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What if the whole world could vote? October 30, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, US Presidential election , trackback

asks the Economist and tests it. They’ve asked their online readers to vote and constructed a worldwide electoral college. Lo and behold! the world electorate map is shockingly enough painted bright blue. It appears most nations in the world have a distribution in excess of 80-20 in Obama’s favour. Some people (no serious political scientists I hope) take this as evidence that the world supports Obama.

Economist.com voter map screenshot

Economist.com voter map screenshot

The world at large probably prefers Obama, but this “survey” does in no way confirm that. Why not? It’s really quite simple. The survey is conducted at the Economist.com website. And who are going to claim that worldwide readers of the Economist represent a fair approximation to a random distribution of the population? None, I hope. For example, I would expect the Economists’ readers to have vastly higher than average levels of education. This is further accentuated by the fact that not every visitor to the website can vote, just registered Economist.com members. This ensures that even those casual visitors not normally reading the Economist are even less likely to vote.

There is no easier way to prove the bias of the survey than just looking at the scores for the US in this survey. In this survey the US supports Obama by 81-19.

This isn’t even very original. I have seen several such maps made on the basis of different surveys already, and must have read a dozen different online articles on it.

So has the Economist suddenly gone naive and stupid? Of course not. This was never intended as a survey by the Economist, so just don’t make the mistake of treating it like one. What the Economist wanted was more hits to their website, and more registered members on their website. I’d guess this got them hundreds, if not thousands. It worked on me. 😉More seriously on the idea of global representative voting, The International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT) did something like this properly when they had gathered students from around the world last year. They put together a world parliament with a system of representative voting based on world regions to decide on a wide range of global issues. Read more about this experiment at tgde.org.

Comments»

1. Sonic Charmer - October 30, 2008

Trying to figure out the relevance of the question in the first place. Does “the world” also get to choose the leaders of Iran, Syria, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, etc. etc. in this exercise? For that matter what about France?

“The world” does not live in the United States and (rightfully) has no say over how those united states are governed. Their only real motivation in an exercise like this would probably be to vote for the person most likely to bend to “the world”‘s wishes on foreign policy matters and/or give “the world” handouts from the pockets of Americans. In that regard it’s no surprise whatsoever that “the world” would prefer Obama but the idea that this is something Americans should take into account is preposterous.

If anything, the fact that “the world” prefers Obama so much should make Americans more likely to prefer McCain.

2. sverrebm - October 30, 2008

I’m not arguing that this question is very relevant. Americans vote for the American president. Period.

What the world thinks will however have an impact on American politics whether Americans like it or not, and the credibility of the American president will reflect on the American status in the world. Not even the great United States of America is a bubble free from the influence of the world.

The world opinion doesn’t affect America much directly, most carpenters in Norway don’t interact too much with American politics. However, the opinion of the citizens of democratic countries will affect the opinions of their leaders, and the opinions of other world leaders will affect options of US policy. This isn’t true only in foreign policy, but also in for example economy and trade.

It follows from this that the opinion of most people in the world isn’t of crucial importance to the US election, but it’s not completely irrelevant either.

It’s true that there are a lot of arrogant attitudes towards the US in Europe, but if the fact that world opinion supports Obama means more support for McCain, that says a lot about American voters too….

3. Sonic Charmer - October 31, 2008

What the world thinks will however have an impact on American politics

You might be right. If so, that’s a shame. Because it really shouldn’t. No more so than what “the world” thinks has an impact on the politics of the Canadians, French, or whatever.

the credibility of the American president will reflect on the American status in the world

Since when are we supposed to be so concerned about and obsessed over “American status in the world”? Are we but a shy high school freshman hoping the cool kids will like us?

the opinions of other world leaders will affect options of US policy

Yes and no. Let’s suppose that Obama wins, and “the world” likes Obama, therefore other world leaders have a good opinion of Obamal. Will this increase our “options”?

Not so fast. Probably, the reason “the world” likes Obama is because they know he won’t do stuff they don’t want him to. In other words, because they know he will choose from a limited list of options.

So the idea that “having a leader liked by ‘the world’ increases our policy options” is self-nullifying given that to be liked by ‘the world’, you pretty much have to choose only options ‘the world’ likes.

if the fact that world opinion supports Obama means more support for McCain, that says a lot about American voters too….

I didn’t say that such world opinion would mean more support for McCain. I said that it should (if anything).

If it did, I suppose what it would say is that Americans don’t like being told what to do or how to govern themselves. Guess what: this is not a property at all unique to Americans. In fact, when others display this property we all seem to approve. It’s only Americans who alone are, for some reason, supposed to do what “the world” tells them to.

