We just voted! If you can’t guess who I voted for you’re not reading the blog very carefully, but far more interesting than my choice, I thought that you may be interested in hearing what we’ve been hearing, from people we have met in our travels.
People in nearly every country we’ve been in have been intensely curious about the election–almost every time that we mention that we’re American, the election soon comes up. Generally, people ask us either whom we support or who we think will win. People don’t understand the U.S. electoral system completely–many thought Hillary was still running (and often preferred her over Obama), and I imagine few understand the workings of the electoral college–but they are following the election and care deeply about its outcome. People have said to us that they wish they could have some sort of say in the election, because its outcome will have repercussions for the whole world. Media coverage is equally extensive. We’ve seen articles about the election in numerous local newspapers, and see a great deal of footage on local television. Europeans have told us that their local media is covering the election as if it were an election in their own country.
Every single person we’ve spoken to, given the choice between Obama and McCain, hopes that Obama wins. This is in complete agreement with The Economist’s Global Electoral College, which reports only three countries (Georgia, Moldova and Macedonia) in the McCain camp. Why do people have such strong, uniform feelings? What little they know about McCain, their impression is that he will represent nothing new or different from the last eight years. What little they know about Obama seems to offer them hope. It seems the broader themes Obama’s campaign has been trying to hammer home (McCain = Bush, Obama = Hope and Change) have been grasped by the world at large (or at least the parts of it we’ve come across).
Now, there are some in the world who may favor McCain. We met a Kurdish man in Syria who thought George Bush a “brilliant and beautiful man.” We’ve also found, in the past, that some non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries who feel oppressed–Christians in Malay Borneo, Balinese–favor Bush, and may favor McCain, possibly because they view Bush as a foe to all Muslims. Al Qaeda seems to favor McCain. But the desire for Obama to win is nearly universal. As you probably already knew this, let us delve into a few more specific topics.
Many (especially Germans, it seems) are curious whether Americans will really elect a black President. I do not know if I can go as far as Kristof in his recent New York Times column on “rebranding” America, but there is no doubt in my mind that the election of Obama will revive in global consciousness America as the land of opportunity and equality, an America with ideals worth looking up to.
Some Muslims, it turns out, believe that Obama is a Muslim, and Indonesians feel a special connection to him because he used to live in Indonesia. As the media reported during the primaries, no doubt Kenyans are especially excited, although perhaps not the Kenyan spiritual warrior who exorcised Palin.
While people are quite optimistic about an Obama presidency, many are also fairly realistic. As strongly as people favor Obama, and as hopeful they are for change, they recognize that certain things won’t change. Arabs know that we won’t pull out immediately from Iraq. Palestinians know that U.S. support for Israel will continue (and many feel that nothing will change for them no matter who wins). Even if people trust that Obama will make wiser decisions than Bush, they know that the U.S. political system will not allow Obama free rein. The only person who responded hopelessly pessimistically, however, was a young Pakistani man from Karachi who said that Pakistanis didn’t care at all (actually, the phrase used was much cruder) about America or its election (which seems foolish given that we are currently attacking part of their territory).
But generally I think that people view Obama as internationally minded, and Bush’s worldview relatively parochial, one of many reasons that they support him.
Many Americans abroad are also excited; we aren’t the only ones who managed to watch debates that took place in the middle of the night local time.. We met one young woman who said that she had somehow arranged to meet her ballot in Kathmandu, so that she could vote while traveling. If you also are currently traveling abroad, it is still possible to vote, as easily as downloading a blank ballot and mailing it in (or going to a consulate or embassy as we did). Instructions are on this site–no excuses!