This quote from the Voice of America suggests that it is not usual:

Some Trump supporters expressed frustration with foreign leaders.
“These early calls by foreign leaders congratulating Biden are deliberate election interference,” tweeted Kyle Shideler, an analyst at the Center for Security Policy, a pro-Trump policy organization in Washington. “It is beyond inappropriate for these leaders to weigh in at this time."

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    I think the question should stay. The illustrative quote would probably be better changed. It asks a very different question to the title by pivoting to discredit the result.
    – Jontia
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 18:25
  • Are there other examples involving real democracies (incl. say India, Japan and S. Korea) where there were some uncertainties about the results but no intent from foreign leaders to signal anything or take any positions (not congratulating say Lukashenko in Belarus is intentional)? Certainly not implying there are any outstanding questions re. 2020 POTUS outcome, just what the custom has been when there are genuine uncertainties. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 19:53
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    FWIW, the earliest such call that I'm aware of was from Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, prematurely congratulating Trump on his "pretty clear" (sic) victory.
    – G_B
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 0:48
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    The question is based on a false premise. What's not usual is for the loser of the US Presidential election not to concede. AFAIK, the only other non-concession was Bush/Gore, where there was a real question.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 6:30
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    @jamesqf: Interestingly, Al Gore did privately concede to George Bush, then "unconceded" about an hour later, then conceded again a month later, joking "this time I promise not to call you back". So, it seems there is precedent for erring on the side of being a gracious loser even while the election is still being contested. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 8:22

5 Answers 5


It is conventional for foreign leaders to congratulate a newly elected leader soon after victory becomes obvious. Like most diplomacy, this is a somewhat fussy matter of form. Congratulate too early, and one might raise the ire of the other candidate while s'he still has a chance to win, inviting diplomatic problems down the line. Delay too long and it might appear as disapproval or disdain, which would be interpreted by the incoming administration as the foreign nation positioning itself as an adversary. Consequently, foreign leaders generally try to send their messages as soon as a victor becomes clear, to set the proper tone with the incoming (or continuing) administration. In most cases those congratulations begin arriving early on the day after the election.

Unfortunately, there are no proper diplomatic protocols for this unprecedented situation. Historically, every losing presidential candidate has formally conceded to their opponent since the tradition began (in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan sent a short telegram acknowledging William McKinley's win). This graceful concession is typically used to signal to both the US citizenry and foreign governments that there will be a smooth transition of power, and usually serves as a trigger for these diplomatic niceties. The vote tallies in this case are clear—Biden has been projected as the winner on the numbers, leaving Trump only a remote chance of overturning vote-counts through the courts—but Trump is unwilling to concede, and will likely refuse to concede for the foreseeable future. It seems that many foreign leaders have calculated the odds, and prefer to risk insulting Trump by congratulating Biden, and not risk insulting the president-elect by remaining silent.

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    Interestingly, as was pointed out in the comments under the question, at least one foreign leader already congratulated Donald Trump five days ago, which further undermines the narrative the quote in the question is trying to spin. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 8:25
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    This raises the question what will happen in the unlikely (but not impossible) case the recount makes Trump a winner (or if irrefutable evidence of voter fraud does show up)? Or were the foreign leaders prematurely congratulating Biden counting in this possibility, but regarding it as low-probability, and just accepting the risk?
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 9:24
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    Extremely unlikely for these court challenges to succeed based on the allegations that Democratic Party rigged the vote in those states with Republican administrations and where there is no evidence, unless for some reason the Republican leaders there conspired against their own party.
    – Mick
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 10:17
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    @vsz: Those unlikely events aren't too much of a problem fo foreign nations; leaders would just turn around and congratulate Trump belatedly, with some oblique nod to their earlier misunderstanding. Diplomacy is pragmatic. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 14:11
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    See also World leaders who haven't congratulated Biden on BBC News. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 19:02

There is at least one very recent precedent. On November 4th, the day after the 2020 US election when counting was still far from complete, the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulated Donald Trump on his 'victory'.

"It’s pretty clear that American people have elected ⁦Donald Trump and Mike Pence for four more years," Janša tweeted on Wednesday. "More delays and facts denying ... [the] bigger the final triumph for the President. Congratulations ⁦to the Republican Party for strong results across the US".

Source tweet here. I do not know whether the Center for Security Policy raised the same objections to Janša's congratulations to Trump as they later did to those leaders who congratulated Biden.

It's uncommon for world leaders to offer their congratulations before the loser has conceded, but I would not frame this as "unusual behaviour" on their part. Excepting Janša, whose statement obviously was very premature, they are acting more or less on the usual timing, offering their congratulations some hours after the outcome becomes clear. (Some exceptions - Putin, for instance, is holding out for official results.)

Trump, OTOH, has broken with the usual schedule - he has refused to concede, even at a stage where the losing candidate would normally long since have done so - and it is not at all clear that he will ever concede.