4. sverrebm - November 2, 2008

This reasoning presupposes that the interests of the US and the interests of the rest of the world are contrary, and that a good climate for cooperation with other nations is not important for the US to reach its goals.

If this is what you think, then we disagree. I believe that cooperation with other countries in the world will be extremely important, and thus it is not irrelevant what the rest of the world thinks about the US president. That being said, I think both McCain and Obama stand a good chance at achieving a significantly better rapport with most of the rest of the world than what Bush was able to.

5. Sonic Charmer - November 3, 2008

I don’t presuppose that our interests and those of ‘the rest of the world’ (as if ‘the rest of the world’ is a uniform, monolithic bloc! as if!) are contrary. Just that they are not necessarily 100% coincident all the of the time.

A good climate for cooperation with other nations can certainly be important for us to reach our goals, EXCEPT in cases where getting said ‘cooperation’ requires or involves abandoning our goals. Then it kinda defeats the purpose.

As an analogy, if you need to get to a city 100 miles north, then hitching a ride with someone else could be helpful. But not if they’re going south and will only pick you up if you agree to go south too. Then, what’s the point?

6. sverrebm - November 3, 2008

Of course ‘the rest of the world’ has anything but united interests. And of course the interests of the US will often be at odds with the interests of many other nations. And, yes, we agree that cooperation won’t be necessary on all issues.

On issues where it’s easy to see that there are coinciding interests, attitudes towards the American leader will also be less important, since the self-interest of other countries might make them overcome any dislike they may have. Where the leader might make a big difference is on issues that other countries don’t feel strongly, but the US takes a big interest.

An example: Afghanistan. This is an extremely important issue for the US. USA could probably handle it all on their own, but prefer to have allies. In Norway, the opposition to sending offensive troops abroad is extremely strong. The Norwegian government has to handle a strong internal opposition and incur significant political costs by sending troops there. The Afghanistan war is seen as led by USA, and the opposition has certainly become stronger due to the general mistrust of George W. Bush in the Norwegian populace. The result of this opposition is that the Norwegian government has placed a lot of restrictions on Norwegian troops in Afghanistan that are obviously contrary to US wishes.

If the Norwegian voters had a larger degree of trust in the American government, that opposition would be seriously weakened, and the US would have a much easier task of getting their allies to support them.

7. Sonic Charmer - November 3, 2008

“And, yes, we agree that cooperation won’t be necessary on all issues.

On issues where it’s easy to see that there are coinciding interests, attitudes towards the American leader will also be less important, since the self-interest of other countries might make them overcome any dislike they may have.”

Bingo. Two key points that lessen the importance of the U.S. having a President who is ‘liked’.

“The result of this opposition is that the Norwegian government has placed a lot of restrictions on Norwegian troops in Afghanistan that are obviously contrary to US wishes.”

This is an interesting example. So if I understand correctly, the cost the U.S. has incurred for having a President who isn’t ‘liked’ includes things such as: restrictions on Norwegian troops in Afghanistan.

No offense but all things considered this appears to be a rather miniscule cost. For one thing, I didn’t even know there were any Norwegian troops in Afghanistan. For another, even if there weren’t any Norwegian troops there at all, I submit to you that it wouldn’t make one whit of difference to the outcome either way.

It does make me wonder about Norway, though, this notion that they could find the Afghanistan effort important and yet put ‘restrictions on their troops’ purely out of a kind of puerile spite due to disliking the U.S. President. If that’s what you’re saying.

“If the Norwegian voters had a larger degree of trust in the American government, that opposition would be seriously weakened, and the US would have a much easier task of getting their allies to support them.”

This is an oxymoron. Allies, by definition, are ‘people who support you’. There’s no such thing as ‘allies who don’t support you’ and this concept of ‘getting our allies to support us’ is really quite bizarre.

What you seem to really be telling me is that Norway is not a reliable ally, which is perfectly within their right not to be, but changes how I view the situation in obvious ways. Best,

8. sverrebm - November 3, 2008

You misunderstand my reason for including the example. Norway is one example of allies that are participating in Afghanistan, but most of the rest of NATO is there too. And most of them have imposed severe restrictions on their participation. If they weren’t there, the cost in terms of money and lives lost would be even higher for the US than it is today. Still, they’re taking a lot less of the burden than USA would like.

