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The Debate From Overseas: Badger Culls and Talking Whales

Being in London for the third presidential debate changes one’s perspective; for one thing, since 9 PM Eastern Time is 2 AM in London, I slept through the actual event and read about it on Twitter and the internet before watching reruns. And the interest in the debate, though keen, is not nearly as overwhelming and all-consuming as it is back home. The Guardian led with its debate coverage this morning (“Obama emerges the victor in final presidential debate with Romney“) but then moves on to the second top story of the day: government plans to cull of thousands of British badgers are on hold in a wave of controversy. A national badger census has also revealed that Britain may have twice as many badgers as originally thought. There is no consensus about what the badger boom tells us about the state of modern Britain. The Guardian and the Independent also go with Noc the talking whale; presidents come and go but the English fascination with animals persists.

The FT was unimpressed; the candidates, it says, “hijacked” the debate away from foreign policy to focus instead on the state of the American economy. The FT, however, a little like this morning’s New York Times, is gently preparing its readers for the possibility of a Romney victory; it carries a graphic showing Romney leading in the polls.

Overall, the debate as seen from here looks similar to the first impressions coming from the United States: the President attacked and probably won on points, but there was no knockout blow and, given the overall trend in the race, this was probably a small net plus for the challenger. Many people here have not yet caught up with the changing conventional wisdom in the United States; except for those who follow the United States extremely closely, people here still think Obama is almost certain to win. That makes them happy.

The British on the whole are still very pro-Obama; a recent BBC poll in 21 countries showed that more than 60 percent of Brits polled want Obama to win, with less than ten percent rooting for Romney. Of the 21 countries polled, only in Pakistan did Romney have more support than the incumbent; France is the country where President Obama has the most support, with 72 percent.

If Governor Romney wins the election, one of his first priorities will have to be global outreach. Global public opinion may be shifting and fickle, but George W. Bush learned to his cost how hard it is to get things done when much of the world hopes you will fail, and when politicians overseas believe that being seen as your ally reduces their popularity. Governor Romney seems to have made some progress at convincing American voters that he could be an effective leader; overseas, there are very few people who agree.

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