The framing offered by Shideler and some others in the Trump camp seems to argue that everything else should wait on Trump's concession. But nobody outside that camp needs Trump's say-so to tell them that Biden has won.


In the 2000 US presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore, many foreign leaders congratulated Bush soon after he was projected as the winner by the media outlets. From an ABC article published a couple of days later:

In a rush to be among the first to congratulate America’s new chief executive, world politicians who rushed to offer congratulations to George W. Bush, who was the projected winner over Al Gore shortly after 2 a.m. ET on Wednesday, were left with diplomatic egg on their faces when news organizations pulled back the call shortly afterward.

Minutes after U.S. television networks broadcasted reports of a Bush win during an incredible election night, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands, the European Union, Turkey and Indonesia were just some of the countries that swiftly issued congratulatory statements.

When the media outlets retracted their projections a few hours later, the foreign leaders simply retracted their congratulatory statements. This election seems to follow a similar pattern of foreign leaders relying on media outlets' projections for the timing of their congratulations (and presumably also retractions if that would be necessary).

There is of course a difference in time scales between the events of these two elections. In 2000 the initial projections for Bush came early in the evening and the retractions came quite soon afterwards. Then there was several weeks of genuine uncertainty. In this election, several days passed before anyone was projected winner and now it has remained projected for Biden for several days.

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    Interestinly, even Al Gore had already privately congratulated George W. Bush in a phone call, before calling back shortly thereafter. Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 20:06

Whilst Trump has not conceded defeat yet, it is unlikely he will concede defeat till the Electoral College votes, if at all. From a diplomatic point of view it would be unwise for foreign leaders to wait nearly two months or more before they congratulate the president-elect and begin making plans to invite them to conferences and other diplomatic events etc. This would easily be interpreted as a nation respecting the wishes of the previous leader (Trump) over the president-elect (Biden) which would probably ruin many chances for alliances over the next four years.

At this stage there is essentially no conceivable way Trump can win the election. There is no evidence of fraud, and any recounts or throwing out of ballots that arrived after election day are unlikely to influence the key state of Pennsylvania (and there is no other state even remotely close enough to swing the election). Even if Pennsylvania is turned over to Trump or there are a bunch of faithless electors (or both) this would not be enough for Trump victory without at least one or two other states swinging over after recounts (which as said before is nearly impossible from a mathematical point of view). Hence in the view of the international world, Biden has won the election.

It also can't really be argued that this is international influence in the election as the courts would not consider international opinion in any decision to conduct recounts or declare fraud, and there are no voters that can still be influenced by international perspective or propaganda.

On an additional note, one of Trump's closest foreign allies, Scott Morrison of Australia, has already congratulated Biden. Morrison's policies are far more aligned with Trump's leadership (i.e. China trade-war, climate change denial, immigration etc.) then Biden's and Morrison has always been careful to not ever risk agitating Trump's ire. So if Morrison is congratulating the new president-elect then it is likely his sources are immensely confident that there is no risk of angering Trump and bringing about his ire at this stage.

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    No evidence of fraud except for 150 affidavits. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 7:26
  • An affidavit isn't proof (especially in such a hyper-partisan environment as the US election currently is), which is why in nearly every court case so far it has been ruled that there is no substantial evidence to look further into allegations of fraud. Proof would be finding an anomaly in vote counting data or finding a bunch of mail delivered from the same household etc. So far no such anomalies have been found, and there is no evidence that one party is attempting fraud to a greater degree than the other party.
    – James
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 8:20
  • Its still evidence. Its substantiality is for the current court case which is barely started. People have reported vote counting data or finding a bunch of mail delivered to the same household so you basically there is evidence. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 9:37
  • I suppose I should say "reliable evidence" rather than "evidence" (which is what I mean when I say "proof"). Any person can say they saw someone commit a murder, but without reliable evidence the allegation of murder doesn't really hold any weight. You have referred to people referring to other forms of reliable evidence in their affidavits, but they have not yet proved the existence of any such reliable evidence and I can assure you that you will hear the very instant second any slightly reliable piece of evidence appears.
    – James
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 11:20
  • Affidavits from USPS workers, Poll observers and electoral officials (some who are willing to be witness). Other statements from electoral software manufacturers. Hufffpost and other newspapers deny any evidence exists. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 23:07

Given the current US situation, I will preface my answer with a very clear statement that we should all know and accept who the president-elect is at this point. Please do not construe my answer as endorsing doubts about the outcome of the current US election. It is simply a, hopefully, objective answer to the question posed (although I am expanding it beyond US elections).

It does happen that foreign countries do recognize somebody as the winner of an election who hasn't officially won, even after an official result has been announced. Needless to say, this is a very strong diplomatic statement, and is not done lightly.

One example is the 2019 election in Venezuela, where the current US President (as well as the leaders of many other countries) recognized Juan Guaidó as winner, even though the official result was that Nicolás Maduro won.

Again: there is simply no comparison between the Venezuelan election and the US election.

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