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U.S. Election Eve: A Global Perspective



U.S. citizens take to the polls tomorrow to elect the next American President. As the campaign (finally) draws to a close, how do others around the world view this election? And what has the 2012 campaign shown about the U.S. electoral process overall? I asked colleagues from around Edelman’s global network to share a snapshot of what their region is saying about the U.S., and while it was clear that our process is still admired, there are a few chinks in the armor. Common themes expressed include, how much of what the candidates are saying is rhetoric as opposed to reality? If Mitt Romney is elected, how would that change America’s position in the world? And most commonly, how can big money pouring into campaigns lead to a truly democratic outcome?


China: Taking a Pragmatic View
By Cindy Tian

Most people in China recognize that China-U.S. relations are critical for both countries and whoever is elected to be the next U.S. President will have to deal with China.

Recent history has shown that once elected U.S. President, a candidate may adjust his position towards China. For example, during the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Obama promised to label China a currency manipulator. However, this never happened and the Renminbi has since continued to increase in strength.

Such history has prompted the Chinese government to take a largely pragmatic view of the current election, understanding that much rhetoric happens during the campaign, but has also advised both candidates not to go too far in their “China-bashing.”

Some have taken this criticism of China to heart. For example, media coverage of the election is sometimes critical and angry over the amount of China-bashing being displayed by both candidates. On the other hand, Chinese media are also watching the election like a “show” and commenting on some negative aspects of the campaign, such as the link between big campaign budgets and election results.

In China, this commentary has also called America’s democratic system into question. People are now asking whether the American model is still something that should be followed – a contrary view to popular opinion throughout the 80s and 90s.

These questions come at a time when China is having its own discussions about political reform. With the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) taking place at almost exactly the same time as the U.S. election, it will be interesting to see the direction each country decides to go and, most of all, how these choices will affect future U.S.-China relations.

Cindy Tian is vice chairman of Edelman APAC and lead of the Edelman Public Affairs practice in China


Middle East and Africa: Watching the Elections Closely
By Iain Twine

It must be hard being an American. You get lambasted by the world for your foreign policy, and your sports are weird. Every four years even though I don’t have a vote in your elections, I pass judgment on your President and by extension your country. Not really fair, is it?

In the Arab world, we like to have opinions on everything, and the 2012 vote is no different and the criticisms are pretty clear from the Arab world. Rushing democracy in Egypt, sitting on your hands around Syria, underestimating the desire of  Iran to potentially go postal, and receiving mixed reviews to the death of Osama Bin Laden are all laid down at American feet on a daily basis around these elections.

The coverage around the election has been pretty significant. In general it seems the balance of favour is trending towards Obama as many express the view that he has a better understanding of the region and is less likely to show the nation’s military might.

The challenge is that whomever wins, the relationship and agenda is always going to be tough. The Arab world went through a lot of pain and to be fair some gain, under the last guy before the current guy. However the results pan out, the Middle East and Africa will be high on the Chief’s agenda.

Iain Twine is General Manager of Edelman Middle East/Africa


Latin America: Diverse Perspectives, One Clear Question – Do We Matter?
By Axel Flugel

Despite the fact that Latin America has shown large growth over the last 10 years, and that approximately 57 million people from the region live in the United States, the U.S. Presidential candidates haven’t had much of substance to say about Latin America.

From a Latin American perspective, this absence has been noticed. But it’s also true that Latin America isn’t as U.S. focused as it used to be. More and more opportunities lie in Asia. As Latin America exports commodities to Asia, many Asian nations are investing in Latin America, leading some to coin this new east-west flow “the second gold rush.”

While it’s hard to summarize a complete perspective on the elections in such a diverse region, it is basically true that pro-U.S. nations, including Chile, Colombia and Mexico, and countries with more anti-American positions, such as Venezuela and Peru, aren’t generally that interested in the election outcome. Their relationships with the U.S. are clearly forged, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House.

But nations that have had fluctuating relations with the U.S. are watching this election more closely. And this group includes powerhouse nations Brazil and Argentina, who are concerned that a change in U.S. administration for them can have a huge impact on their future. Jitters over uncertain election results rippled through the stock market in Brazil, with analysts voicing concern that we may be heading to another “too close to call” scenario as the U.S. did in 2000.  These nerves illustrate that while much of Latin America may be watching the U.S. elections from the sidelines, it’s clear that what happens in the coming days will have an impact on our region.

Axel Flugel is director of Edelman’s Public Affairs Practice in Latin America


Europe: Closely Watching the Race
By Martin Porter

Given its historic ties with the U.S., Europe and its political decision-making capital Brussels have great interest in the Presidential elections. The mainstream media in all countries has followed the campaign closely, and many organisations, such as the BBC, have sizable teams in place across the U.S. to cover the last days of the campaign, the vote and the outcome. The impact of “Superstorm Sandy” has only added to people’s interest and concern about what happens next in the United States.

Beyond this campaign, there is an overall fascination here with the way U.S. politics work, especially at the amount of money involved in campaigns, and the sophisticated strategies and technology that goes into targeting voters through social media. At the same time, there is some bewilderment over how much time and energy is put into negative campaigning. Some express that the system itself inspires wonder rather than admiration, and question how well it delivers a truly democratic outcome.

