Scrolling through the world and Asia news sections on CNN and NPR like I do most evenings, I came across a poll summary that was a refreshing change from what I usually spend my time scouring over. This poll was conducted by AFP-Ipsos, a Hong Kong-based think tank. The survey targeted two major economic forces with which we share incredibly important ties: China and Japan. I was most surprised by the results from Japan, primarily because of how decisive they were. We’ve gotten used to surveys in which the difference of opinion varies by a tenth of a percentage point, so it was interesting to find so many people agreeing on something.
The big statistic to note was of course the one pertaining to the result of our coming election: Who do you want to be the next president of the United States? Overwhelmingly, the answer from Japan was reelection for President Obama, at 86% (around 116,000,000 people). Forgive me for being obvious, but that’s a lot of people! There were other important questions in this survey, too, such as which candidate would be best for Asian economic development (Obama at 81.8%) and which candidate would better handle security issues and encourage peace in the region (Obama at 85.3%).
I began to wonder what had generated such strong opinions or even such a remarkable interest in a foreign political election (and can this ability to focus be imported??).
As it turns out, Japanese opinion was shaped primarily by a few huge events, in contrast to our country where little events can have the bigger impact on public opinion. Major events cited include anti-nuclear efforts directed at Pyongyang, promise of the removal of US Marines from the US base in Okinawa, and the end of the war in Iraq and the wind down of the war in Afghanistan. Based on his stance on these issues and his past actions, President Obama is perceived as being tough on the most volatile of situations, sensitive to the issues that most affect every day people, and ultimately a man who is striving for peace across all borders. It has become obvious to observant Japanese that ours is a president with a long term plan and an interest in their region, something that was woefully lacking in previous administrations.
While the next figure wasn’t quite so large, I remain blown away by how many people in Japan have been paying attention. And to our elections no less! Another independent poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that 63% of Japanese are paying “close attention” to the race; this number is second only to the United States itself, at a lackluster 66%. Whatever their opinion and without any partisan input, I think it’s remarkable that another country is following our elections so closely; I mean, can we claim the same distinction? Can you tell me, for example, who the Prime Minister of Japan is right now, or when he attained that post?
We’re in a time and a place where we’ve become jaded to the movements of our political machine. It keeps lumbering on, affecting our lives on so many levels, but we ignore the tremors as they arrive: there are more interesting things to do. The election may not be pleasant or inspiring, but it carries with it considerable weight. The consequences of our presidential election are already rumbling across the world, whether we choose to pay attention or not.
Image source: photo.tenharmsel.com