Election 2020

Biden Hasn’t Won Europe

Europeans don’t like Trump—but they’re also not sure what they think about the United States at all.

By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and a Europe correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.
A pedestrian walks past anti-Donald Trump street art in Paris on Oct. 31.
A pedestrian walks past anti-Donald Trump street art in Paris on Oct. 31. Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

Most Europeans cannot vote in the U.S. election, but they are watching it with suspense. Everywhere—on the internet, on TV, in newspapers—they discuss the ins and outs with an eye for detail and historic context that one hardly ever sees during a European election campaign. In Europe, everyone seems to be a “U.S. specialist,” but “EU specialists” are rare.

Europeans are opinionated about the U.S. election, too. In a timely publication, Isabell Hoffmann of the Bertelsmann Foundation and Catherine de Vries, a political scientist at Milan’s Bocconi University, asked Europeans whom they would vote for and what they thought about the United States. Unsurprisingly, 45 percent of respondents said they wanted Joe Biden to win, while 17 percent supported Donald Trump. But the surprise was that the rest said they would vote for neither candidate. That’s 38 percent of respondents—a lot. How is this possible in a Europe where—except for Poland—the dislike of Trump is so pronounced?

Zooming in, one sees that this “neither” option scores best in Southern European countries: in Spain, Italy, and, to a certain extent, France. In those countries, resentment with the United States, its capitalist system, and its foreign policy has always been stronger felt than in Northwestern Europe (which has a more trans-Atlantic orientation) and Eastern Europe (where the United States still gets credit for its anti-communist positioning in the Cold War). Moreover, Europeans seem to have lost faith in the effectiveness of U.S. democracy altogether during the past few years.

Most Europeans cannot vote in the U.S. election, but they are watching it with suspense. Everywhere—on the internet, on TV, in newspapers—they discuss the ins and outs with an eye for detail and historic context that one hardly ever sees during a European election campaign. In Europe, everyone seems to be a “U.S. specialist,” but “EU specialists” are rare.

Europeans are opinionated about the U.S. election, too. In a timely publication, Isabell Hoffmann of the Bertelsmann Foundation and Catherine de Vries, a political scientist at Milan’s Bocconi University, asked Europeans whom they would vote for and what they thought about the United States. Unsurprisingly, 45 percent of respondents said they wanted Joe Biden to win, while 17 percent supported Donald Trump. But the surprise was that the rest said they would vote for neither candidate. That’s 38 percent of respondents—a lot. How is this possible in a Europe where—except for Poland—the dislike of Trump is so pronounced?

Zooming in, one sees that this “neither” option scores best in Southern European countries: in Spain, Italy, and, to a certain extent, France. In those countries, resentment with the United States, its capitalist system, and its foreign policy has always been stronger felt than in Northwestern Europe (which has a more trans-Atlantic orientation) and Eastern Europe (where the United States still gets credit for its anti-communist positioning in the Cold War). Moreover, Europeans seem to have lost faith in the effectiveness of U.S. democracy altogether during the past few years.

Still, when Europeans are asked to name their country’s closest partner, they prefer the United States over any other non-European country by a wide margin—mostly for economic reasons but also for political reasons and a little bit because they think Europeans and Americans share similar values.

This same pragmatic attitude is reflected in a recent article by German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Politico, in which she points out that anti-American sentiment is on the rise in Germany, a country that has solidly relied on U.S. protection and trust since World War II. It is becoming hard, she writes, to make a strong case for trans-Atlantic relations these days. “But the case must be made.”

[For more of FP’s coverage on the 2020 U.S. election, check out Postcards From the Wedge, our series on how niche foreign-policy issues are playing out in key battleground races, The World’s Election, our collection of articles on how other countries are watching the Nov. 3 vote, and What We’re Missing, a set of daily takes from leading global thinkers on foreign-policy issues not getting enough attention during the campaign.]

Caroline de Gruyter is a columnist at Foreign Policy and a Europe correspondent and columnist for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. She currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

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