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Governed by Conservatives, Canadians and Britons Shun Romney

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If Canadians and Britons could vote in the United States presidential election, the result would be a massive victory for incumbent Democrat Barack Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

In a two-country Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in late October 2012, Canadians would retain the current White House dweller by a 7-to-1 margin (72% would vote for Obama; just 10% for Romney). In Britain, just over one-in-twenty respondents (6%) would be willing to cast a ballot for the GOP nominee, while three-in-five (62%) would support the Democrat.

The overwhelming level of support for Obama comes as citizens in the two countries polled are governed by Conservatives: Canadians since 2006 (but under majority rule since 2011) and Britons, albeit in the form of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, since 2010.

While a casual observer may assume that Conservative voters would be significantly more in tune with Romney and the Republicans this time around, the numbers tell a different story. Only one-in-four Tory voters in Canada (25%) think that Obama has been "bad" for their country. In Britain, the proportion of Conservatives who are disenchanted with the current American president is just 11 per cent.

Three factors play a role in these perceptions: the past behavior of Republican presidents, the uninspiring choices offered by the centre-left the last time Canadians and Britons elected their national governments, and an idealization of what Obama's first victory meant and could mean in a different country.

In one of his tapes, Richard Nixon did not hold back when describing Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as an "asshole." In the 1980s, Brian Mulroney sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" alongside Ronald Reagan, only to see -- as he declared to Peter C. Newman -- that "a signal of friendship, [became] in the eyes of the media a signal of servility." In November 2004 during a visit to Ottawa, George W. Bush took time to thank "the few Canadians who came out to wave -- with all five fingers -- for their hospitality."

These tensions have also been present in Britain, particularly after the perceived notion that Tony Blair's relationship with George W. Bush was too cozy. Canadians and Britons have tended to provide a more positive opinion of Democrats, particularly Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Obama over the past four years.

The apparent rejection of the GOP by Canadians and Britons has coincided with recent elections in which the obvious center-left choice was simply unattractive. Michael Ignatieff led the Canadian Liberal Party to its worst result in decades in May 2011, and Labour's Gordon Brown was unable to hold on to his job as head of government a year earlier.

Still, there are signs that point to a tougher battle for incumbent prime ministers Stephen Harper and David Cameron the next time they face the electorate. Earlier this summer, Canada's center-left New Democratic Party (NDP) was essentially tied with Harper's Conservatives, but with many respondents expressing an eagerness to support the third-place Liberal Party in a new election, if it was led by Pierre Trudeau's son: current lawmaker Justin.

The situation is grimmer for Cameron's Tories, consistently in second place behind a surging Labour Party and with 64 percent of Britons saying that coalition rule has been a disappointment. In both countries, voters are pondering their options to move away from the Conservatives, but will rely on more inspiring choices than Ignatieff or Brown to see whether they can solidify their support.

The final factor that boosts Obama's popularity in Canada and Britain is the feel-good story that his victory represented. Many Canadians and Britons did not imagine witnessing an African American president during their lifetimes. For respondents who may not pay close attention to U.S. politics, this makes Obama a more attractive choice than any GOP nominee -- some are even shocked when informed that the president will not win as many states in 2012 as he did in 2008.

In the end, some Canadians and Britons may be idealizing Obama, and contemplating what he would do if he had to face the choices that Harper and Cameron have endured. How would a Prime Minister Obama have handled the riots in London, or a new debate on Quebec sovereignty in Canada? We will never know, but idealization usually errs on the side of embellishment.