Spain, reeling from a paralyzing economic crisis that has thrown one-quarter of the workforce onto the streets and crippling budget cuts, may not have its full attention upon Tuesday's presidential elections.
However, given the widespread approval of Barack Obama across much of western Europe, some Spaniards may indeed be cast a glance across the Atlantic.
The financial collapse in Spain ended the tenure of the Socialist government of former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, supplanted by the conservative administration of Mariano Rajoy of the People's Party.
International Business Times spoke to an expert on Spain to discuss how the beleaguered Spaniards view the U.S. Presidential election,
Laura Gonzalez-Alana is Assistant Professor of Finance and Business Economics at Fordham University in New York City.
IB TIMES: Do you sense a great deal of interest in the 2012 U.S. presidential election among the Spanish public? Or has it waned since 2008?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: The Spanish press has been widely covering the campaign. I could actually read summaries and opinions about the outcomes of the debates earlier in Spain than on CNN. Clearly the European press prefers Barack Obama, despite the disappointment regarding the expectations raised by his 2008 victory..
Spaniards, like other Europeans, are worried about how foreign policy and diplomatic relations with the United States could change if Mitt Romney becomes president. They do not trust the current moderate tones in Romney's speeches after the very conservative stances he took during the primaries to appeal to the far-right Tea Party.
In general, the majority of Europeans believe Obama could be a more efficient negotiator with them and with the Middle East nations.
Another armed conflict [in the Mideast] would be particularly difficult to support given the economic crisis in Europe.
Also, Europeans, and Spaniards in general do not believe that open confrontation with China over trade issues would be the most effective manner to handle such abuses. And Europeans still resent having been dragged into the armed conflicts waged by George W. Bush.
IB TIMES: Has Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said anything about the Obama-Romney race, or is he discouraged from making any such comments?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: As far as I know, he has not, but being a conservative, it is highly likely he supports Romney. In Spain,the Rajoy administration is seeking to abolish gay marriage, and fighting against gay rights and so on.
The polls show that in countries such as Spain and France, more than sixty percent of the public find Obama prepared and moderate enough to warrant a second term.
Unlike the liberal [Socialist] party in Spain, which has lost support because of its inaction and lack of proposals to handle the economic crisis, Obama is considered to be more pro-active.
IB TIMES: When Obama was elected in 2008, how did the Spanish media and public react?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: They were overjoyed – prior to the election, there was disbelief that the US could be ready for an African-American president.
Spain and Spaniards wanted a change from the Bush period, in terms of regulations that would prevent financial system abuses, develop more progressive social policies and a engineer big change in foreign relations towards more diplomacy and dialogue with Europe.
IB TIMES: What does Spain (media, public, government) think of Obama now?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: He is still highly respected and much preferred over Romney, who has changed positions repeatedly and seems too eager. Romney is also condemned for having catered to the Tea Party faction, which is very powerful at the moment within the Republican party. Spain knows that Obama tried to reach long-term plans, stable reforms through bipartisan agreements, and that from day one the Republican party did all in its power to block everything,even if it was moderate, so he wouldn't be able to take any credit and win a second mandate.
Ironically, the information in the European media is very complete, and many times I read things earlier in the European press, Spanish press, than in the US press, whether it is about politics or about the hurricane last week.
IB TIMES: How did former Prime Minister Zapatero get along with Obama? Has Zapatero made any comments about the U.S. election?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Zapatero got along well with Obama, but also tried to get along well with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other leaders of questionable reputation. As a consequence, Zapatero lost credibility both in Spain and abroad in terms of foreign policy matters. On the home front, he reacted too slowly to the economic crisis. Then, when Rajoy was elected president, the Socialists have chosen to oppose all reforms and austerity measures without proposing alternatives. Spaniards at this point would not know whom to vote for if there were new elections coming up.
IB TIMES: Does Spanish media describe Obama as “black” or “mixed race” (given that his mother was white). Is this distinction important to Spaniards?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: People in Spain are aware of his being half-white and half-black, but not much is said about his racial profile, other than it makes extremist groups more nervous about him, given that in the European mind, the U.S. is still quite uncomfortable with racial diversity.
Europeans have some racial issues, too, but they see Obama as an “American” leader, and as a person to admire, like other famous black or half-black famous US people, like singers, actors, sports figures and so on.
If you asked Spaniards to pick a word to describe Obama, they would say “black”-- in a sense, not being 'fully white' means 'black.'
Now, the word 'negro' in Spain is not politically incorrect, but it all depends on the context and intonation.
