The US electoral system (culture) is probably superior to that of the EU and its member states due to its strong focus on personalities. Thanks to the primary system that stretches from early January into June, media can report on new polls and trends an a daily basis. – And this comes before the real race has even started in summer. On top of that media likes to present people instead of issues or simple debates as we have it during most of our European election campaigns. You can understand this media logic at no other time better than during these weeks with the field wide open both for Democrat and Republican candidates.
European (well, at least German) quality media has jumped on the trail and is covering the primaries very extensively. My impression is that generally Europeans favour Democrats over Republicans and Barack Obama has a little more sympathy than Hillary; Edwards is simply a sidenote (the other Democratic candidates are not even mentioned normally). But until recently Hillary was the clear frontrunner in terms of sympathy here. When Barack’s chances grew and he became more known, maybe now there is more sympathy for him. On the Republican side I assume that McCain and Rudy Giuliani are the best known candidates in Germany/Europe. McCain is probably still known from his maverick primary campaign against George W through which he gained support in Europe (mainly because already then people here completely disrespected Bush and liked the honest-politics approach of McCain as well as his engagement in transatlantic issues that has only increased over the last years). Giuliani is simply known through his New York city mayoral time. But on the left he is equally disregarded for his “zero tolerance” policy against crime in the streets of NY.
I was surprised recently to find out that hardly any of the candidates on both sides has any particular views on the European Union. The only references you can find (if any) are often related to NATO which is not really where major global policy initiatives start these days… Richard Laming wrote a good overview on the candidates’ position about Europe for the Federal Union blog (here). I simply wonder if the lack of reflection on the EU is due to a lack of education and understanding of Europe or because the EU is irrelevant for candidates.
For a European to follow the US elections – particularly the primaries at the moment – I would suggest two US sources for finding the latest and best information. On the one hand there is my favourite US blog TalkingPointsMemo.com that has a special election portal tpmelectioncentral.com which has a very well updated first-glance overview of recent trends – and incoming results during electoral nights. Secondly, there is the most detailed overview on all the primaries and candidates at the CNN website http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/. Here you can find primary results broken down to counties and the most recent overview of the electoral votes candidates have gathered.
And if you want to understand the US political system (or presidential elections) I think that watching the West Wing series (wiki description) is the only way to go 🙂