Europe pays close watch to election
It’s dubbed Obama-mania.
Though a smattering of Europeans recently interviewed might not be up on the finite details of the U.S. presidential campaign, they do know the name of at least one of the candidates.
"Don’t ask me names, but I know Obama and the old fella, who was in the military," said Margaret Carrigan, a British employee at one of the Air Force bases in England. "And then the beauty queen."
This spring, a survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project 2008 of 24,000 people in 24 nations found Obama is the preferred candidate — in some places by overwhelming margins. "[A]mong Europeans paying attention to the presidential contest, large majorities voice confidence in Obama. … Meanwhile, relatively few have a positive opinion of his Republican rival, John McCain," reads a portion of one report garnered from the survey, titled: "Obamamania Abroad: The Candidate Can Expect a Warm Welcome in Europe, Not So in the Middle East."
In Germany for instance, 82 percent of those surveyed expressed confidence in Obama, with 33 percent in McCain, the report states.
The gap between the two candidates was slightly less pronounced in Britain, although it was still a staggering 30 percentage points — 74 percent have confidence in Obama, 44 percent in McCain, researchers wrote.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, which generated several reports, has not collected new data following the several months of post-survey campaigning.
There is no question that the U.S. presidential election is important to Europe.
"In a society ever more globalized, the role of the President of the United States is absolutely decisive, because the influence of the country he governs determines all the large issues that interest the planet, and involve not only all of the world governments, but also the citizens," said Ezio Monaco, the prefect of Caserta, Italy, a key political figure in southern Italy because of the large U.S. Navy presence.
A decision from the Oval Office, Monaco said, impacts not only countries politically and economically allied with the United States, but all nations because of America’s "military power, economic force, [and] political authority."
Given the close ties that Monaco must maintain with the U.S. military in Naples, he declined to voice support for one candidate over another. He voiced hope that the next president of "the most important democracy be guided from solid and secure hands, and a heart that knows how to handle a problematic world."
Mauricio Nickel, an 18-year-old German, is not afraid to say he is for Obama, though he doubts the first-term senator will bring about all of the changes he has advocated during his campaign.
"There is a lot of rhetoric involved," Nickel said of elections, speaking through an interpreter. "A person cannot take everything that is said during a campaign for granted."
Nor can American voters take polls for granted, according to Melanie, a 22-year-old university student who preferred to only give her first name.
As she studied in a Frankfurt coffee shop, she said that she hasn’t followed the U.S. presidential election that closely, due to work and class, but stated that Obama would be her choice if she could cast a ballot. "I just like his personality. He looks nice. I trust him," she said.
Geremia Ciotola, a 47-year-old window washer working in Naples, tossed his support to Obama. "He appears more modern, more sensible regarding questions of the world," said Ciotola, who catches snippets of the U.S. presidential election campaign on Italian nightly newscasts.
"There’s one candidate I like, but I won’t tell you," said Klaus Layes, the mayor of Ramstein, Germany, home to the largest U.S. Air Force base in the hemisphere. Both McCain and Obama, he added, "have the competence to be good leaders."
Some spoke well of McCain, citing his military service and many years in Congress. And yet when it came to a presidential preference, Obama’s name came up again and again.
"America just needs a younger president than John McCain. He is way too old for being the president of the United States" Anneliese Greif, 57, said during her shift at a clothing store in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
"Obama is young, he has ideas," Greif continued, speaking through a translator. "That is why he is the better choice than McCain. But that should not mean that I don’t like McCain. He might be a very nice old man, but, as I say, he’s too old."
Robert Schneider is a year younger than the 72-year-old McCain, so one might assume the Kaiserslautern resident is backing his fellow septuagenarian.
"The best thing for America and the world would be the election of Obama," Schneider said. "I am an old man, and I have seen how Americans came here to Germany and helped us to get along again after World War II. But Bush has not been good for German and American political relations."
Malcolm Thompson owns and operates Mickey’s Diner at Mildenhall in England, an establishment that has been feeding airmen for 58 years. He said he’s reluctant to endorse either candidate, but keeps up with the news so that he can chat with customers about it.
"I think everybody knows who’s going to win," Thompson said of Obama’s general lead in the polls. "I’m looking for the man who is going to make the strongest dollar."
Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Klöckner contributed to this report.