The world backs Kerry
Friday October 15, 2004
Millions of Americans are scratching their heads over how to vote on November 2 after the last of the three televised presidential debates left George Bush and John Kerry neck and neck over jobs, education, health care and taxes, with little mention of Iraq or 9/11. But the rest of the world, according to a poll we and several other newspapers publish today, has already made up its mind, backing the Democratic challenger by a margin of two to one.
Any sample, of course, is just a sample, but this survey of public opinion in 10 countries does include the US's two immediate neighbours, Canada and Mexico, as well as Israel and Russia, Washington's close allies in the "war on terror", and Britain, still its most loyal transatlantic friend, despite widespread criticism of Tony Blair. Unfortunately, Muslim countries are absent, though their inclusion would have made even gloomier reading for the White House. A recent Pew Research Centre poll, for example, showed just 7% of Pakistanis approve of Mr Bush, while 65% have a favourable opinion of Osama bin Laden.
These findings - likely to achieve a high degree of exposure because they are media-driven - confirm previous polls in underlining the degree of global hostility to President Bush and the Iraq war. Some 74% of Germans, according to GlobeScan, want to see Mr Kerry win the election. A June poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund found that 76% of respondents in nine European countries disapproved of Mr Bush's handling of international affairs, up significantly from a survey in 2002. It also found that 80% of Europeans polled - compared with half of Americans - said Iraq was not worth the human and financial cost. In Europe, only Poles would rather see Mr Bush back in the Oval office. Elsewhere in "new Europe" there is a distinctly "old European" wish to see the Massachusetts senator win. Further afield, Israelis are the only people to back the incumbent and to see American democracy as a model for other countries. Similarly positive views in Russia appear to reflect the hardline US view on Chechen terrorism: the survey was carried out in the aftermath of the Beslan school massacre.
Against this bleak background, the good news is that there is a clear distinction between anti-Americanism and criticism of US policies. No less than 68% of all those polled - with the French, Mr Kerry's most fervent backers, scoring a surprising above-average 72% - have a favourable view of Americans but are implacably opposed to the US government. Opinions of the US have worsened for 57% over the past three years.
Strikingly, though, political differences may now be casting shadows in other areas. Young Britons, avid consumers of Big Macs, Starbucks and Friends, are now hostile to American culture on a scale traditionally associated with the French. Canada, Mexico and South Korea feel even more threatened. It is common ground that Iraq and the GuantŠnamo Bay and Abu Ghraib scandals have eroded the sympathy generated by the 2001 terrorist attacks. Encouragingly for whoever does win, 90% believe it is important to maintain good relations with the US. The danger is, perhaps, of expecting too much from a Kerry victory.
Mr Bush may well wish to exploit this hostility, against a rival he has portrayed as caring too much for allies and not enough for America. Clearly, if the world had a vote, the result on November 2 would not be in doubt. The president is unlikely to be surprised that the Guardian, Asahi Shimbun, Le Monde or El Pais believe that Iraq is a "deadly and highly questionable war". That though, is the view of the Lone Star Iconoclast, published in his home town of Crawford, Texas. It matters a lot what others think about the US. But it is only Americans who can choose their own leader.