Super Tuesday: The world is watching – especially Americans abroad
On the day voters in almost half the American states go to the polls in the Democratic and Republican primary elections, these contentious and exciting contests have sparked an unprecedented interest in even the most apolitical Americans abroad.
While Americans in 24 states across the nation wake up, drink coffee and drop by their polling stations before going to work, their compatriots abroad are participating in record numbers for the first time, in some cases even voting in person overseas.
In more than a dozen countries across Europe, overseas Democrats are dropping by their local polling stations, feeling like they are participating in their political process in a way they could previously only do by mail. And their votes will matter: Democrats abroad will send 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer, 14 of whom will be elected by voters in the Global Presidential Primary.
"It is easy to feel alienated from what is going on in the US when you aren't there," said Debbie Baumann, who lives in Paris and says she is planning to vote at her local station. "Even though I read American newspapers online and watch CNN, the elections don't surround you here. You feel far away from the excitement so this helps."
It is these voters that the Global Primary initiative is hoping to attract: Officials say that only about one-sixth of overseas voters actually bother to fill out a ballot. But they believe that this election year – one without an incumbent president, and a primary contest between two unprecedented candidates, a former first lady and a first-time black senator - is going to inspire even the most passive Americans abroad to vote.
"It is so exciting this time around," said Sarah Borch, who lives in Berlin. "I don't usually care about primaries. But this is history in the making."
Election officials say that in general, Americans who live overseas take more of an interest in their elections than the electorate in general. They believe that is due to international experience that opens their eyes to other issues.
"On the whole, internationals are more interested in the elections than Americans, because of our historic anti-intellectualism and just plain apathy," said Jennie Dallery, an American resident of the Netherlands. "For better or for worse, U.S. policy influences and/or dictates the events and policy making across the world. Internationals pay attention and have a vested interest."
Some Americans overseas say that they have become even more interested in American politics while abroad than when they lived stateside.
"The voting becomes more important once you are outside the country because you are more in touch with how the world feels about America," said Kevin Motay of Democrats Abroad's Netherlands chapter. "You start questioning its status as a global power; if it should continue to be so."
A tough choice?
And who are Americans abroad supporting? Expatica found a strong base for both Democratic contenders.
"It's a tough choice but I would have to go with Hilary," said Christine H., 42, who lives in Berlin and declined to give her last name. "While I would love to see a president who isn't white, I think we women have waited longer."
That message resonated even with men including Netherlands resident James Ashburn who prefers Hillary Clinton: "She has the most experience and we need a woman's point of view in the White House to bring about the real changes the US needs such as healthcare, jobs, social justice, ending the war in Iraq, etc."
Others said that race and gender played no role in their choice.
"Obama (is my choice) because he is articulate, has great ideas and is better in-tuned to the global community because of his experience growing up," wrote Ty Jernstedt, a resident of the Netherlands.
It is generally easier to find Americans abroad who are Democrats rather than Republicans (unless you look to the military). That might explain why there are no overseas primaries for these party members. Still, most who identified themselves as Republicans said they preferred John McCain.
"Not only is he one of the most honest and longest serving of the current batch of candidates but he has overcome adversity to become president," wrote Expatica reader Barry Hammer in response to a survey. "He's a decorated war hero who isn't ashamed of having served his country, and he would have the easiest time rallying both sides of the political divide."
Overseas voters also in general have different priorities than their compatriots across the Atlantic. They cite the war in Iraq, protecting the environment, human rights, multilateral relations and America's image abroad as their top concerns. They say the politics of the Bush administration has affected their lives more than most would think.
"I would have to say I have more interest in these elections because I really want the US to change direction," said Ashburn." I can tell that my non-US friends and co-workers have a sort of animosity or disgust for the US."
It is mostly Republican voters abroad polled that say that America's image abroad is not really a factor for them.
"Is it that bad?" asked Warren S. Proctor, chairman of Republicans Abroad's Netherlands chapter. "A lot of people still appreciate what we are doing - the media make us believe that we have a bad image. But Americans do not worry about their image; they worry about working and providing a future for their family and themselves."
Regardless, when Americans in Europe wake up Wednesday morning, chances are that they will know who will take the Republican and Democratic nominations in the contest in November that some have dubbed, "the most exciting show on earth."
5 February 2008
Who do you think will win the Super Tuesday Primaries?