We're Not Electing a President of the World
The poll numbers haven’t made very encouraging reading for Barack Obama. At a time he was expected to dominate, the race has been close, and the McCain/Palin ticket edged ahead by a couple of points in several polls, while states that a few months ago were solidly blue are turning a worrying shade of purple.
There is, however, one poll which should bring cheer to the Obama camp. In this poll, voters prefer Obama over John McCain by a margin of four to one – 49% to 12%. There’s just one problem: none of the people who took part in the poll are eligible to vote in November. In fact they’re not eligible to vote in any U.S. election, because they're not U.S. citizens.
The poll was carried out for the BBC in 22 countries by Globescan and the University of Maryland-based Program on International Policy Attitudes. In addition to wanting to see Obama elected, a majority of respondents in 17 of the 22 countries believed America’s relations with the rest of the world would improve under an Obama presidency, while a majority in 15 countries said an Obama victory would 'fundamentally alter' their perception of America. The detailed results, and analysis, are here.
In some respects the results are understandable. Obama was the subject of huge media interest around the world during his primary battle against Hillary Clinton. McCain has enjoyed no such attention, although the polling was carried out before the pick of Sarah Palin to be his running mate raised the profile of his campaign.
However, it's worth noting that polls produced by the BBC/GlobeScan/PIPA partnership have a habit of producing results that chime conveniently with the BBC’s soft-left worldview. Take, for example, the poll in which a majority of respondents from various countries said Iran could be dissuaded from developing nuclear weapons; the poll/in which a majority agreed that loss of innocent life was preferable to torturing terror suspects; or the poll in which a majority said too much "globalization" -- aka free trade -- was a bad thing. PIPA's latest offering, via its World Public Opinion project, is headlined "No Consensus on Who was Behind 9/11."
Then of course there's the annual BBC/GlobeScan/PIPA celebration of American unpopularity, a poll in which the U.S. is consistently ranked among the least-liked countries in the world. There was a slight improvement in this year's results, but the U.S. still enjoyed less favorable ratings than those bastions of democracy and freedom, Russia and China. The only countries viewed less favorably than the US were North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and, of course, Israel.
GlobeScan's Chairman, Doug Miller, is suitably pleased with his latest effort, telling the BBC: “Large numbers of people around the world clearly like what Barack Obama represents." Miller continued: “Given how negative America’s international image is at present, it is quite striking that only one in five think a McCain presidency would improve on the Bush Administration’s relations with the world.”
An insight into Miller's and GlobeScan's worldview can be found in this extract from the "chairman's message" on the company's website:
At the same time, we consider ourselves part of the democratic process, "letting the people speak" to decision-makers on matters that affect them -- at meetings of world leaders, expert forums, and the boardrooms of major companies.
To which one could respond that the people get to "speak" to decision makers through democratic elections, in the choices they make as consumers, and through pressure groups and other bodies. What does GlobeScan think its less-than-convincing poll findings, filtered through a biased media, add to the discourse?
What Miller appears to be talking about is "community organizing" on a global scale -- in which case it’s hardly surprising that GlobeScan should produce a poll which suggests the majority of the world is rooting for the most famous community organizer on the planet.
Miller boasts that GlobeScan is "passionately neutral," and perhaps they believe they are. But then so does the mainstream media, which over the past few years has waged a relentless campaign of misinformation against the Bush administration. A "Note to Editors" in the BBC's analysis of the poll mentions that "America's global image has suffered in recent years." It might have added "Job done."
None of the above means the BBC's latest poll doesn't reflect world opinion to some degree, but it does suggest that we can treat the findings with skepticism. (Questions about the methodology should also be raised by the fact that the same poll found 38% of Americans favor Obama for president and 36% favor McCain, with a full quarter of voters listed as "other," "either," "neither" or "don’t know": results that differ dramatically from any other recent poll.)
However, let’s imagine that the methodology of GlobeScan and and PIPA is flawless, and that the poll is, in fact, an accurate barometer of world opinion.
What qualifies the rest of the world to pass judgement on who should lead America? If the BBC and its associates really wanted to carry out an interesting poll, they might want to establish just how much people in other countries actually know about American politics in general, and about Barack Obama in particular, before trying to kid us that the views of those people count for anything.
Do people outside the U.S. know who Bill Ayers is? It's unlikely. Try searching the BBC news website, for example, and you'll find one passing reference buried in a report filed during Obama's primary campaign in April. Do they know about the Annenberg Challenge, or Tony Rezko? Do they know about the Obama campaign's efforts to shut down discussion about their candidate? Certainly, talking to fellow Britons about the election, I've encountered a level of enthusiasm for Obama that's matched only by the level of ignorance about the man, and the issues.
And why does the BBC think the results of its poll are newsworthy, other than to demonstrate that the whole world agrees with it? If they think the results might embarrass Americans into voting for Obama, they're likely to be disappointed. Domestic reaction to The One's trip to Germany reminded us that Americans don't exactly lie awake at night fretting about how they're perceived in Europe. And when Britain's hard-left Guardian newspaper tried to intervene in the 2004 election by writing to voters in Ohio and urging them to vote for John Kerry, the stunt backfired, and the Guardian was credited with helping Bush to win the state.
Not to be deterred, the Guardian is at it again this year, making threatening noises about the consequences of an Obama defeat, most notably in this piece by Jonathan Freedland. (The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto subjects Freedland to the necessary ridicule here .) McCain supporters should hope that the Guardian, the BBC, and others keep up the good work.
There is, of course, always going to be some hostility towards the U.S. in countries that it has defeated (Russia), defeated and then helped to rebuild (Germany), or liberated (Europe, twice), and those whose security it guarantees. It's also only natural to envy the biggest and the best, to resent the influence of their culture on yours, and to be suspicious of their intentions.
Fortunately for the rest of the world, American presidents have long understood that global leadership is not a popularity contest. If they'd thought otherwise, the Berlin Wall would still be standing, and would probably be a few hundred miles west of its former location (assuming Russia defeated Germany in World War 2; if Germany had prevailed -- well, I wonder how many Democrats wished America was "more like France" in 1940?). There would be no South Korea or Taiwan, and quite possibly no Israel (not a big selling point for the left, I know). And Saddam Hussein would still be torturing and gassing opponents in Iraq, Kuwait, and who knows where else.
John McCain is the natural heir to this tradition of responsible and courageous leadership. By contrast, popularity often seems to be the only aspect of leadership that Obama understands. His succession of U-turns on key positions, and his pledges to eviscerate America's defenses, have shown that he's more concerned with saying and doing what he thinks will win him votes and admiration than with doing what's right.
If the BBC's poll is to be believed, a lot of people are going to be very happy should Obama win in November. But they won't be nearly as happy as the leaders of Russia, Iran and North Korea. Because if Obama is elected it will be a clear signal to the rest of the world that, while it may be greatly exercised by goings on in America, Americans are becoming less concerned with the fate of other nations -- progressives have never been keen on foreign adventures, what with so much needing to be "fixed" at home. And it won’t be long before we see the beginnings of buyer’s remorse on a global scale.
A final thought: A BBC poll conducted ahead of the 2004 election found that a majority in 30 of 35 countries wanted John Kerry to defeat George Bush -- and we know what happened there. That’s the trouble with winning the support of the whole world.
Campaigning is easy. It's turning out the vote that's the tricky part.