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I live in Canada, but I follow American politics to some degree, as do most of the people I know. However, I do it as a hobby and realize that American politics really don't have much of an effect on day-to-day life in Canada.

Canadian news agencies (CBC, Global, etc) all cover the American Federal elections in great detail. It kind of bugs me that I am constantly bombarded with American politics and political news when I am watching a Canadian news channel. I could just switch to an American channel for that!

This trend of presenting American political news as local news, anywhere in the world seems to be common. For example people in Canada, Mexico, Europe, etc seem to know American politics.

Also many of the people I know have very heated and deeply-held opinions about American politics, even though they don't even have a say! Often much stronger opinions and interest than they have in Canadian politics. Why does this happen? Why is everyone obsessed with American politics as a story of local interest?

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    I think you might re-word the question, or at least the title. Everyone - including a lot of Americans - is NOT obsessed by US politics. You might reasonably ask why Canadian news media devote more time to US politics than you'd like. Other than the US being the proverbial 500 pound gorilla in international affairs, there doesn't seem to be a rational answer, since quasi-random sampling of my acquaintances suggests US news media devote more time to US politics than they'd like. – jamesqf Aug 14 at 16:54
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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please post an answer which adheres to our quality standards. – Philipp Aug 14 at 22:47
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From a European perspective:

The U.S. has a great deal of influence in the world, so the presidency of the U.S. is quite likely to affect your own country in some way.

For example: In the last 20 years the U.S. invaded Afghanistan & Iraq, wrecked Libya and tried (and is still trying?) to topple Assad in Syria, which at least in part facilitated the refugee crisis that had a great effect on Europe.

Furthermore the relationship between the U.S. and Europe is currently as bad as it has ever been at least during my lifetime with Trump raising tariffs, pulling troops out and making explicit economic threats over the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline and in general. When you compare that with the rather cordial relationship we had with Obama, it obviously really matters who sits in the White House.

From a German perspective:

German politics, and this probably holds true for many other countries as well, is quite boring compared to what is taking place in the U.S. American politics is basically a kind of reality-T.V. with great drama, mudslinging, twists & turns and generally enormous amounts of money being spent on it (federal election campaigning in Germany doesn't even cross the 100 million dollar mark in comparison..).

American politics is incredibly fake but also very entertaining. Just compare a German election debate to an American one. Or Angela Merkel to whatever presidential candidate for that matter. Excitement looks different... not that I would prefer that kind of excitement in my country, but as said, it is quite entertaining.

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    The biggest opposition party in Germany is on the extreme right. When in Thuringa Bodo Ramelow run on a platform of incentives for SMEs and the right to hunt as part of the cultural heritage, the conservative and liberal parties tried to stop this bolshevik nonsense by siding with the Nazis. Minister Scheuer awarded contracts for toll collection to private companies, being aware they would be declared illegal by the EU. The prospective CSU candidate for chancellorship botched part of the Bavarian Corona response. If you find German politics boring, you might be too much distracted by Trump. – Eike Pierstorff Aug 14 at 14:28
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    @EikePierstorff I'm sorry but I totally missed how Ramelow campaigned for hunting and SMEs, and how that is "bolshevik nonsense" (is this intended to be irony?). Regardless, sure, German politics has interesting twists but it's not "reality TV", i.e. "simple entertainment". You need to follow the politics in far more detail to grasp it. – ljrk Aug 14 at 14:40
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    @Eike Pierstorff This is what I mean. In Canada there have also recently been major political stories for example a major 3rd ethics violation scandal by our PM (probably will lead to resignation of an important minister), and a competitive leadership race for the 2nd largest Party. But nobody cares about these things, and they prefer to follow the Trump saga and rioting in the US. I don't get it. – YellowBadger Aug 14 at 14:42
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    @NotThatGuy Compared to $2.4 billion for the 2008 presidential race according to Wikipedia. – TripeHound Aug 14 at 15:47
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    The stance of USA towards destabilizing and bombing middle-eastern countries seems to be identical regardless of the president/party currently in power, though, so why is that a relevant point? – Noctiphobia Aug 14 at 20:32
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I am Canadian. I would challenge your opinion that American Politics "don't have much of an effect on day-to-day life in Canada".