When it comes to the results, there is no question that most Europeans would prefer President Obama to be re-elected. In polls that are remarkably consistent across all EU countries, upwards of 75 percent of Europeans would vote for President Obama rather than Romney if given the chance – (see recent polls by the GMF  and the BBC. The reason for this likely is that the centre of gravity of European politics is further to the left overall, rather than any particular trait the President has demonstrated.

Political establishment in Europe would also broadly endorse President Obama, if all the think tank activity in Brussels in recent and coming weeks is anything to go by, including several discussions at Edelman’s own forum in Brussels called The Centre. There are several elements of Romney’s foreign policy, such as his greater apparent willingness to intervene in Iran that might make relations with the EU more strained. Furthermore, his lack of focus on climate change coupled with his recent “gaffes” made over the Olympics organisation in London have made him seem somewhat out of touch to many Europeans.

In all, common trade, military and strategic interests mean that a pragmatic approach to the next President will be paramount. There is a general expectation that a serious push towards a transatlantic free trade area will be pursued, no matter who wins, or how the Eurozone crisis continues to evolve, another topic of obvious common interest to each side of the Atlantic. But while much about the future may be uncertain, one thing is clear: many eyes across the EU will be watching the votes being counted.

Martin Porter is chairman of Public Affairs for Edelman Europe, Middle East and Africa


Canada: Does the U.S. Presidential Election Matter to Canadians?
By Cameron Summers

The answer is yes, and it’s not just because we’ve spent the year commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

For Canadians, the results of U.S. elections matter. America is still by far Canada’s most important trading partner. In 2011, two-way trade between the two countries topped $610 billion. Ninety percent of Canada’s energy exports go to the U.S. When energy independence is mentioned on the campaign trail, Canadians take notice .

That level of attention seems to compare favourably to Canadian politics. On Twitter, according to Canadian blogger Mark Blevis, more Canadians tweeted about the first presidential debate on October 3 than they did about the last Canadian election on May 2, 2011.

Canadians have an opinion on the outcome. According to Gallup, more than 60 percent of Canadians would vote for Barack Obama if given the opportunity. GlobeScan puts that number at 66 percent, second in the level of voting intent for the President behind France.

Canadians are generally engaged and have a fair level of knowledge of the U.S. political system. Canadians typically know what the Electoral College is, they comprehend the importance of key battleground states, and the influence of Super PACs. That understanding bears out in the breadth and depth of coverage of the election, and has long been a lead topic in the media. For instance, on Friday, (November 2), the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest news publication, ran a front page story on the viciousness of ads in the waning days of the campaign, and provided an analysis of the veracity of polling in the election.

Cameron Summers is vice president of Public Affairs for Edelman Canada


South East Asia: Watching China First
By Stephen Lock

In some respects, the remarkable thing about this election is how little everyone is talking about it here in Indonesia (and South East Asia as a whole). In part, this is because Indonesia is, generally-speaking, quite an introverted nation. With more than 240 million people in an archipelago of over 17,000 islands stretching farther than the continental U.S. is wide, it has a lot to be introverted about. But this introspection is very apropos in South East Asia right now: in Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, all are to varying degrees economics spaces of great opportunity (if varying success), but with a strong sense that the domestic body politic is not at ease with itself. Big changes may be coming. Some of them unpleasant.

In part also, however, lack of interest in the U.S. election reflects the undeniable truth that the U.S. is no longer the global thought-leader and unipolar superpower that once it was. Indeed, to the extent the U.S. election is being talked about, it is either very parochially (Obama having spent some of his childhood in Jakarta), or in startlingly different geo-political terms than would have been the case in the age of Reagan, Bush (senior), or Clinton, and that is, “what will China think about it and how will China react?

The fact President Obama grew up in Jakarta doesn’t decide whom Indonesians would rather occupy the White House. As the Jakarta Post recently put it: “And after four years of President Obama, many Indonesians have come to see him for what he is: a liberal with all the values and principles that most Indonesians (who are religious conservatives) would not feel very comfortable with…This is why, privately, many Indonesians feel more connected with Romney”.

Geo-politically, the big change has been America’s announcement that it will focus on the Asian theatre for its strategic military deployment (which Indonesia has largely welcomed). But America is more than the sum of its government actions (perhaps thankfully given the slow-healing global scars caused by the USA’s unilateral military actions in Islamic countries). America is still an idea.

As an NPR radio program recently neatly put it “…U.S. college campuses are bolstering American soft power… Most Chinese leaders have a kid at a university in the United States… At this point, America is again the soft-power global leader in everything from Hollywood to Harvard.”

In the 21st century America’s greatest influence in the world is likely to be in spite of, not because of, its Presidents. America’s leading campuses will provide the environment to nurture global thought-leadership. But, one wonders, will the best of those campuses increasingly feature foreign students being taught by foreign faculty leaders?

Stephen Lock runs the Daniel J. Edelman businesses in Jakarta and is Head of Public Affairs for South East Asia

Mitt Romney image by Katherine Cresto; Barack Obama image by Christopher Wiggins 

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