By Clayton Crockett | LSU Student
Thanks to former President Bill Clinton, Democratic presidential candidates for the foreseeable future will hold a popularity edge oversees - or so maintain a panel of foreign students assembled by Louisiana State University to weigh in on perceptions of the presidential election.
"Before Bill Clinton became president, they didn't care who was Republican or Democrat," said Ahmed Abdel-Khalek, LSU alumnus representing Egypt on the panel, and students from the United Kingdom to Morocco and to Bangladesh agreed.
The Tuesday panel was part of an ongoing series of talks dubbed "Cookies and Controversy" and hosted by the Global Connections Residential College.
If during the Clinton years the world had seen a Republican act so leniently toward the rest of the world, things would be reversed, said Bangladeshi masters student Naser Imran Hussain, citing the Camp David Accords.
This was but one of the key reasons discussed as to why President Barack Obama holds his advantage in approval ratings overseas. History professor and moderator Meredith Veldman got the idea for the panel after witnessing what she called an overwhelming support for the incumbent while traveling with a study abroad group last summer.
"Every single person we met, be it our bus driver, the guy in the pub, the guy running the hostel, two eight-year-olds we were playing soccer with," she said, would tell them how they loved our president.
Electrical engineering graduate student Soufiane Haddani, who represented France and Morocco on the panel, attributed much of Obama's popularity to his simply being "cooler" than his rivals.
Viral videos on Youtube of the president "had a really big impact outside the U.S.," Haddani said, adding that Obama is seen as "really cool" in France.
Exchange students from the United Kingdom Jenny King and Leah Ireland agreed, but they noted that exposure to the candidates in the coming election was limited.
"We only ever see certain things come through about Obama or Romney," said King, adding that the limited coverage made online jokes about the candidates — like President Obama arriving to the 2012 Nuclear Summit in South Korea on a skateboard — far more effective.
"It's no use to anyone, but OK, he's on a skateboard. Obama just seems kind of cool, and for a boat load of people, that's enough."
Many of the panelists attributed Obama's popularity to varying degrees of emotional appeal around the world, from humor in the U.K. to a much deeper passion in the Middle East or Asia.
"Support for Obama is more emotional abroad than it is here," said Hossain. Though he expressed his views on the effects of American economic foreign policy on the Bangladeshi economy, he admitted race and color do have an effect on Obama's reputation and the degree to which the people identify with him.
Abdel-Khalek said not all expectations were met when Obama took office in 2008, though many in Egypt still see him as a better option than the alternative.
"Expectations were not met until the Arab Spring started and we heard some statements from the administration," he said. "I think he's still popular, but not the way he used to be in 2008."
According to the panel, Republican candidate Mitt Romney doesn't get the same amount of oversees coverage as Obama does, leaving him to fend off associations with the reputation of former President George Bush.
"During the Bush administration, there was a sense of being let down," said Ireland. "Going into Iraq — that was really unpopular in the U.K."
Ireland added that for Romney it "will be very hard to disassociate with Bush," and complaining about the organization of the Olympic Games in her home country didn't help his image, she said.