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Bittersweet feelings during election season

Published on 29/10/2008

29 October 2009

Expatica ran a survey for a week in late October asking: What does it feel like to be an American abroad during the US presidential election? Thirty-six people responded and the following is a brief summary of the results.

The most popular response among poll takers was feeling disconnected, left out or alone during election season.

“I definitely have felt a little disconnected from the political race. I rarely talk about politics with anyone here and if and when I do it’s usually explaining how it works or why the race is so crazy and such a spectacle. But what has made this election surreal for me is pulling all-nighters to watch live debates,” said Silas Crews, an American from Pennsylvania now living in the Netherlands.

Living geographically far from home can be especially challenging for those who are excited about politics. “I feel left out. I really want to be home rallying, discussing, volunteering and debating during these monumental times. I’m a bit sad because this election will, either way, go down in the history books like no other and I’m not there to soak it all up,” said a respondent from Illinois, now living in the Netherlands.

Some American conservatives feel isolated living in comparatively liberal European countries. “I feel like I’m one of the few Republicans stranded on an island full liberals,” said Jeff Lodge, a US citizen from Michigan, now living in Germany.

In the spotlight
Although more of an observation than a feeling, a majority of participants noted receiving extra attention from European friends and colleagues in response to the presidential election. A respondent from Tennessee, now living in the Netherlands, said the experience is, “A little like being in the spotlight yourself. This is such an important election and everyone wants to know your opinion. They think because you are American you are an expert on every issue. People tend to forget just how big America really is and serving the interests of so many people is not an easy task.”

Obliged to be the expert
Many others report feeling obligated to explain US politics to European colleagues and friends. “I feel like I need to be extra informed about current events, probably more so than if I were in the States right now, so that I can answer foreign friends’ questions and talk about my positions,” said a respondent from Pennsylvania now living in Spain.

Feeling responsible
Several respondents noted feeling responsible for the outcome, especially in light of the US’ disproportionately powerful role in world policies.

“I feel a great sense of responsibility. The election of a US president impacts upon world affairs more strongly than the selection of leaders of most other nations. My European friends and colleagues are jealous of my ability to vote in the election of an American president,” said a participant originally from New York State, now living in the Netherlands.

Other Americans expressed embarrassment after President Bush’s conflicted eight-year tenure: “I’m somewhat "embarrassed" being from the United States. Fifty percent of Americans are very naive people. Especially Christian fundamentalists who get involved in politics,” said Peter Cayce, a New Yorker now living in the Netherlands.

Many respondents reported feeling hopeful or anticipatory about election results. Ann Doherty, originally from Massachusetts, now living in the Netherlands, says, “I will go with friends to watch the election outcomes over breakfast at Boom Chicago, I am gearing up for a really moving, inspiring start to the day and hopefully for a new era for US Americans and others around the world.”

The strongest statements of hope came from those in favour of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A participant from Boston, Massachusetts, now living in the Netherlands, is expectant enough to say, “I plan to move back there if Obama is elected.”

But not everyone is optimistic about a potential Obama presidency.

“I am concerned that many Europeans have an unrealistic view of what an Obama administration would be like”, said a respondent from Massachusetts, now living in the Netherlands.

A few poll-takers felt disempowered by the sometimes-confusing process of absentee voting. An American respondent now living in the Netherlands explains, “When I tried to register to vote, I found myself one of those stricken from the roles in my home state! I needed to have the federal elections system intercede on my behalf with the Secretary of State of Colorado, and after two weeks of faxes back and forth, I was registered and have now faxed my vote in. If having your vote taken from you doesn’t politicise a person, I don’t know what will.”

Happy to be away
A few Americans are happy to be away from the madness of election season and campaign advertising. A respondent from Oklahoma, now living in the Netherlands, reported feeling, “Grateful that I don’t have to experience all the negative advertising that goes on at home!”

Bittersweet feelings
Perhaps ‘bittersweet’ is the best word to summarise the expat experience during election time.

“It’s a little bittersweet. On the one hand, being abroad during the election means I don’t have to watch or hear campaign ads or endless news reports detailing the candidates’ latest moves. On the other hand, I’m somewhat sad not to be in the country to experience firsthand what will be a uniquely historic election,” said a respondent from Ohio, now living in the Netherlands.

Danielle Latman/ Expatica