Canada and the United States enjoy the largest trading relationship in the world. A lot of the Canadian economy is dependent on trade with America; a leader that has a habit of throwing tariffs left and right can definitely have an effect on your day-to-day life, and so does the value of our dollar vs theirs.

From my personal experience, his trade wars with China meant that my employer (a Canadian branch of an American company) had to start manufacturing new (previously made in USA) products in our factory so that the products could be made in Canada and sold to China without tariffs. We also started manufacturing some products which were previously made in China and sell them to US customers for the same reason. This meant the entire business had to move to a larger location. Now with elections coming up in America, I follow the news because if tariffs go away it might affect my job.

Let's also not forget that Canada is right next to America. With the current COVID-19 situation, a lot of the snowbirds (people who spend the winters in southern states like Florida) are monitoring the situation and reconsidering travel. This affects people who are in this category as well as all their family members.

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    Also, not only does the border closure affect Canadians who want to visit the US; it also affects Canadians whose livelihood depends on US tourist money. – Michael Seifert Aug 16 at 13:41
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"Obsessed" is rather too strong a term. "Interested in" or "concerned about" might be closer.

The big reason is "money", or perhaps "power". The two are closely related. The USA is big, rich and powerful. Decisions of the President will have direct consequences for people around the world. So Canadians will be much more concerned with the US elections, than Americans will be with the Canadian election.

Moreover the structure of the government, with a powerful elected President, and a very long election process makes for interesting and long lived news story. The leader of the Chinese Communist Party may be as powerful as the US president, but there is no interesting public election process. And since the President will always be from the CCP, there are no sudden swings in policy. Mr Xi assumed the leadership in an completely expected and uninteresting progression. American politics is fun!

Finally, we are somewhat skewed by our close links in language and history with the USA. The President literally speaks our language. News reports are less likely to focus on politics which is conducted in any language but English.

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    This makes sense and I understand its good fun to watch a close election race, like a sporting event. However, many Canadians argue about American healthcare, tax laws, budget spending, all issues that have absolutely no bearing on them whatsoever. So it extends way past pure entertainment value. – YellowBadger Aug 14 at 14:33
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    @YellowBadger I think a citation is needed that many Canadians argue about that? How many is many, and in what contexts? – Tim Aug 14 at 14:41
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    Well take a look at a map, and you might see why Canada and Canadians are more than averagely concerned with US politics. (Mongolia probably has a similar attitude to Chinese Politics...) – James K Aug 14 at 14:46
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    @Tim I am just talking about personal experience. I have rarely had a discussion with friends/family/coworkers where they are interested in weighing in on Canadian policies, however people will start talking to me about American policies multiple times a week. – YellowBadger Aug 14 at 14:46
  • @YellowBadger: The Canadians might well be a tad upset that their healthcare system was maligned by American politicians trying to prevent Obamacare from turning into a single-payer system. I don't really begrudge them (the Canadians) that. – Kevin Aug 14 at 23:56
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The answer is very simple. The President of the USA is potentially by far the most dangerous person threatening the existence of life on earth. People like Kim-Jong-Un or a few Middle-Eastern religious fanatics don't even come close.

When the current President is actively engaged in manipulating the outcome of the next election by direct interference with the voting system (e.g appointing a political ally as head of USPS and then blocking the organizations funding requirements), and a large proportion of the US electorate hold opinions which are completely irrational (e.g. a recent poll found that 28% of them think Bill Gates wants a compulsory mass vaccination program in order to implant microchips in their bodies), the rest of the world has good reason to be interested, not to mention worried.

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    More dangerous than, for example, a Russia president who's recently invaded a neighbouring country or a Chinese Chairman who's busily threatening to invade a nearby country? – Valorum Aug 15 at 13:27
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    @Valorum Yes, because the country your living in doesn't have broad public support for that Russian or Chinese Dictator, and "everyone" here means "Canadians, Mexicans, and Europeans" which, except for Eastern Europe, is pretty obviously more influenced by US problems than Chinese or Russian ones, even without a loose cannon president. That is, of course, a very bad definition of everyone, but that seems to be what the OP is using. With an actively hostile president instead of the close allies they've had in the past, it's not surprising US gets much coverage even in East Europe now. – Please stop being evil Aug 15 at 17:23
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    Any survey that asks something like "Is Bill Gates using vaccines to implant microchips in people's bodies" is inherently biased towards a positive result because it's suggesting an affirming response. It's a classic survey trick and it's how you get polls with a large percentage of people responding positively to ridiculous claims(fake moon landing, UFOs, etc) – Hyperdrive Enthusiast Aug 16 at 19:33
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    Very biased and completely opinionated answer with no factual basis to back it up. – pczeus Aug 16 at 21:04
  • On the Gates q, the D-R split was 19% vs 44%, That's not statically negligible discounting the idea that it's fluke of how the question was phrased. Also 30% (57% among Republicans) think Covid-19 was engineered in a Chinese lab. – SX welcomes ageist gossip Sep 14 at 19:58
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+50

