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World Watches U.S. Election

For Americans suffering from election overload as the last hours tick away, a warning: even traveling overseas might not offer an escape.

To an extraordinary degree, leaders, citizens and news media outside the United States are riveted by Tuesday's vote, drawn into the contest between President Bush (search) and Sen. John Kerry (search) by a deep-rooted feeling that the world — given today's circumstances — has a huge stake in the outcome.

Bush's stance on many issues — from the Kyoto Treaty (search) on global warming to the war in Iraq — as well as his religious outlook and single-minded approach, have mobilized and polarized people all over the world, even if they can't vote.

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Polls in many countries — and a quick survey of newspapers and TV — leave little doubt that Kerry is the preferred choice across much of the globe.

Polls in Germany run as high as 80 percent against Bush.

A telephone survey of 1,000 people released Tuesday by France-3 television and France-Info radio found 77 percent of those polled considered Kerry better able to improve relations with America, while 10 percent picked Bush.

In Britain, the right-wing Economist joined the left-wing Guardian in endorsing Kerry. France's Le Monde endorsed Kerry too.

On election eve, Michael Moore's anti-Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11" competed on prime time German television with "Wag the Dog," a movie about a U.S. president who starts a war to distract from his domestic troubles.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, cabdriver Wagner Markues, 54, said he prefers Kerry and wondered why the race was so close. "We don't understand America now," he said. "Are they getting different news than us about the scandals in the Iraqi prisons and the children and civilians who are getting killed?"

Many places have held mock polls, like the one held by artists, writers and professors in the Italian region of Tuscany, billed as "the first American elections for non-Americans."

At the heart of the matter is a belief that in an era of globalization, when American decisions affect hundreds of millions around the globe, the election is not a just a U.S. issue.

"Why shouldn't the Italians vote for the elections, too?" said screenwriter Michele Cogo. "The planet's destiny is decided in large part by America."

Plenty of foreign politicians have clear personal stakes in the outcome — and in these circles the choice is more balanced.

Japan's Junichiro Koizumi and Russia's Vladimir Putin, for instance, have signaled their preference for Bush.

"I don't want to interfere in another country's election, but I'm close to Bush so I'd like him to do well," said Koizumi, who threw in his lot with Bush by sending some 500 Japanese troops to Iraq on a humanitarian mission.

Putin has said a Bush defeat would mean a "new impulse" for terrorism, a clear sign of preference though he's refused to make an explicit endorsement. Bush has toned down criticism of Russia's heavy handed campaign against separatist rebels in Chechnya in return for Putin's support in the war on terror.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has also endorsed Bush, though the government's foreign minister vowed good relations with whomever wins the White House. Australia is part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Even the politicians who kept the endorsements to themselves had a big stake.

For France and Germany — dubbed "Old Europe" by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — a Kerry White House would mean a chance of mending ties. These nations that refused to help Bush in Iraq may have a problem saying no again if Kerry makes good on his campaign pledge to seek new allies in the war.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for instance, won re-election in 2002 largely because of his forceful rejection of the Iraq war, which he criticized as "an adventure" and "playing around." Yet, despite Schroeder's cool relations with Bush, a Kerry win may put pressure on him to back off his refusal to send troops to Iraq.

Germany may want a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and may feel pressure to offer something in return, a number of observers have pointed out.

"If a newly elected president calls for a new contribution that we've refused up to now, it won't be so easy to reject," former defense minister Rudolf Scharping said.