25 October 2008

The View from France

It shouldn't come as any surprise, bu the French are following the American election very closely. Every night there are updates on the evening news and several times per week there are in-depth analysis pieces. Compare that to how many times you heard the names Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

It should also not be any surprise that, like the rest of the world, the French vastly favor Obama. Where I and the average French person disagree, however, is in the the likelihood that Obama will actually be elected. Some of this skepticism is based on the national reporting that implies that the race is far closer than it actually is. Earlier this week, the anchor on one of the major national evening news broadcasts did an overview of the state of the race (Obama way ahead in the polls, massive turnout for early voting, etc...) and then reminded the viewers that "at this point in 2004, Kerry was said to be winning." First, look at this data and you will see that they must have been a bit too optimistic in their poll reporting to have given the lead to Kerry. Second, and more importantly, the equivalence that he is drawing between 2004 is absurd. Compare the 2004 data set to this year's (and this is coming from RealClearPolitics, a site with a Republican bias) and it's obvious from the numbers alone that any equivalence, even any comparison, between the two years is totally off base.

In addition to this inaccurate reporting on the state of the race, you have certain stereotypes and misconceptions held by many French people about the United States that cloud their vision of reality. (I should put two disclaimers here; first, American have plenty of inaccurate stereotypes of the French and, second, many Americans hold similar stereotypes about other Americans.) The most commonly reported concern is that the polls are overstating the average American's willingness to vote for a black man, the famous "Bradley effect". The second is a more generic belief that has been learned over the past eight years that the United States can't possibly elect a decent President. Bush's reelection in 2004 really drove this point home when much of the French had their hopes dashed on November 3rd (the French media misrepresenting the polling certainly had something to do with this).

Looking at this, I realize that the French position is not that far off from many of the Americans that I've spoken with. I routinely find myself being the only person in a group to be confident that Obama will win, the common response is this very French skepticism of, "Well, I certainly hope he will, but I just don't know..." I wrote about my confidence way back before the conventions and perhaps it's time to revisit. Suffice it to say, that nothing has really changed, I take the lead from fivethirtyeight and am more than 90% confident that Obama will win (based on current polling).

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