I’m not saying that the Norwegian restrictions are there out of spite, but since a lot of Norwegians don’t trust American leadership they don’t want to have the troops there in the first place. The Norwegian leadership thus needs to sweeten the pill to make enough people accept it so the parliament will approve. The effect of a distrusted American leader thus indirectly affects the military situation for American troops in Afghanistan through the effect on the public of Norway and other NATO allies.

In a democracy things aren’t black and white. Norway is allied with the US through NATO and wants to contribute on important issues. Complete compliance with US agendas are hampered by a trust issue between the American leadership and large parts of the Norwegian public. The Norwegian government can’t afford to disregard those voters’ concerns, and thus can’t fulfill completely the role the US wants them to in NATO.

So Norway is a country that supports the US, but not as much as the US would like. The same is true also for more important allies like France and Germany. Not even the government of Great Britain is able to provide unconditional backing to all the US does.

This might not be the most important issue in the election, but it does matter.

9. Sonic Charmer - November 4, 2008

Re: contributions: there’s no denying that if country X contributes Y soldiers to some effort, then that effort would be more costly for the U.S. if country X didn’t do so. My point was that given the actual contribution levels we have seen, this effect is fairly negligible. It’s like saying that if I, personally, don’t buy a copy of Windows then Bill Gates will have less money than if I do; it’s true but not very interesting and doesn’t have a real tangible effect on anything in the grand scheme of things.

Re: mistrust, okay so what you seem to be saying is that (a) currently (because of who the U.S. President is) Norwegians “don’t trust” the U.S. and therefore contribute fewer soldiers/more restrictions than they otherwise would; thus (b) with a President they “trusted” (liked?) more, Norwegians would be willing (eager?) to contribute significantly more soldiers to the cause, and/or with significantly fewer “restrictions” etc. If this is your assertion, I simply do not believe it (the key words above being ‘significant’). Moreover, if I did believe it, it would lessen my opinion of Norwegians (or whatever other country is deemed to have this frivolous, flightly attitude about foreign policy) quite a bit. Again, saying that one thinks a cause is important, and worth contributing soldiers to, but ‘I don’t wanna cuz I don’t like your President’, makes one sound petty and childish. If that is, indeed, what Norwegians and others have been saying.

By the way, what, just out of curiosity, am I supposed to understand is the basis for Norwegians’ alleged “distrust” of Bush? What exactly don’t they “trust” him about? If they did “trust” the U.S. President, what would they be “trusting” him about or to do? I just have a hard time believing that “trust” is an accurate label for the dynamic here. Or, in other words, if by “distrust” you mean anything other than “partisan/political disagreement with”, I would be interested to hear it. I just can’t shake the sense that by “they don’t trust him” you really mean “they don’t like him because he’s not a left-winger”.

You almost let the cat out of the bag when you point out that a lot of Norwegians “don’t want to have the troops there in the first place”. Isn’t that the crux of the matter? I submit that the main reason there is this supposed “distrust” (really meaning dislike & disagreement) of Bush is that he did something they didn’t want him to do, namely invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sure, Bush could have gained those Norwegians’ “trust” by not invading Afghanistan in the first place. Obama, presumably, will behave in a more “trustful” way in this regard. And then, I suppose, Norwegians would be far more willing to contribute to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan! Only problem: there wouldn’t be one. This is precisely what I mean by self-nullifying.

When people dislike a leader for doing X, the idea that we can get those people to help us do stuff like X by having a leader who is not likely to do stuff like X in the first place is self-evidently ridiculous. This alleged advantage of Obama is vacuous and implodes upon the most superficial analysis. Which is not to say that Obama has nothing else to favor him; just not this.

10. sverrebm - November 4, 2008

The issue is of course complex. There are many reasons for reluctance in the Norwegian public.

Distrust with the USA isn’t solely the result of a distrust in George W. Bush, but it became distinctly worse during his reign.

Bush was unpopular even before Iraq on account of an arrogant attitude to the world, but the invasion of Iraq has certainly overshadowed that. I don’t think most people were so much against intervention in Iraq as they were opposed to the basis for invasion and the way it was handled. The Afghanistan issue was far less controversial, as proven by the fact that there are Norwegian (and French and German) troops in Afghanistan, but there never were in Iraq. Iraq was simply handled extremely poorly. A more diplomatically competent president could surely have rallied at least a somewhat better international support for the invasion.

Yes, partly it is a case of political disagreement, but it’s also a case of ability to sell American issues to the rest of a world in a way that makes other nations agree. If the USA doesn’t want to do everything on its own, that is an important skill in a president and something George W. Bush has been much worse at than his predecessors.

