Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Expats voting for the president

did you?
There. Do you feel better now?
Photo by Troye Owens
In a few short days the US will be voting for the next President of the United States. Reuters claims that the close race makes up for waning zeal in expat vote, but frankly, I'm not sure that's all there is to it. Why would a tight race make people less interested in the voting process? I know that I'm a far more political creature than most of my fellow expats, so my perspective may be skewed, but there may be a few other reasons why expats aren't excited about this election.

It might also be that the choice is between a president who kept precisely zero of his campaign promises to expats and Mitt "what do you want to hear today" Romney. If anything, I expect many expat voters will be casting votes against the other guy, not for "their" guy.

For other reasons why expats may not really give a damn: my last US state of residency was Oregon, so that's where my vote will be counted, but as anyone who understands the electoral college knows, neither Romney or Obama give a damn about me because I'm not from a "swing state". Watch Nate Silver's interview on The Daily show if you want to understand this better. The short version: due to the electoral college, my vote can't impact the allocation of electoral votes from Oregon, so my vote doesn't really count. The toss-up swing state voters, however, are very valuable. Presidential candidates thus pander more to them than to "safe" states. The candidates have visited the swing state of Ohio more than any other state and pretty much ignored Illinois, the fifth most-populous state in the nation.

What? You want more reasons? If you live abroad long enough, you get to see how other political systems work. Seeing the amount of bribes private money flowing into US politics is embarrassing, particularly when many countries around the world publicly finance campaigns. By contrast, ex-US president Jimmy Carter didn't have to raise any money money for his campaigns against Ford and Reagan.

More reasons? The voting system in the United States has gotten so bad, with both Republicans and Democrats accusing the other side of voting fraud, that the US elections will be monitored by international observers. Unfortunately, Texas governor Rick Perry has once again embarrassed the United States by threatening criminal actions against the individuals from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

It would be fair to say that many expats are disillusioned with US-style "democracy" where we're given a choice between a right-wing and far-right-wing party. It doesn't help that the only really interesting Republican candidate doomed his campaign by acknowledging that evolution and climate change were real. (Think about that for a long time: Mitt Romney was the best the Republicans could come up with).

Contrast the US electoral process to those of numerous other first-world countries:
  • Public financing of campaigns
  • Multiple political voices getting heard
  • No vicious attack ads (at least not on a US scale)
  • No widespread questions about the honesty of elections
  • Health care taken as a right, not a privilege
Stick around long enough outside the US and your opinions will likely change too. I love America. There are many things about US culture that I love and the American people are generally a caring, friendly people. But the political system is a joke. No wonder many expats are disillusioned.

Your author can't help but wonder how many readers he may be losing for political posts.

Update: The Reuters headline reads "Close race makes up for waning zeal in expat vote". Apparently I missed the word "up" in the headline, thus reversing the sense of it. Now their headline makes sense.
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