News media focus on perceived threats. In the 1930s — well before World War II began — German and Italian politics were widely reported around the world, because the fascist regimes in those nations presented a rising and confusing threat. In the '60s and '70s, politicians from the USSR were household names in the US, UK, and Western Europe, because of the ever-present threat of the Cold War. In the last 20 year the US political Right has become increasingly more militant, militaristic, and — not to put too fine a point on it — crazed, and this creates a looming threat to the rest of the world, who are desperately trying to figure out how much faith they can put in American treaties, American economics, and the potential uses of American military force. W Bush was bad enough, with his unilateral warfare and suspension of the Geneva convention; Trump is the epitome of a loose cannon.

If Biden is elected in November, the US will largely disappear from most foreign newscasts. Biden is a known entity: reliable, sympathetic, predictable, possibly even boring. No one will feel the need to monitor his every act because no one will see in him an unpredictable threat. The Trump administration gets high TV ratings (to use Trump's lingo) for the same reason that any reality TV show does: viewers are curious to see who is going to lose their sh*t next; who's going to punch whom, and over what absurd and trivial reason. That makes for good TV (in a weird and perverse way). But politics isn't TV, the nation's future isn't based on ratings, and there's a lot to be said in favor of calm, boring, stable governance.

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CO2

Going up from 280ppm pre-industrial to 400ppm today, with possible large-scale positive feedback loops coming up in the coming decades from changes to Arctic ice cover, permafrost methane emissions.

Climate change will be (future-tensed, because what it is right now is trivial compared to what it will be) a massive disruptor, socially, economically and ecologically and it will affect everyone, with very few, if any winners.

A huge part of whether we manage to limit both CO2 and temperature increase is directly linked to the US position on emissions. While the US public is gradually becoming aware of the risks, this is happening much too slowly.

In any case the current administration has gone of its way to worsen things as much as possible, often for limited actual economic gains except for pushing their ideology:

The US has an outsize effect on climate change both by its direct emissions, which, already high per capita, get amplified by its size and by its technological, economic and "soft power" leadership within the world.

Its cap-and-trade approach to limiting acid rain in the 80-90s was groundbreaking in its outcome and economic efficiency. A similar hard-nosed, number-based, approach based on market mechanisms and pricing emissions could serve as a useful counterpoint to the heavy subsidy model personified by the German Energy Wende, which, both in its cost and relative lack of actual drop in emissions shows its limits.

On the flip side, the "what, me worry?" approach by a sizable proportion of US politicians encourages many countries to do nothing, secure in the knowledge that someone much bigger is making a much worse mess.

Quite simply, while a competent and responsible US leadership is no guarantee that we will get global warming under control, continuation of current US trends in that regard makes it very likely we will not, and that will affect all of us, globally.

China

Under Xi, that country certainly seems to be trending in the wrong direction, with increasing regional belligerence, internal repression and ongoing widespread intellectual property theft ("acceptable", to an extent, from a developing country, not so from a world power).

Ideally, the world would see a peaceful transition from US hegemony to a benign, non-interventionist, internally liberal China.

If that could not be achieved, the West should consider switching to a containment model, although that would be harder to do than it was when dealing with the economically inept Soviet Union. This could not be done by the US alone, it would have to involve a sizable proportion of the world's countries.

Somewhere in the middle you'd have a modus vivendi where the West would accept China as it is and it would agree to reform its predatory industrial spying and refrain from regional adventurism.

A situation where the US is both stridently, but inconsistently, aggressive towards China, incapable of projecting a more seductive social and economic model and lacks credibility with its allies severely reduces the probability of a peaceful transition or effecting any coordinated approach to dealing with the China challenge.

