The incumbent President Barack Obama narrowly won a majority of the popular vote against the Republican challenger Mitt Romney, 50.6% to 47.9%. However, he won a commanding majority among the fast-growing Latino (71%) and Asian populations (73%), along with African-Americans (93%), according to New York Times exit polls. In other words, he swept groups representing the “Global South” or “Majority World” regions of Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The Obama wave among majority-world peoples is a global phenomenon. According to a pre-election, BBC survey of 21,000 people in 21 countries, residents in all but one country backed Obama. Only Pakistan, the site of massive, unpopular US drone attacks, preferred Romney.
To better gauge global opinions, we conducted written interviews with more than thirty native Koreans and international students from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America that attended two leading, Seoul-based universities: Hanyang University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS).
The consensus view was that Obama was open to peaceful cooperation with other countries, and that Romney carried the taint of belligerent nationalism associated with George Bush.
Mr. Danish Javed (Hanyang), 24, came from Pakistan, the only country surveyed to reject Obama. Despite the disappointed expectations, Danish still preferred Obama to Romney:
I think the level of expectations from Barack Obama as an individual and first ever African American president is still there, and although many feel that change was not so rapid as he promised in his previous campaign, he still makes sense to many people.
Obama is a better president for the USA, my country, and for the world, in my opinion, because if US forces are pulled out from Afghanistan, it might ease up the terrorist activities in my country from Afghanistan. [It’s better] for the world because generally he is a believer in negotiation and less violence, in my opinion, although drone strikes have increased in Pakistan; but American troop withdrawal is a good policy. Similarly I like the way he is easing tensions in case of North Korea and working on things with peace and sanctions rather than a war policy.
Mr. Mohammed Al-Sadah (HUFS), 30, Yemen, expressed more lukewarm support for Obama. “Maybe Obama, because I know nothing about Romney. Better the devil you know!” he joked. No matter who the US President is, Mohammed was skeptical that the biased, pro-Israel policies of US government would change. He asked the next US President “to review the USA foreign policy towards Arab and Muslim countries and the Israel-Arab conflict and just to be neutral.”
Ms. Kristina Kashfullina (HUFS), 20, also hailed from a country (Russia) with sometimes tense relations with the USA. She wrote that that the United States is no longer seen as the only one superpower and will have to cooperate with Russia and other countries.
Obama promised to be a more peace-loving politician and not as anti-Russian as Romney. In general, Obama seemed to have a more flexible approach to different international disputes which is always better than radical attachment to your policy’s guidelines. The President has to avoid violence and forget about the desire to prove the rest of the world, what is superpower number one, i.e., be more pragmatic.
In contrast to students from Russia and Moslem countries, students from Western Europe were less worried about tensions between their countries and the USA. They pushed Obama to be more progressive on social welfare, the environment, Israel-Palestine and Guantanamo. Wrote Mr. Axel Fix (HUFS), 21, France:
I think that Obama is better for USA because [because of] the big step in social health-care system and for rebuilding the economy. Concerning the world, it really depends on if he will make the big step for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. About my country, France, I think that we can have good relations with the USA with Obama. Actually our President François Hollande represents the Socialist Party, so the Democratic Party is closer to us in comparison to the GOP.
Mr. Jochen Sproll (Hanyang), 27, Germany, added:
Obama stands for environmental change and a green economy. If he will be able to continue his policy, the whole world will profit from that, when the US cut down their CO2 emissions. For Germany especially, it will be better to deal with Obama as a counterpart in world politics. He has won the world [Nobel] peace price and has promised to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA might be less violent with Obama. But he did not hold his promise to close Guantanamo, which is a big mess for the whole world.
South Korean students were in the unique position of living next to one of America’s major adversaries, North Korea. Lucie Kim (HUFS), 20, saw the President Obama as the leader who can peacefully resolve the conflict with North Korea, especially on nuclear proliferation:
If Romney became president, since he puts emphasis on military spending and national security, there’s more possibility for him to [conflict] with Iran, North Korea (those who were called ‘axis of evil’ by George W. Bush). His perspective came to me as American exceptionalism that could go hostile to other countries if their policy is not benefiting the USA. Since Obama created NSS (Nuclear Security Summit) and declared that he would try to engage both North Korea and Iran in negotiating manner, I think it’s more likely [that he would act] in a peaceful manner.
Mr. John Chung (HUFS), 21, also stressed Obama’s personal ties to Korea:
Obama is a strong pro-Korean who favors Korean education. He has also appointed many Korean-Americans to high positions such as World Banker and ambassador to the United States. And of course, he spoke at HUFS, when he visited Korea this year!
The students were unanimous in asking the US President (and Congress) for a stronger American, and global, economy. Fix said, “Indeed, the United States is the world’s largest economy, they need to rebuild their economy and work with the EU to resolve the global economic crisis.”
The Achilles heel in Obama’s global base was socio-moral issues, specifically same-sex marriage. Most of the Majority-World, including a third of South Koreans, claim conservative religious traditions. Mr. Cromwell Bature (HUFS), 39, Nigeria, and Ms. Ruvimbo Mbudzi (HUFS), 31, Zimbabwe, said that all of Africa rejoiced in the election of the first African-American President. However, they rejected President Obama’s unprecedented decision to endorse same-sex marriage.
Mr. Bature said, “The endorsement of gay marriage by Obama is something I detest because I am a Christian.” Ms. Mbudzi added, “I have serious reservations about Obama’s support on gay marriage. To me, it’s unacceptable and where I come from it’s ‘taboo.’ Biblically, sodomy and homosexuality are unaccepted and God destroyed Sodom and Gommorah for that.”
Said Mr. Eisenhower Lee, mid 30s, evangelical Christian and member of Korean-American Democratic Committee of Los Angeles, currently teaching English in Seoul:
In my opinion, marriage is defined as a union created by God between man and woman. Our entire history of humankind, marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Also looking into the bible, it is clearly stated that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe the state should uphold what is right and that is marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. As a Christian, God’s laws are supreme or are the highest form of law before any earthly laws. If this is a civil issue, gays and lesbians can do whatever they want but they cannot determine marriage for the entire nation.
Despite these moral objections, even religiously conservative respondents expressed continued support for Barack Obama, specifically over his Republican challengers. As a black man, Obama represented American freedom and opportunity. However, Republicans can take heart that much of Obama’s appeal is unique. A socially liberal, white candidate would garner less loyalty from religiously conservative, majority-world populations.
Secular, white populations in Western Europe and North America are declining or stagnating, while religiously traditionalist, majority-world populations are growing rapidly. Moreover, millions of majority-world Moslems and Christians annually emigrate to Europe and North America and make up increasing percentages of the electorate. A Republican candidate that combines religious tradition with ethno-racial inclusion and educational credentials, such as former Utah governor Jon Huntsman or Florida Senator Marco Rubio, would likely appeal to Hispanics, Asians, and Africans and bring global credibility back to the GOP.
This work was supported by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund of 2012.