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 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT