The World Weighs In on the American Vote

Polls conducted in various countries indicate that if foreign citizens and leaders had a say, Kerry would defeat Bush in a landslide.

By John Daniszewski

Los Angeles Times

October 29, 2004

LONDON — Officials estimate that as many as 120 million Americans will cast their votes for President Bush or Sen. John F. Kerry on Tuesday. But among the world's population, there must be many times that number who wish they could.

From dusty bazaars in Afghanistan to classrooms in Wales, the presidential campaign in America is being followed as closely as any local issue — sometimes more closely — in what is a testament to the power of the United States and the potent emotions sparked by Bush's global policies.

With so much at stake, world leaders have been less than circumspect about whom they want to win.

Iran's ayatollahs, for instance, openly say they want Bush reelected.

"We haven't seen anything good from the Democrats," said Hassan Rowhani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, on state television, which is controlled by the Islamic Republic's hard-line faction.

"We should not forget that most sanctions and economic pressures were imposed on Iran during the time of Clinton. And we should not forget that during Bush's era … he didn't take, in practical terms, any dangerous action against Iran."

Bush also gets a thinly veiled nod from Russia's hard-line president, former KGB agent Vladimir V. Putin, who apparently has looked into the soul of his White House counterpart and seen someone who shares his desire to wipe out terrorists.

Putin told a news conference this month that "international terrorists want to inflict the maximum damage on Bush and prevent his second term in office."

Britain's left-leaning Guardian newspaper is another matter. Tongue partly in cheek, it asked readers to contact undecided voters in Clark County, Ohio — the swing county that sits astride I-70 between Dayton and Columbus — and urge them to vote for their favorite, clearly Kerry.

The editors were overwhelmed by the response. More than 14,000 people visited the Guardian website to get the address of an undecided voter in Springfield, Ohio, and environs.

"At first the letters came almost exclusively from Britain, but as word spread, our inbox began to look more and more like a U.N. telephone directory," wrote Ian Katz, the editor of the feature section that launched the letter-writing campaign.

However, amid indications that the letters from foreigners could be having an opposite effect — alienating Buckeye voters from Kerry rather than boosting support for him — the paper called off the campaign.

The right-wing Spectator weighed in with an article headlined "Why the British Can't Stand Bush." (It being the Spectator, the magazine also tells them why they're wrong.)

Although there are supporters of Bush out there, polls from around the world indicate that if it were up to other countries, Kerry would win in a landslide.

The University of Maryland-based Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed 34,000 people in 35 countries from May to August. Its finding: In 30 countries, Kerry enjoyed the support of a majority or a plurality; in three countries, respondents liked Bush better; and in two they were tied.

On average, Kerry was preferred 2 to 1.

Bush was ahead in Nigeria and the Philippines. The president also led in Poland, which got special mention in the presidential debates when Bush chided Kerry — "You forgot Poland" — for not mentioning that European nation among the countries supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Another recent survey, conducted by 10 of the world's leading newspapers in 10 countries, also found Kerry the overwhelming favorite except in Israel and Russia. (The Israelis were 2-1 for Bush; the Russians marginally preferred him.)

Among the chattering classes, spy novelist John le Carre is nothing like his polite, diffident hero George Smiley as he rages against the Bush presidency.

In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times, he pleaded with American voters from his home in London, saying the world "looks on with horror, not just on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, but what you are doing to yourselves." "But please don't feel isolated from the Europe you twice saved," he told the U.S. electorate.

"Give us back the America we loved, and your friends will be waiting for you," he wrote

Across the channel, in France, anti-Bush feelings also run high.

President Jacques Chirac and other French leaders have generally refrained from expressing their preferences publicly, but lesser parties do not mince words.

"Fire the butcher Bush and get a president who … doesn't think he's the master of the universe," said Yves Contassot, spokesman for the Green Party.

But the opinions are not quite unanimous, at least as far as France's corporate elite is concerned.

During a TV talk show, "The Economy Club," Michel Cicurel, an executive at the E. de Rothschild financial company, said, "I have a friend who told me the other day that he'd rather vote for an idiot he knows than for an idiot he doesn't know."

Many world citizens are weighing how they might be affected by a Kerry presidency.

Residents of Cuba, on which a U.S. economic embargo was imposed 44 years ago, have seized on Kerry's support for an end to a U.S. travel ban as evidence that Cuba's bitter relationship with Washington could change if he is elected.

Kerry hasn't suggested a major revision of U.S. policy toward Cuba, but Cubans eager to see more Americans in their midst nevertheless pin their hopes on his winning.

In Venezuela, where the White House initially endorsed a 2002 coup against leftist President Hugo Chavez, the populist leader has deemed relations with the Bush administration "impossible."

In Mexico, spokesmen for all three major political parties have stated a preference for Kerry.

President Vicente Fox, who developed a friendship with Bush only to see it sour over Mexico's opposition to the Iraq war, has kept silent.

A top official in Mexico City said privately that Fox's government was rooting for Bush and a Republican sweep of Congress. "Any second-term American president in control of both houses of Congress, whether he's Republican or Democrat, is going to be better for Mexico," the official said.

Iran notwithstanding, the world's 1 billion Muslims, angry over the war in Iraq and Washington's tilt toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, generally oppose Bush.

Malaysia's former prime minister has urged Muslims in America to vote for Kerry on grounds that Bush has been "the cause of the tragedies" across the Muslim world.

"Vote Bush out of office," Mahathir Mohamad said in an Oct. 15 open letter to the U.S. Muslim community. "It is truly an ibadah [act of worship] that you perform."

Mahathir, who retired last October, said Muslims had "a duty to ensure Bush will not be able to determine our fate for four more years."

But the endorsement has not been welcomed by the Kerry camp.

According to Associated Press, aides to the senator said he rejected any association with Mahathir, whom they called "an avowed anti-Semite whose views are totally deplorable."

Presumably the White House was happier to hear that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in an offhand meeting with reporters this month, said he would be glad if Bush carried on, "since I'm well acquainted with" him.

Realizing that he'd made a gaffe by speaking his mind, the next day Koizumi backpedaled, telling reporters, "Japan will firmly develop the alliance no matter who is president."

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Times staff writers Sebastian Rotella in Paris, Richard Boudreaux in Mexico City, Carol J. Williams in Miami, Richard C. Paddock in Singapore, Robyn Dixon in South Africa and Bruce Wallace in Tokyo contributed to this report.