I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week talking to people about the upcoming US election, both online and in person. I’ve watched the debates, laughed at the memes, and tried really, really hard not to get too political on Facebook. I’ve accidentally turned innocent conversations about current events into diatribes on why the US election is so important, and who people should vote for. I have, in short, been thoroughly infected with Election Fever.
But I’m not American, I’m Australian.
So the election has nothing to do with me, right?
The result of the election on November 6 won’t just affect the USA for the next four years, it will affect the whole world. That’s why the whole world is watching.
Just because I can’t vote, and I have no way to significantly affect the outcome, doesn’t mean I don’t care.
Why I Care
Let’s just take a step back for a minute, and look at the relationship between America and Australia.
We’re military allies and trade partners, of course, but the relationship goes deeper than that. (Yes, I think we’ve taken it to “the next level”.)
In Australia, we grow up on American imports. Not just in terms of material goods, but also moral, ethical, and cultural ones. Our kids grow up watching Sesame Street and Bear in the Big Blue House and The Simpsons. They learn about Abraham Lincoln, the civil war, and the story behind Thanksgiving long before they learn about Australian history.
And it’s not just the kids. For a relaxing evening, we sit down and watch Glee or NCIS or How I Met Your Mother. When we turn on the radio, we hear Pink and Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. If we go to the movies, it’s to see Taken 2 or Looper or Madagascar 3. Then we stop on the way home to grab a bite at McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
American culture has so invaded our mental space that Australians need to be reminded not to call 911 in an emergency (we call 000), and that we can’t take the 5th in court (…because we have our own constitution).
But none of that has anything to do with politics, right? Uhh…. Yes, and at the same time, no.
We’ve grown up emulating America. And that emulation doesn’t stop when we reach a certain age, or when we get to a certain position — partly because most Australians secretly think America is like our cool older brother, and partly because emulation of American culture is so deeply embedded in our sub-conscious that we barely realise it’s there.
When the President of the United States makes a decision, you can almost guarantee that Australian politicians will emulate that decision within the next six to twelve months.
The Australian Perspective
A recent Sydney newspaper poll asked Australians who they would support in the US election if they were given a vote. Of those polled, 72% would vote for Obama, compared to only 5% who would vote for Romney. (23% were undecided)
Clearly there are a lot of people in America who will be pleased that Australians don’t get to vote! But… why the huge preference for Obama?
Firstly, Obama has something of a Rock Star cum International Superstar image over here. We’ve loved him since he was campaigning in 2008, and not much has changed over the last four years. He’s liberal without being too liberal, he has the “cool American” thing going for him (in that he’s cool and he’s American), and he seems like a sane, honest (for a politician) family man.
Secondly, Australia is a lot more naturally liberal than America. We also have a lower gender wage gap, are closer to achieving marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, and can’t even comprehend the idea that abortion would be illegal in the case of rape or a potentially life-threatening pregnancy. (In fact, in 25% of Australia’s States and Territories, abortion is legal upon request, no questions asked.)
The interesting (and possibly troubling) part of this is that, as I said above, Australians feel like they are just like Americans. So we watch the debates between Obama and Romney, and figure the outcome is a given. Romney wouldn’t last two minutes as an Australian politician, so it can be hard for us to come to terms with the idea that this is going to be a close election.
If Romney Wins, I Worry That…
…his economic plan to cut the deficit without increasing taxes will result in cuts in spending, leading to a recession that will affect not only the US, but also the Australian economy. And we’re really still recovering from the last economic meltdown!
…his view on GLBT rights will significantly impact American legislation (or lack thereof) and that will, in turn, affect Australia’s forward momentum in legalizing gay and lesbian marriages in all states and territories.
…his view on contraception, abortion, and women’s rights will negatively impact on women in Australia and the rest of the world.
If I was an American, there would be other issues that concerned me. And if I was actually a political scientist (instead of an opinionated blogger), I may have others still. But these are the ones that I’m worried about affecting me and my family.
I’m Australian. I can’t vote. I can’t have any kind of significant impact on this election. I just have to sit here on the other side of the world, and hope that the election is won by the candidate who will be the most beneficial for me and my country’s future.
But if you’re in America, you can make a difference.
You can vote.