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john ibbitson

Who is the most popular politician among Canadians? That's easy: Barack Obama.

Angus Reid is releasing a poll Thursday that shows Canadians overwhelmingly continue to support the American president. A copy of the poll was provided in advance to The Globe and Mail.

If they could, 65 per cent of Canadian voters would cast a ballot for Mr. Obama. A not-so-whopping 9 per cent would go with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The rest were undecided.

"The feel-good thing about Obama is still there as he seeks a second term," said Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion. "And obviously the contrast with Romney is so huge."

Support for Mr. Obama is, if anything, even stronger this time out. A similar Angus Reid poll in 2008 had him at 57 per cent and challenger John McCain at 15 per cent. Mitt Romney, it would appear, is no John McCain.

Not surprisingly, large majorities of Liberal, NDP and Green voters are pro-Obama. But even 51 per cent of Conservative supporters say he is doing a good or very good job as president; only 25 per cent of Tory supporters remain unimpressed. (The rest aren't sure.) The online survey was conducted among 1, 010 randomly selected adults and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points.

There have been testy moments in recent months between the Harper government and the Obama administration over the Democrats' refusal to grant a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver oil from the Alberta oil sands to the American South. As well, the administration is playing hardball as Canada seeks permission to join in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade talks.

Despite this, 60 per cent of Canadians think the Obama administration has been good for the country, and only 13 per cent think it has been bad.

An identical poll conducted in Great Britain by Angus Reid produced similar, though not quite such enthusiastic, results.

So why does the 44th president remain so popular with Canadians? After all, approval is much more muted in the States, where the RealClearPolitics compendium of polls has Mr. Obama at 45.9 per cent support, and Mr. Romney at 43.6 per cent.

One reason is that Canadians have not suffered as badly over the past four years as Americans, whose housing market is only now showing signs of recovery after precipitous declines.

And as we all know, even most conservative Canadians become liberal Democrats once they cross the border, because they support public health care, gun control, multiculturalism and minority rights. If Stephen Harper ran for political office in the United States on current Conservative policies, he'd be so far to the American left his only hope for success might lie in Vermont.

Beyond that, Mr. Obama is cool. He is the first president who can wear sunglasses without embarrassing himself. He can switch convincingly from professorial to colloquial. He has more charisma than any president since Jack Kennedy, and he's happily married to boot.

Besides, as thrilling as it was for Canadians to see Americans elect a black president, re-electing him would in some ways vindicate even more the potential for American renewal.

Mr. Obama's popularity offers Stephen Harper room for bilateral manoeuvre that he would lose if Mr. Romney became president, even though Mr. Romney knows Canada well – thanks to the family cottage at Grand Bend, Ont. – and supports the Keystone proposal.

Most Canadians just don't like Republicans very much and don't want their prime minister getting close to a Republican administration.

Mr. Obama's popularity up here made it possible for the Canadian and American governments to agree on creating a continental security perimeter that would have been met, one suspects, with fierce resistance had a Republican been in the White House.

"Canadians are not very comfortable with Republican presidents," Mr. Canseco observes. Nixon was never liked; many Canadians considered the close ties between Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney unseemly at best, and as for George W. Bush – don't get them started.

Whoever wins in November will be president until after the next Canadian election, in October 2015. We know who most Canadians are cheering for. And we can probably guess who Mr. Harper is cheering for as well.