It’s become a truism in recent election cycles that “endorsements don’t matter” any more. That may even be true in ordinary times, when undecided voters are just as likely to flip a coin or stay home as to read up on what other people think, and when endorsements are fairly evenly scattered among the available candidates anyway.

But this year just might be different. Voter turnout is startlingly high, and while it’s hard to fathom how anyone could remain “undecided” at this point (perhaps “uninformed” would be a better term), if they’re looking for a bandwagon to jump on, it’s very definitely in Obama’s favor. The fact that so many endorsements are from counterintuitive sources (the sort of testimony the law calls “statements against interest“), disillusioned Republicans from the Chicago Tribune to Scott McClellan, lends them greater credibility. Colin Powell’s eloquent and powerful endorsement falls in that same category, and no doubt carries some real weight. Meanwhile, among newspaper endorsements, Editor & Publisher reports that Obama holds an incredibly lopsided lead at 234-105 (and an even wider, 3-1 margin in terms of circulation).

And today we also learn that The Economist, a British newsmagazine known for both conservative politics and serious journalism, has endorsed Obama:

The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence. …

Ironically, given that he first won over so many independents by speaking his mind, the case for Mr McCain comes down to a piece of artifice: vote for him on the assumption that he does not believe a word of what he has been saying. Once he reaches the White House, runs this argument, he will put Mrs Palin back in her box, throw away his unrealistic tax plan and begin negotiations with the Democratic Congress. That is plausible; but it is a long way from the convincing case that Mr McCain could have made. Had he become president in 2000 instead of Mr Bush, the world might have had fewer problems. But this time it is beset by problems, and Mr McCain has not proved that he knows how to deal with them.

Is Mr Obama any better? Most of the hoopla about him has been about what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham.

Perhaps this should come as no great surprise, though, since as the same magazine reported weeks ago,

A survey of [142] academic economists by The Economist finds the majority—at times by overwhelming margins—believe Mr Obama has the superior economic plan, a firmer grasp of economics and will appoint better economic advisers.

The Economist also tracks public opinion throughout the rest of the world about this race, and it’s unbelievably lopsided in favor of Obama. Unless you’re the sort of jingositic reactionary who deliberately disdains what them lousy furriners think of America (in which case, hey, you’re already in McCain’s camp anyway), it’s impossible to ignore the difference this will make for international relations.

As an addendum:  For anyone interested in further insight into what various corners of the global community (or at least the foreign press) think of American current events, the site Watching America is well worth a look.

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