5 Things Europeans Should Know about the U.S. Presidential Election

by Matthew Saliman & Vladimir Vasilev

The 2016 presidential election is not the most popular topic among Europeans right now, when issues like the refugee crisis, the terrorist threats, Brexit, and climate change are more prominent concerns. Even with the TTIP agreement being debated in EU institutions, Europeans still feel the US elections as a distant process. However, the fate and the content of TTIP is decided not only by developments in Europe, but also by the presidential race that has started across the Atlantic. The extent and form of the US involvement in the Middle East will also be impacted upon by the outcome of the Presidential elections.

So why should Europeans care about what is going on?

As regard trade relations, Europeans should not forget that agreements between the EU and US, such as TTIP, depend on the agenda of the new president and how he/she sees the future of trading and economic partnerships with the EU. Most of the Republican candidates have not adopted a formal position on TTIP. However, based on their views on trade agreements and TPP, it appears that the Republicans support TTIP. Democrats tend to (actively or passively) oppose the agreement so far.

With new emerging economies such as India, Brazil and South Africa getting closer to Russia and China in the newly established BRICS union, Europe is looking to maintain strong allies in this highly competitive global market. And naturally, the United States is the closest partner, for historical and cultural reasons. However, the way in which EU-US relations will continue depends heavily on what the new American president will see as a priority.

From the foreign policy and defense perspective, the next American president will have an important role to play in the Syria conflict. In one scenario, a stronger US and NATO approach may occur, which could solve or complicate the refugee crisis. This may result in Europe being pushed towards direct conflict with Russia, something which the EU has been desperately trying to avoid since the Ukrainian crisis.

Although US elections are still one year away, key trends are already visible. Our analysis shows which candidates are the favorites for the nomination from both parties, how candidates address US-EU relations, and what to expect in the coming months.

1. Clinton is likely to win the Democratic nomination


Former Secretary of State (2009-2013) Hillary Clinton is clearly the leading candidate for the Democratic Party. She has strong support of her party members, voters and donors, which put her in the leading spot. She currently leads by a 22% margin nationally ahead of Bernie Sanders, the only real competitor for her, after Joe Biden decided not to run. On trade agreements, Hillary Clinton stated in her book Hard Choices that “We should be focused on ending currency manipulation, environmental destruction, and miserable working conditions in developing countries, as well as harmonizing regulations with the EU.

And we should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules.” While Clinton has not formally announced her opposition to TTIP, she did say in an interview last month that “as of today, I am not in favour of what I have learned about” the deal.

Democratic nomination

2. Trump still leads for the Republicans, but Rubio is quickly catching up


We still observe a rather unusual situation, as Donald Trump (27%) and Ben Carson (22%) still lead the republican polls. Both candidates who never held elected political office are flying high in the recent polls, but they are unlikely to win the nomination due to their inexperience, lack of knowledge on the issues, and support almost solely from highly partisan voters. In the same polls we can see one of the party’s favorites, Marco Rubio, with only 10,9% support, while at the same time leading in the betting prediction markets.

Rubio appears to be favoring TTIP, as he is a major proponent of free trade. He stated, “Those such as Secretary Clinton, who preach a message of international engagement and ‘smart power’ yet are not willing to stand up to special interests and support free trade are either hypocritical or they fail to grasp trade’s role.”


Meanwhile, another strong candidate, Ted Cruz, is quickly gaining ground as well, and has significant funds, meaning he could compete with Rubio for the top spot. Jeb Bush, the brother of the former president, has recently been losing support from both voters and donors.


Unlike within the Democratic camp, Republicans will have a hard time deciding on the right candidate. As it stands, it seems unlikely that one of the current leading candidates will actually win the nomination and the right to fight for the White house will likely be in the hands of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.

3. There is no clear winner in a Clinton vs. Rubio general election matchup


As it stands at this point, the most likely matchup is Clinton vs Rubio. In that case, we will see a very competitive election, as recent polls show the difference between them is less than 1%. Things would be different if the former first lady faces off against one of the other candidates, like Cruz or Trump, where Clinton will have an easier time winning the general election.


4. US-EU relations NOT a focus in the campaign so far


China, Mexico and Russia are the foreign countries which are mainly discussed during this stage of the campaign, while relations with the EU are pushed aside of the main debate. Rubio is the only candidate to release a detailed plan for relations with Europe under his administration. (Read the plan). Standing with European allies and countering Russian aggression are issues which are mentioned by nearly all of the major candidates.

However, most of the topics relating to Europe are connected with military forces or security and are not discussed in detail by the candidates. Clinton has experience with foreign policy, including US-EU relations, and she is viewed favorably by Europeans, but we are still waiting to hear more debates on this topic.

5. Key events to watch are the first primaries in February 2016


The first big test for the candidates are the primaries that will take place in February in Iowa and New Hampshire. The candidates who will not perform well in these first voting states will likely drop out and support some of the remaining candidates, thus redrawing the battle lines.