Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Are voters still picking leader of free world?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
HIDE CAPTION
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
172
173
174
175
176
177
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: President once considered leader of free world, a key influence in world
  • She says it's less so now, but world riveted on presidential election and its wide impact
  • She says Obama popularity had ebbed globally but is up again, now that Romney is opponent
  • Ghitis: World is attentive, because U.S. president remains most powerful person on Earth

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- There was a time, not very long ago, when it seemed as if each of the world's major problems and every potential solution pivoted around the United States. The president of the United States was referred to as the leader of the free world, and the term was not used with irony or mockery.

No one today would, or should, use that musty old expression, which dates back to the Cold War. For one thing, it's not even clear precisely what the free world is. Still, it's worth pondering whether if in the next election, American voters will crown the most powerful man in the world, the man who will lead the world's democracies and inspire those who aspire to freedom. In short: Does America, and the American president, still matter that much to the rest of the planet?

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

I spent much of the time leading up to the last two presidential elections traveling overseas. Back then, conversations with non-Americans revealed anxiety about the elections, which would result in consecutive terms for George W. Bush. More than once I heard the comment that the whole world should be allowed to vote in the U.S. election, because the outcome would affect people's lives everywhere.

For many decades, the security of Europe depended on Washington's protection, and the world economy rose and fell on the fate of America's economic growth.

A world view of the presidential debate
Piecing together a presidential win
Colin Powell backs Obama for president

Today, America seems little more than a bystander on many of the top global issues. The European economic crisis does not hinge on U.S. actions. Developing economies worry more about Chinese than American growth. Those who believed peace between Arabs and Israelis depends on the United States are no longer so convinced. The Arab uprisings, revolutions and civil wars have seen some U.S. involvement -- most notably in Libya -- but they have largely unfolded on their own stage, with America sitting in the audience, at times cheering, criticizing or just offering an opinion.

Opinion: What matters to women in the election

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



It would be easy to conclude that America's presidential election this time around is a matter of concern only to Americans. But that would be wrong.

The world remains enthralled with American politics. No other election on the planet receives a similar amount of attention. Not even close.

I have just returned from another couple of rounds abroad and still I see enormous interest in U.S. politics. Headlines everywhere follow the minutiae of the protracted U.S. presidential election. From Latin America to Asia, people heard about Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. They are intrigued that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and they have heard about issues of U.S. health care and American troops in Afghanistan.

Still, the sense that the U.S. election will have a direct and immediate impact on everyone's life seems to have receded compared to the days of the Iraq war.

Opinion: Romney's absurd idea on indicting Ahmadinejad

People with Internet connections for the first time had the opportunity to watch the presidential debates. According to YouTube, millions watched live, at all hours of the day and night, in 215 countries and territories.

One poll, conducted by Gallup in 30 countries, interviewing 26,000 people, found 42% say they wish they could vote in the U.S. election. The number is even greater for young people, which shows it's not just Cold War nostalgia at work in the emotional connection to the United States.

Nearly two-thirds of those asked said a U.S. president has a great impact on life in their own countries.

Over the years, many people have resented American influence and power. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the competition between the two superpowers left only one standing, the French, in particular, derided America as the "Hyperpower."

Resentment of U.S. power will never die in some quarters, but the polls show a majority of Europeans consider American leadership in world affairs "desirable."

When the president of France started pushing for Western intervention to prevent civilian massacres in Libya, it took American power to make it happen. With tragic symmetry, the massacres have continued in Syria as Washington decided not to intervene.

Bergen: Romney endorses Obama's national security policy

The world watches America's top politicians. It gets to know them, and everyone has an opinion.

A number of polls show Barack Obama is the overwhelming favorite to win this election; that's among non-Americans. The Gallup Global Poll found Obama ahead by 81% to 19%. Another poll commissioned by the BBC and conducted in 21 countries showed Obama ahead 50% to 21%. The president was ahead everywhere except in Pakistan, where Romney edged ahead, but neither candidate was liked by even 20% of those questioned.

Obama was enormously popular in Europe, Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Kenya, Panama, Brazil and other countries.

It's also not as if the world started paying attention only as the elections approached. Pollsters have been taking the temperature of global opinion all along. Obama came to office with enormous support at home and abroad. As his popularity numbers started coming down to earth in the United States, they did the same in other countries.

Early this year, the international consensus was against Obama. Just 46% wanted him re-elected, according to Gallup's March poll. His approval rating collapsed, particularly in Arab countries, scraping the bottom in Egypt at just 19%.

As the alternative emerged, views changed. Now that they see it's Obama or Romney, the world says give us Obama. I'll leave the explanation of that reaction for another day.

The United States has undoubtedly lost a great deal of the influence it once had. It doesn't always have the ability or the inclination to shape events. Power is more widely divided, but still today nobody has more of it. And that power is not just measured in money or guns. It is still measured in ideas and values. That's why polls show so many people still look to the United States and say they want America to hold on to its position of global leadership.

The entire world is paying attention to the American election, because the president of the United States, whoever he (yes, still he) is, remains the most powerful and influential human being on Earth.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT