantly remind myself that most of the fan base in this part of the world comes from a particular more-westernized demographic and have been swallowed up by the wave of US election culture that is dominated by Obama. Everyone is entitled to their own perceptions but I remain realistic to the degree of change that is expected with either candidate in the Oval Office.

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7 Responses to A closer look at a deep blue world

  1. Alaa says:

    I’m personally hoping for a McCain victory but that’s just me being nasty

  2. Ethan says:

    Any particular reason, Alaa? Is this a neo-Trotskyist hope for American revolution? Or a hope that McCain would inexplicably depart from America’s unquestioning support for Mubarak?

  3. Alaa says:

    I don’t think US support for Mubarak is Egypt’s main problem, Mugabe has little support but he is as difficult to get rid of, democracy in Egypt is a struggle that Egyptians have to win regardless of (and maybe even despite) American foreign policy.

    no it’s more a hope that Americans will continue electing the least competent candidate until the empire crumbles.

    after watching what seems to be the whole mainstream political spectrum in the US calmly discuss the possibility of military strikes on Iran I’m starting to get these awfully extremist thoughts.

  4. sampsa says:

    Excellent and very interesting post with similar links. The US election is truly too important to be left only for domestic politics orientated US citizens to decide.

    I’ve personally beted for McCains victory. I’m afraid I’ll win the bet. For some weird reason skin color is important in the States.

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