Asked whom they would vote for if they could vote in U.S. elections, more than 90 percent of northern Europeans surveyed said they would choose to re-elect President Barack Obama. Ninety percent. That’s a pretty high number for any public opinion poll. But how accurate is it?
British media including Reuters and ITV are reporting on the new study from British polling and research firm YouGov which released results Wednesday of its online survey of respondents in the UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway.
Though Obama is clearly favored by the respondents, the results being touted are a bit misleading.
Take a look at the polling data above. In each country, far more people said they “Don’t know” whom they’d vote for than those who chose Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. In Britain, almost one-quarter of those surveyed said they didn’t know who they’d choose.
Perhaps to make the results more exciting, the polling firm YouGov recalculated its results to exclude the clearly large numbers of respondents who said “Don’t know.” When the results were recalculated omitting that key data, Obama was handed a virtual “win” of 91 percent in the UK, 92 percent in Germany and even 95 percent in Denmark and Sweden. In Denmark and Sweden, Romney enjoyed only 4 percent.
Including those who answered “Don’t know” Obama still received between 69 and 81 percent - so yes Europeans like him - but not at a rate of 90%.
That didn’t stop Reuters from reporting the 90% figure without explanation.
Trying to explain why Obama is so much more popular in Europe, it reports:
Romney, a 65-year-old former private equity investor, is simply too much of an unknown quantity and too right wing for European tastes, said Joe Twyman, director of Political and Social Research at the pollster.
"By continental European standards, Obama is considered right-of-centre or even right-wing," Twyman told Reuters by telephone.
"Then you have Romney who's even more right wing. You've moved even further from European comfort levels," he said.
In a Europe grappling with economic crisis and welfare systems that bond investors say are unsustainable, the rhetoric of the U.S. presidential race simply does not press the same buttons.
"Accusations of socialism (against Obama) don't exactly resonate somewhere like Denmark," Twyman said.
Europeans for the most part are unfazed by socialism. The pollster points out Denmark: that country’s current government is a coalition of the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party and the Social Liberals.
Another problem with the poll: though 7,500 responded, left out of the survey were the southern European countries like Greece, Spain and Italy bearing the brunt of the eurozone crisis whose citizens might have different political opinions.
Pollster Twyman admits many Europeans may favor Obama simply because he’s a known figure. “People know a lot more Obama than about Romney. After all, he's been president for a while,” he says.
Twyman himself appears to prejudge Romney's ability to prove himself, as reflected in YouGov’s press release about the poll in which he is quoted saying [emphasis added]:
“No doubt many Americans are not overly concerned about who Europeans think they should vote for, but on the other hand history has shown that when a president is unpopular with the people of Europe it can have a far-reaching effect on how those people view the whole United States.
Obviously, both candidate’s top priority is to win over the American public, but every modern president must also show that they can be an effective operator in the international arena. That includes being seen favourably by people in other countries.
While Obama’s support at home has waned, his popularity in Europe is still such that it is effectively overshadowing Romney who, even as the campaign reaches a climax, has yet to make much of an impression on Europeans.”
European impressions of the candidates are largely guided by mainstream media coverage and analyses. On the page where YouGov posted its press release touting the poll, one commenter wrote:
Is anyone really suprised given the media's portrayal of Romney? I am sure these figures would be different if people knew the facts about Obama's record, especially considering his stimulus did nothing for the jobs, and helped contribute to the US's crippling debt
Earlier this month, a BBC poll found that Obama is overwhelmingly more popular than Romney internationally, though the difference in ratings was not 9 to 1. The British broadcaster found that in every country polled besides Pakistan, Obama got huge approval ratings, including more than 60 percent in Canada, Australia and the UK, and 72 percent in France. Bucking that trend, an Israeli survey published last week found that 57 percent of Israeli Jews prefer Romney over Obama, who got only 22 percent support, a difference in popularity of almost three to one.