IB TIMES: What does Spanish media think of Romney?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Romney remains a question mark, given the conflicting statements he issued during the primaries vs. the campaign. Plus, he is known to have had more moderate views while governor of Massachusetts. His attempts to curry favor with the Tea Party has confused some people.
Even though it is believed that Democrats would be more willing to reach bipartisan agreements, the opinion in Europe is that as of today moderate Republicans have little weight in the decision-making process of the GOP.
IB TIMES: Does the Socialist Party of Spain believe it is analogous with the U.S. Democratic Party?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: They clearly have a lot more in common with Democrats than with the Republicans. However, there is a significant difference between the impact of public funds in the US vs. Spain.
As of today, even with Spain in a state of bankruptcy, Spaniards can still get free swimming classes for their children, and other more basic services, such as decent public education and health care.
Given that I lived in Spain for over 20 years and now having lived in the U.S. for more than 12 years, I can compare the respective use of public funds.
For example, in order to have access to decent public schools in the US you need to pay very high property taxes. The European middle class is not taxed much more heavily than the New York middle class, but they get a lot more back.
In a recent survey I saw published in the Economist, there was a ranking of nations in terms of efficiency in the use of public funds. Nordic countries lead the ranking, followed by other EU countries... the US was below position 50. That is unacceptable, too much waste, inefficiencies and maybe too generous handouts without accountability. It is true that the US is a large complex country, but it is one thing to support opportunities and another one to squeeze the middle class with taxes that do not give them much in return compared to other nations.
IB TIMES: Similarly, do the “conservatives” in the Spain (Rajoy's People's Party) feel a kinship with U.S. Republicans?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: In terms of social and economic policies, yes. The difference is that in Europe in general, talking openly in terms of religious extremism makes the public more uncomfortable than in the US, so Tea Party type of politicians – and there are a good number of them in Rajoy's party -- try to moderate public statements, although lately we've been reading and hearing statements that were not that common following the death of Francisco Franco and the restoration of democracy in Spain.
IB TIMES: You say that most Spaniards prefer Obama over Romney. But Spain recently elected a conservative leader (Rajoy) and threw out the liberal Zapatero? How can this be?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Zapatero was liked as a person, for his values and ideas of supporting the middle class through a strong public education and health care system, religious moderation, and policies on social issues more like other European countries.
As of now, Rajoy's policies on social issues, such as gay marriage are putting Spain at the bottom of the European rankings, which makes Spaniards not only frustrated about their lack of options, but also embarrassed, a reminder of what Spain was like decades ago during Franco's time – that is, of being ruled by the conservative faction of the Catholic church and the army.
The problem with Zapatero, and still with the Socialist party is that, unlike Obama, they waited way too long to react to the crisis and pass reforms. Reforms actually started very shortly preceding the elections because Brussels pushed for them.
Most Spaniards understand that the status quo cannot be maintained, that reforms are needed.
The Socialists now oppose everything the conservatives offer, without proposing alternatives. On top of that, Zapatero's photos with Chavez were too much, an embarrassment.
Overall, the average Spaniard, like the average US citizen, wants a coherent, consistent leader that can connect with the middle class and support it in an efficient manner, without extremism, and willing to listen to others in the country and in the international community.
IBTIMES: So, while the Spaniards prefer Obama in the U.S., they prefer Rajoy due to the magnitude of the economic malaise?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Rajoy was chosen as president despite the conservatism of his social policies – people hoped for moderation, like it was promised during the campaign, but few really expected it -- with the hope that he would be able to handle economic matters better than the socialists.
The problem now is that the conservative government is not doing better than the socialists in terms of job-creation -- they just impose more and more austerity measures that will not solve the deficit and make Spain grow and move forward.
When looking at the US, Spaniards do not see a country in crisis and just hope for friendly open-minded flexible international relations with the US, which they find more likely with Obama.
IB TIMES: One of the major themes of the U.S. election is the increasingly important Hispanic vote. Do (white European) Spaniards feel any real connection to U.S. Hispanics (most of whom are of Mexican and Central American descent) and their problems?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Spaniards do not identify themselves with the immigrants from Mexico, first because Spaniards do not emigrate illegally in massive numbers anywhere, and because Spanish emigrants are on average better-educated. Culturally, there are similarities but also key differences.
IB TIMES: Does Spain have any real “stake” --economically, geopolitically, militarily – in who wins the U.S. presidential race?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Yes, US foreign policy has a clear military, geopolitical and economic impact on European nations.
IB TIMES: Politically and culturally, do the Spanish (people, media, government) feel closer to the U.S. now than in previous years? Or are the cultural and language barriers still too high?
GONZALEZ-ALANA: Yes, Spaniards feel closer to the US since Obama has been president, they believe understanding and dialogue are easier.