11/01/2012 06:31 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why Americans Should Care That Obama Is Preferred Abroad

International polling shows that with the exception of Pakistan, which splits 14 percent for Governor Romney to 11 percent for President Obama, the rest of the polled world would strongly prefer a second Obama term.

However, it is possible that this enthusiasm may be one of the very things that will explain why Obama might lose.

One might ask, what is it that the rest of world, and particularly the Europeans, know that Americans don't?

The obvious explanation of why there are such differences of opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere, is that the international community votes on a candidate's foreign policy while
Americans vote on the economy. The top three most important issues in polls in the US are unemployment, the deficit, and social issues. Only 6 percent said foreign policy.

If Americans voted on foreign policy, they would agree with Europeans. While on economic issues voters trust Romney more than they do Obama, on foreign policy these numbers are reversed.

President Obama is a 'European leader' with respect to international affairs. He is multilateral. He talks about a strong America but working closely with allies. As he made clear from his inaugural speech, he wants to reach out not just to friends but to those with whom the U.S. has a difficult relationship -- Russia, Iran and North Korea.

This posture has hurt him in the U.S. Governor Romney has pummelled President Obama for his 'apology tour.' He suggests that Obama has put America's foreign policy in hock to Russia, China and the UN. Obama has been mocked for 'leading from behind.'

Meanwhile, Romney has said he wants to build up the U.S. military (taking defense spending up to 4 percent of GDP). He talks about U.S. exceptionalism. In his Citadel speech on Oct 8, 2011, he stated, "God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will." It is a very different attitude towards America's international role from Obama's.

However, Americans don't vote on foreign policy. And so in this close election, the polls are beginning to lean towards Governor Romney.

But here's where Europeans are right. As the candidates made clear in their debate last week, foreign policy issues are domestic and vice versa.

The 2008 recession started in the U.S. but quickly infected Europe, and subsequently parts of Asia and Latin America. Last year's slower GDP growth in China led some to call it the greatest security threat to the United States. While Europeans watch America's response to the upcoming 'fiscal cliff,' Americans are paying attention to how Europe deals with the eurozone crisis. Economic issues are international.

Equally, some of the major issues that have been in the front of people's minds in the U.S. have been Syria, a war between Iran and Israel, the Arab Revolutions and Afghanistan. America doesn't want another war. China is again a political pawn in an election year for domestic reasons -- the fear that American jobs are being lost. So foreign policy issues are also domestic.

Whether Americans believe that foreign policy is the key issue in this election, increasingly, in an indirect way, it will become so. While Americans think they are voting on domestic issues, they really need to make sure that their candidate can lead them internationally.

Most pundits, myself included, will say that the two candidates have similar foreign policies. However, as the polls show, given their rhetoric the international response to an America under Obama or Romney could be quite different. And this could play out in each candidate's ability to build coalitions and work internationally. Americans need to realize that while they may care most about economic issues, this cannot be split from international affairs. They need a president who can do it all.