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.


  1. Great article which I think reflects the point of view of most US citizens abroad!

  2. "Health care taken as a right, not a privilege"
    silly lefty, what does that have to do with the electoral process? :-)

    1. Silly moron, it has EVERYTHING to do with the electoral process. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation I know of that does not have universal health care.

  3. @Shmuel, Not sure if your question is serious or not but I would answer "A lot." :-) For those of us who live abroad and are covered by national healthcare programs in our host countries, the fact that people in the US are actually debating the need for some kind of national healthcare system has many of us shaking our heads in disbelief. I'm not saying that Obamacare is the answer here but I have never met one American living in France who has a problem with the French healthcare system be they Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or progressives. It's drop dead efficient and still has plenty of room for the private sector. Plenty for everyone on the political spectrum to love. That homelanders are spending so much time and emotion on this, and that it has such a large part to play in the campaigns to the detriment of other issues, strikes many of us as weird. And those of us who watched the debate during the primaries where some Americans stood up and said of the uninsured, "Let them die" well, that was a real shocker. Now I'm a conservative and tend to vote that way but that vision continues to haunt me. An electoral process is only as good as the people in it and if that's the level of morality in the US these days, well, I fear for the soul of the nation.

  4. The interesting thing about voting in US elections, is that one knows that the demorepublican dictator will be elected again no matter who one votes for. So, if you want for your vote to matter, seek for the system to be changed so that you can vote on local embassy matters. Vote on its budget, annual program and staff. At least then, your vote would make a difference that would be relevant to your situation. Currently, your vote matters as much as the non-vote of a non-US citizen.

  5. Does it *REALLY* matter?

    I know it sounds like I'm playing devils advocate but does your vote, your determination to vote really change any of the politics / environment around you.

    Do you think it is the intention of most politicians to be elected on {principles here} then successfully fail to deliver {principles here} over their term?

    1. In a multiparty system, the vote can make a difference. One can be a member of the party that fits one's interests the best and then that party will negotiate alliances with other parties to win the majority and push its preferences. This is different from the US system where one votes against one's interests for the "lesser of two evils" in order to achieve what one didn't want, which would be more or less the same regardless of how one votes.

  6. Who cares who wins? I left the USA and I don't care anymore. I will not vote.

    (Indicentally, my residence is in Nevada where the vote is a tossup, and consequently my skype number in Nevada has been ringing off the hook.)

    The best way to "vote" is with your feet: by getting ready to get a passport in a country whose beliefs coincide more with your own.

  7. You're not losing me with political posts. In fact, it is a primary reason I read. You have accurately outlined many of the reasons I'm disillusioned with the "more perfect union". (that and their annoying punctuation conventions that defy logic for anyone with an ounce (mL?) of programming.) Healthcare & democracy, equality & meritocracy: these are important issues to people... Even Americans.

    That said, I think I want to get to the point that @greenlander has gotten too: simply giving up on a problem I can't solve.