Watching the global election - Monocolumn | Monocle


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7 November 2012

I didn’t vote. And as an American living abroad, an industrious member of that statistically-elusive, criminally-overlooked and swing state-sized expat contingent, I’m more than a bit embarrassed that I squandered my sacred democratic duty.

The US State Department claims there are 6.3 million others out there like me – not the civically insolvent, but students, soldiers, volunteers, spouses, CEOs and other voting-eligible Americans all forging their way overseas. This Paraguay-sized block seems gigantic for a country with an infamously low level of passport holders. But that’s actually a myth — or at least a fast-changing reality. In 1989 only 7 million Americans had the right papers to travel abroad – about 3 percent of us. The number jumped to 48 million a decade later. Roughly 35 percent of the population now has a passport, or 110 million Americans, and the number is climbing.

Is this really all that surprising? Hop off a foreign-bound flight from Milwaukee or Seattle and take off your headphones. The overwhelming cacophony of southern twang and dropped New Jersey ‘R’s here in London is enough to convince one that, a la Portugal and Brazil, the coloniser has indeed become the colonised. The American diaspora is everywhere. We fill the shops, the buses, the pubs, the streets. But then again, maybe my countrymen are just easily heard.

Out of this overseas voting block, only 10 percent or so sent in ballots during Obama’s 2008 fight against team McCain and Palin. So our track record is fairly poor, for reasons both logistic and apathetic. But surely all expat yanks are enraptured by the world’s election fascination. It’s equal parts charming and comforting to see the local front pages here dedicated to something so thoroughly stateside, so close to home.

And of course, everyone has an opinion. Two big media organisation held worldwide polls of citizens in various countries around the world. Who would they vote for, if given the chance? In one, the only country that hypothetically voted Mitt Romney into office were the citizens of Pakistan. And in the other, Governor Romney’s sole supporter on the world stage was China. Both deliciously ironic outcomes, of course.

So, why didn’t I vote? It wasn’t a political statement of resistance or affected nonchalance. I just assured myself, lazily and perhaps foolishly, that Obama would clinch with ease my sapphire-blue state of New York. But that’s a passiveness that has often come close to deciding an election.

So to my friends and family, forgive me, for I am shamed. There’s always 2016.


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