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While media has been used for wide purposes over the time, I will stick to something that is obvious. The content sells

According to Google Trends, US presidential election is a hot search in:

  1. Canada

    Canada

  2. UK

    UK

  3. Germany

    Ger

  4. France

    Fr

  5. And my favourite, Belarus

    Belarus


Apologies if I missed your country (I didn't include my country as well). I have included only few examples.

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I'm going to go out on a limb here, but first, a digression: Stephen Colbert.

What kind of person is Stephen Colbert? You don't know. There presumably is a real person named Stephen Colbert, distinct from the character Stephen Colbert he plays on television for entertainment. But it's not easy to tease out which is the person and which is the character, and indeed effort has been taken to make it deliberately hard, e.g. his amazingly deadpan and earnest delivery and never appearing in public out of character (even when at the White House or testifying to Congress about migrant workers!).

American politics the Senate-sub-sub-committee meeting on marginal tax rates on interstate freight hauling is not easily separated from American politics the entertainment product. Nobody, not even Americans (sadly) cares that much about nuts and bolts of running the US government. People do care about the outcomes of that process, but just like with Stephen Colbert it's hard to tease out the symbolic and representational from the real.

And even beyond and above that, the particular limb I'm climbing out on is that the exact same factors that make American politics the entertainment product appealing to Americans make it appealing in other places as well: drama is drama (or in this case, melodrama).

So conflating the actual nitty gritty of political process with the reality-TV entertainment product bearing the same name, while totally natural and even encouraged by the media that profits from the juxtaposition, will lead to confusion when analyzing it's popularity.

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    What does Stephen Colbert have to do with this question? In any case, I expect that his persona on The Late Show is close to the real person, in contrast with the satirical character he played on The Colbert Report. – Barmar Aug 14 at 14:36
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    @Barmar Stephen Colbert is meant to be an illustration of a specific two-sided kind of figure. – user253751 Aug 14 at 14:49
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    @Barmar but how do you know? How do you know when he was playing the satirical character that any of the opinions voiced were or weren't his actual opinions? Stephen Colbert-The-Person is not easily separated from Stephen Colbert-The-Character, there's no clear line between them. In the same vein, American Politics-The-Process-Of-Choosing-And-Running-A-Goverrnent is not easily or clearly able to be separated from American-Politics-The-Sportsball-Game, and how it relates to the question is that American politics is popular both at home and abroad in large part because of the sportsball... – Jared Smith Aug 14 at 15:23
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    He's given many interviews where he has explained that The Colbert Report was deliberate satire and his new role allowed him to be himself. So I "know" as well as I can know anything people say about themselves. – Barmar Aug 14 at 15:27
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    However, if your main point is that the reason the world is interested in American politics is because it's like entertainment TV, I think that's a bit much. The other answers that point out the oversize influence of American policies on the world are much more on point. The entertainment value of our politics is more on par with the interest in British royalty. – Barmar Aug 14 at 21:53
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It is basic sociology really. A manifestation of power imbalance.

In the same vein, by way of example, in pre-American Civil War US Southern plantations, slaves spent a lot of mental energy trying to understand their masters, to try to guess what the they would do next. Masters never wasted any energy trying to understand the slaves or what they would do next.

You could illustrate much the same point using as example any very imbalanced relationships. In essence, when you do not have the power to force outcomes on which you depend, you need to spend some amount of mental energy predicting them.

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  • What civil war? The Finnish civil war (1918)? – Peter Mortensen Aug 16 at 13:51
  • Edited the localization. Why the second downvote? – user189035 Aug 16 at 16:57
  • This seems to include a start of an interesting idea, but there is no (clear) connection to the question: why US elections are so interesting for Canada and European countries? – Alexei Aug 17 at 8:44
  • @Alexei: because, intuitively, it's important for you to keep informed about things that can impact you beyond your capacity to control them (you need to forecast them and take them as given and plan around them). Just ask yourself the opposite question: why do you not care about elections in Pakistan if you live in Europe but do if you live in India. – user189035 Aug 17 at 12:21
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    @user189035 I think it's the other way around. Pakistan cares about who's is going to be the Indian PM, they campaign for some politicians as well. Indians don't really care who's the Pakistani PM. They are all same for Indians. – Severus Snape Aug 17 at 15:34

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