Now that we're in the home stretch of an unexpectedly competitive presidential race, it's easy to get caught in the weeds of poll numbers and day-to-day horserace analysis.
Who's ahead today? Was that an exploitable gaffe? Was that advertisement a lie?
These are the questions dominating news rooms, chat rooms and many living rooms across the country, and fair enough.
With less than two months to go in this election season, it's not surprising that the spinners, pundits and political junkies are looking for any clues about how this crazy ride will end. But two recent international polls should make us all take a step back—if just for a moment—to realize how the world has already been changed by this extraordinary contest, regardless of who wins.
In a newly released BBC World Service poll, respondents would prefer Barack Obama over his rival, John McCain, in all 22 countries where it was conducted. In fact, Obama was preferred by a four-to-one margin among the 22,000 individuals surveyed in countries such as Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. In 17 of the 22 countries, the prevalent view was that if Obama were elected, America's relations with the world would likely get better. In 19 of the 22 countries, the most common view was that if McCain were elected, relations would remain the same.
Transatlantic Trends , an annual survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund and partners, points to similar overseas confidence in Obama over McCain. Forty-seven percent of Europeans in a dozen countries believe that relations between the United States and Europe would improve if Obama were to win, whereas only 11 percent believe this would happen if McCain were elected. Sixty-nine percent view Obama favorably, compared to 26 percent who have a favorable view of McCain.
These two polls suggest an openness to new possibilities abroad that echoes our sense of new possibility at home. Before this presidential race began, it would be fair to say that many Americans (and most African Americans) never thought they'd live to see the day when a black person would come so far in seeking the highest office in the land. Just eight years ago, a CBS News poll indicated that only 38 percent of Americans thought the country was ready for a black president. Now the same poll has that figure closer to 70 percent. Other surveys done this year have the figure even higher.
Given the deep problems Europe has had over the past few decades integrating immigrant groups and the heavy discrimination that exists against black and brown minorities throughout the European Union, Latin America and Asia, the fact that the international community has much more faith in Obama to lead the most powerful nation on earth shows just how far we've come.
Ironically, even countries such as Italy and France, which are often unwelcoming toward their minority populations from Africa and elsewhere, are among those that favor Obama the most.
Of course, the preference for Obama over McCain is perhaps largely due to policy preferences and a near-complete souring on the conservative American brand after eight years of George Bush, who is wildly unpopular overseas. But the idea of a minority president does seem to have particular resonance.
In the BBC poll, when respondents were asked whether the election of Obama, as an African-American man, would "fundamentally change" their perception of the United States, 46 percent said it would, compared to 27 percent who said it wouldn't.
We all know that the mind starts to play tricks once the impossible starts to seem possible. You start to have expectations. Once dreams are suddenly within reach, it's common to forget what the previous reality was like. In these last several weeks of the election season, as the stakes seem to grow unimaginably high, it is worth pausing to remember how far we've already come during this election cycle. The political and cultural landscapes have already been permanently changed for the better, regardless of who the victor is on November 4.
Spencer P. Boyer is a regular contributor to The Root.