Obama enjoys comfortable edge over Romney - in Ireland

Although Ireland received nary a mention in last night's foreign policy debate in the US, the country by and large prefers the Democratic US President to his rival in the GOP.

Maxwells Irish Government/Reuters/File
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet locals in Moneygall, Ireland, in May 2011. The 2012 US presidential election is of great interest in Ireland, though the public's political leanings tilt strongly in favor of America's Democrats.

Despite receiving no more than a passing mention in last night's US presidential debate on foreign policy, Europe is closely watching the campaign between President Obama and Mitt Romney. And Irish eyes in particular are firmly fixed on the US.

But if Ireland had any electoral votes to cast on Nov. 6, they would be solidly locked in the win column for Democratic president – and Irish favorite son – Obama.

"It seems the worm is turning for Romney," says Garrett Roche, a graduate student and former finance analyst from Dublin. "I think we're naturally a more left-leaning country – European countries are in general. The US has shifted to the right since the '70s and it's naturally a right-of-center country anyway."

Interest isn't purely geopolitical, nor is it entirely vicarious. Ireland's economy is mired in a slump with unemployment at 14.8 percent and debt-to-GDP ratio set to hit 120 percent, so US economic interests in Ireland guarantee Irish interest in US politics.

"Closer to Boston than Berlin," was the mantra during the "Celtic Tiger" era, and despite Ireland being in receipt of bailout funding from the European Central Bank, EU, and IMF, transatlantic links remain strong.

US Department of Commerce figures indicate American investment in Ireland is at an all time high, totaling $188 billion in 2011. Over 100,000 people are directly employed by US firms, a not insignificant chunk of Ireland's 2.1 million-strong workforce, while the US Chamber of Commerce in Ireland says 600 American businesses operate in Ireland with a combined payroll of $21 billion and pay local taxes amounting to $5.1 billion.

Successive US administrations have complained that Ireland's low corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent attracts companies on the basis of tax avoidance, perhaps even evasion.

Added to this febrile mix is a new wave of emigrants and longstanding ties to the Democrats in particular.

"I used to live in the States for eight years, so I'm probably even more interested than most," says Mr. Roche.

Irish press reports are slanted in favor of Obama, claims conservative pollster John McGuirk. "It's the one area where journalists feel absolutely free to indulge your personal biases," he says. Mr. McGuirk is not affiliated with any political organization, but has worked with now largely dormant, pan-Europe federalist Libertas party.

The Irish media does largely lean toward Obama – but, then again, so does the public. Despite his Irish-American heritage, Paul Ryan's presence on the Republican ticket has done little to change this.

Graham Finlay, lecturer in politics at University College Dublin, says Irish people are instinctively too politically centrist to be Republicans.

"I don't think it's a case of 'tribal' attachment to the Democratic party," he says.

"There are commentators who've been arguing Irish people need to get over either their attachment to the Democratic party or antipathy to the Republican party. I think it's simply that, like almost every other country, the Irish mainstream is to the left of where the Republicans are."

Even Americans living in Ireland seem to tilt Democratic. Democrats Abroad, the organization for party members living outside the US has a chapter in Ireland. Republicans Abroad has no presence.

"I don't know why that is. Maybe the reason we think so many Americans living in Ireland are Dems is because there is an active chapter. Perhaps there are closet Republicans," says Long Island native Margaret E. Ward of "Ireland for Obama."

The Republicans' low profile in Ireland may be due in part to the chillier relationship the Irish have had with GOP administrations. Tim Hunter, an Internet professional originally from Boulder, Co., says hostility to the Bush presidency was strong among the Irish public and made him feel slightly defensive about his nationality, despite being a Democratic voter himself.

Mr. Hunter also says Irish supporters of the Republicans wish the country's political center of gravity was closer to that in the US. "Support for the Republican Party here seems to consist of a few Irish right-wingers who'd rather be in America than Ireland," he says.

Mr. McGuirk almost agrees. "The idea that the Republicans are just about 'no-taxes' isn't accurate. There's a lot we could learn about federalism [and] as a nation we're closer to Governor Romney than President Obama. The antipathy is primarily about foreign policy, the Middle East specifically."

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