As I walked to the metro from my summer class at Stockholm University in Sweden, my classmate casually asked me who I am voting for in the American election this fall. My diplomatic answer is always that I am a Swedish citizen, even if I am very patriotic toward the America I moved to at the age of seven months. So my voting powers are void and my candidate preference is limited to a spoken opinion, rather than a cast vote. “Well, I’m rooting for Obama … from a distance,” she responds.
At a time when a wire-tapping law similar to the Patriot Act has been approved in Sweden, interest in American politics runs strong. This is in addition to the fact that Sweden (among other European nations) is on the receiving end of thousands of Iraqi refugees. Sweden has accepted even more refugees than the United States. Thousands of miles from the nearest American coast, the Swedish newspapers publish daily articles on the American presidential election because they know that this election has repercussions for the rest of the world—whether occupied by American forces or not.
To those abroad, the American hegemony needs a “change,” a motto that wasn’t crafted only by Senator Barack Obama. Foreign media used the term to emphasize the need for a readjustment. In Europe, presidential preferences are heavily based on the concept of diplomacy. For Europeans, Senator Obama’s image as an elegant, poised and well-spoken individual contrasts to the past eight years of political blunders, cocky mannerisms and a “with us or against us” attitude from the nation’s Republican president.
While some Americans view Obama as an “elitist,” many Europeans view Obama as eloquent, educated and even personable. According to polls taken earlier in the summer, immediately prior to Obama’s visit to key European capitals, between 53 and 72 percent of the German, British and French public would hand Senator Obama the election on a silver platter. However, Europeans are holding back on their public endorsement of Obama. Since France’s 2004 endorsement of John Kerry didn’t get the Democratic candidate very far, perhaps that’s a good idea. An association with elitist Europe is not desired in an American candidate.
Is European preference a simple case of Republican versus Democrat? The fact that during the primaries Obama was more popular in those European countries than Hillary Clinton proves otherwise. Excluding Nicolas Sarkozy’s rock star wife and his own chic Hollywood aura, Europeans tend to choose dry political leaders with clear political policies, like Germany’s Angela Merkel or Sweden’s conservative prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt.
At one point in Sweden I was introduced to an Egyptian woman. After she found out that I lived in the United States, she immediately told me that she hopes Obama wins the election. Obama’s background in Kenya and childhood spent in Indonesia gives people in the region hope that he, as a tolerant individual of mixed cultures, will be sympathetic to the ongoing Middle East conflicts, in contrast to an administration that has long been seen as an enemy to the Muslim world. Obama’s affinity for dialogue is a much-needed contrast to the confrontational policies of the Bush administration.
Despite public allegations, Obama has asserted time and time again that he is not Muslim. For those of the Muslim world, regardless of his denial of such claims, Obama is seen as a truthful, insightful individual.
As the faltering economy throws yet another curve-ball at the presidential candidates, economies around the world are feeling the impacts of the interconnectedness of the world markets. The solutions proposed by the candidates are being scrutinized on a global scale. As the world shows a clear preference, the American public sways back and forth between presidential candidates. At a time when presidential powers reach the workings of NATO, the UN, governments and economies around the world, it would be selfish and perhaps naïve to believe that the American presidential election is solely about the American people and their country.
Frida Alim is a second-year political science major. She can be reached at email@example.com.