I believe both Obama and McCain have it in them to be a lot better at this – not relinquishing American interests in the world, but to convince other world leaders to accept them as being in their own interest as well. For example in convincing their allies that leaving Afghanistan is clearly the wrong thing to do.

Will a new president be able to convince Norway (and other allies) to contribute a lot more? They might possibly. The invasion is still unpopular with large segments of the population and one of the parties in the goverment coalition, but I do believe that a better diplomat in the Oval Office might make a difference.

You might compare Norway’s troop contributions with you not buying Windows, but if you take the total contribution from all NATO countries struggling with internal opposition it’ll make a difference even for the US. Bill Gates does care about losing market shares even if every single Windows user are insignificant on their own.

I’m not using Norway as an example because Norway is the most important country to the US. With 4 million inhabitants we’re clearly not. I’m using Norway as an example because it’s the example I know best and because it’s an example of a country that has always been a very close ally to the US.

Lastly, people disike a leader for doing X, the idea that we can get those people to help us do Y and Z by having a leader that is less likely to do stuff like X isn’t ludicrous. However: If X is more important than Y and Z to the voter I’m not claiming that X should have presedence. I don’t disagree with you there. You do of course have to at least agree at least a bit with the candidate in the first place.

11. Sonic Charmer - November 4, 2008

What ‘arrogant attitude to the world’ exactly? In what way did Bush display an ‘arrogant attitude’? (By not always doing what ‘the world’ wanted?) I notice you didn’t explain why the world ‘distrusts’ him. Can you explain what he was supposedly ‘arrogant’ about?

I simply disagree with the idea that most people weren’t “so much against intervention in Iraq as…the way it was handled”. What “way”? What “way” could Bush or anyone else have “handled” a proposed invasion of Iraq that would not have brought the same ideology-based opposition? There is none, of course. No, I do not believe that some other President, by being more charming (or whatever), could have rallied any significantly higher level of “support” for the thing.

More broadly, I see no evidence that this ‘the world’ you keep talking about could be convinced to ‘contribute’ to American efforts on issues such as the Iraq invasion to which ‘the world’ is ideologically opposed. And again, if I did believe that, it would only be by lowering my estimation of and respect for ‘the world’ significantly. It would be saying that ‘the world’ is willing and able to abandon their principles if the U.S. President sweet-talks them enough. Now that would be an arrogant thing to believe.

You say: “[if] people disike a leader for doing X, the idea that we can get those people to help us do Y and Z by having a leader that is less likely to do stuff like X isn’t ludicrous.”

Perhaps, but (1) if Y and Z are anything like X, then the world will dislike them too and not help us regardless (because they dislike X, remember?), (2) if Y and Z aren’t like X, then probably those people would have helped us do them anyway. For example, I’m sure a President Obama could convince ‘the world’ to support some sort of new Kyoto Accord that involves U.S. participation. But so could President Bush! Or McCain! Or virtually anyone else, for that matter. Again, this supposed advantage of having a ‘liked’ President vanishes upon inspection. The fact that a ‘liked’ President could convince ‘the world’ to help us do stuff they already support doesn’t strike me as all that helpful. It’s getting ‘the world’ to support us on stuff they oppose that’s the trick. But as we have seen with Bush, when the world opposes U.S. policies, they begin to hate and spew venom at the U.S. President (even if they try to mask this fact by calling it something slightly more logical-sounding, such as ‘distrust’), so we’re back to square one.

Again, I simply do not believe a U.S. President is able to talk ‘the world’ into going against their principles and helping do stuff they do not believe in, just by being a charming nice guy or good communicator. And again: if I did believe that, I would have to lose whatever respect for ‘the world’ that I may currently still have.

The bottom line is that people in the rest of the world have their opinions, philosophies, and positions, and I respect that. Those opinions may not coincide with the interests or wishes of the United States, and that’s perfectly fine. In such cases I shall not object or try to convince foreigners to go against their deeply-held convictions. More to the point, nor do I want my President to do so. I am content to let foreigners have and express their views; in short, to butt out of their affairs.

All I ask in return is that foreigners do us the same favor, and butt out of ours. Butt out of our elections, for example. Unfortunately, for many foreigners, that seems to be too much to ask…..

12. sverrebm - November 4, 2008

Well, on your last point we disagree. I expect my leaders to take an active interest in what happens elsewhere in the world. In the current world there are fewer and fewer matters that are exclusively somebody else’s business. Things tend to affect each other, whether we like it or not.

Americans vote for the American president, but I reserve the right to have an opinion and have an active interest in the result. Who becomes president of the USA will affect me as well.


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