LESBOS, Greece — The same chasm that has divided American voters in this presidential election has opened up abroad too. And while different countries favor different candidates, there’s a widespread disbelief that the contest to run the world’s reigning superpower has come down to the two candidates left in the race.
Many foreigners are critical of Hillary Clinton’s record but still support the Democratic candidate as the better — and safer — choice, while others acknowledge Republican nominee Donald Trump’s shortcomings but find ways to root for the real estate tycoon.
Mrs. Clinton, a former first lady and much-traveled secretary of state, is a known commodity — for good or ill — for international observers trying to gauge the impact of Nov. 8’s vote. It is the unexpected success of Mr. Trump and his message that is the wild card for many around the world. For many traditional U.S. allies, the GOP nominee’s positions on immigration, trade and foreign policy put him beyond the pale, while, for many traditional rivals, notably Russia and China, Mr. Trump’s willingness to question mainstream U.S. foreign policy thinking is what makes him intriguing.
In Germany, many expressed bewilderment that Americans were even considering voting for Mr. Trump, whom they regard as a buffoon. “Is Trump a Sex Monster?” asked a headline last week in the country’s biggest tabloid, Bild.
“I found it funny that Trump was running in the beginning, but now it’s a bit sad,” said Christian Esker, 24, a graduate student at the Hertie School of Government in Berlin. “It’s his style of politics — lying and using flashy facts. For German politics, he is too much of a showman.”
Mr. Esker’s views echoed the findings of an opinion survey conducted in 25 countries in June by French polling firm IPSOS. Only Russian and Chinese citizens would elect Mr. Trump were they given a vote, the poll found. Mrs. Clinton swept the other countries, garnering particularly heavy majorities in France and Germany.
Halfway around the globe, fewer than a third of Indians supported Mr. Trump, according to the IPSOS poll, but the feelings there on Mrs. Clinton were also mixed. The approximately 20 Indians who attended a pro-Trump rally in central Delhi’s Jantar Mantar Square Wednesday burned an effigy of the former first lady because they felt she was not sufficiently tough on Pakistan or Islamic terrorism while serving as secretary of state during President Obama’s first term in office.
The demonstrators lauded Mr. Trump for his complimentary remarks in New Jersey on Saturday about India’s pro-business Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been criticized for promoting Hinduism at home and abroad in technically secular India.
Mr. Trump “would be the better U.S. president because Hillary Clinton was the one who had initiated the Islamic State,” said Rashmi Gupta, who is a member of Jindu Sena, an activist group that promotes Hinduism in Indian society. “Obama has been in power for eight years, but what have the Democrats done? There is no pressure on Pakistan. If Hillary Clinton comes back to power, it will be the same thing. If Trump gets in power in the U.S., India will get an extra boost.”
Like many around the world, Indians are following the ins and outs of the raucous American campaign surprisingly closely.
Ms. Gupta waved off the recent string of sexual harassment allegations that have been leveled against Mr. Trump. “These people are coming up, and they are sabotaging the Trump campaign after 17 or 20 years,” she said. “There is no legal action; there is no police complaint.”
Ms. Gupta and her friends say they support an “India First” policy, and see no problem with Mr. Trump pushing his own “America First” stance toward the rest of the world, they said.
For and against the status quo
Her view illustrates how foreigners’ feelings about the American presidential elections reflect their opinions on the current state of international relations. Like American voters who say they want to change the ways of Washington, those unhappy with the international status quo are far more willing to give the Republican nominee a hearing.
Many in India and countries outside the orbit of American alliances feel like their country is struggling against the odds to grow and develop. They want an American president who is going to shake up world politics, not keep things as they are, said Spyros Sofos, professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden.
Hillary Clinton “envisages continuity with a tradition that sees the U.S. active in the world, more commitment to multilateralism, but also treats Russian aspirations — as well as Chinese assertiveness — as a potential threat,” said Mr. Sofos. “Trump would pursue a more isolationist course with more unilateralism where engagement would be deemed necessary.”
But it’s not always ideology or self-interest that drives foreign sentiment about the U.S. vote.
In Kenya, where Mr. Obama’s father was born, most people were firmly behind Mrs. Clinton, seeing her as continuing the legacy of the first Kenyan-American president. Mr. Trump suffers by comparison.
“If Trump respects women as he says, or if he has so much appetite for them as the recorded tapes signify, he should step down,” said Prof. Edward Kisiang’ani, a lecturer at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. “Trump can cause a third world war because of his temperament. He has said things that are disturbing, like deporting Obama and all Africans, while praising [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
In the Middle East, Mr. Trump has been under fire for his since-modified campaign pledge to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the country in a bid to curb extremist terrorism. But Mrs. Clinton’s interventionist record in the region also has sparked opposition.
Still, Egyptian Nour Samra, 31, a fashion photographer who studied in California in the mid-2000s, was highly critical of American politics in the Middle East in general, which she felt had made life worse in the region. But she supported Mrs. Clinton because she wanted to see a woman elected to the White House.
“Of course, women would rather see Hillary Clinton win,” said Ms. Samra, who lamented how Egypt’s leaders seized power in a 2014 coup. “We do respect you for having a real democracy. One man does not decide if he will stay, leave or have a show election and then cancel the results if he doesn’t like the outcome.”
Of course, like many Americans, a large number of foreigners didn’t like either of the choices for president.
Elaine Ball, 38, a marketing consultant in North Yorkshire in Britain, said she couldn’t support Mrs. Clinton because of the Democrats’ willingness to use the American military abroad.
“I wouldn’t vote for Clinton — she’s scary,” said Ms. Ball. “She’s not genuine. I don’t think Trump will be able to do half the things he says he will. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake. I liked Bernie Sanders. He came across like a really nice man who could have been a good president.”
Meanwhile, a Trump win, she added, wouldn’t change her view of the U.S. Britain, she noted, went through its own recent national vote — over whether to leave the European Union — that had much of the world scratching their heads.
“When I was in Denver last month, people there were worried about what the rest of the world thinks about them,” she said. “But then people thought that in Britain during the Brexit referendum, so we understand. People in America were asking me what I thought, and I said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s politics, they’re all mad!’”
• Angela Waters in Berlin, Jacob Wirtschafter in Cairo, Petra Sorge in New Delhi, Benjamin Plackett in London and Tonny Onyulo in Nairobi contributed to this report.