Europeans on American elections

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Christina Davis, Contributing Writer

 

It’s a presidential election year! The season calls for us, as part of a fresh new pool of young college-aged voters, to engage in political discussion to keep ourselves educated and informed about the action on Capital Hill this November.

This article takes an unconventional approach to American politics, and I hope to appease both those who are buzzing with excitement at the Cap Bar and those who are seriously considering putting this newspaper back down on the bench where they found it. Instead of getting opinions from the mainland, we’re going to see what the European world thinks of our election system, and what they see in store for our country this November.

Let’s start off with your average European’s knowledge of current American politics. Two girls I met at the Amalfi Coast laughed when I asked them who the president of the United States was. The college student from Paris couldn’t contain herself: “Um, Barack Obama, of course!” she said, and laughed some more. Her friend, a student-worker from London, knew President Obama’s presidential contenders without even blinking.

“Yeah, his opponents are Romney … Romney and Ryan, right?” When I told them that they knew more about American politics than most Americans – e.g., 40 percent of Americans cannot name the vice president of the United States – they again laughed and shook their heads.

I have a feeling they were quite entertained by my basic questions. My overall experience with Europeans was that they have a solid understanding of the American political system, which rivals that of the average American … funny, right?

Our election of an African-American was historical, both domestically and internationally. What do Italians think of our president? On a train with an Italian middle school teacher, I was given this opinion about Barack Obama’s election: “I don’t know him or his policies very well, but when he was elected, the entire world applauded, especially the European world.” This “historic reaction” spread across the seas with an international impact. Then, the global rosiness dampened when the recession progressed beyond 2008.

A young man on the train, an Italian political analyst concentrating on Middle Eastern affairs, added his two cents about the last presidential election.

“President Obama did enter the White House with a large disadvantage – the election was in the middle of the recession,” he noted. “That major issue has affected his prioritization of international policies: Iraq, China, etc. In focusing on healthcare and the economy, his presidency has not been impressive internationally.”

Another fascinating opinion I received – seriously, I got lucky in terms of train cabin companions – was from an Austrian Russia-specialist, who was very eager to contribute.

“President Obama was overestimated,” he said. “This super-star Jesus-figure was great, and his election historic, even for Europe, but he could not keep up with the hype – he is just a human being.” These European opinions depicted our current president as a historical figure, but a fallible one, nonetheless.

So what of the future? Will President Obama be re-elected? All three men in my train compartment said yes, they thought he would. In their opinion, the “change we can believe in” of the Obama presidency is still alive and well, and will solidify our current president’s re-election.

But now I turn to you – what of our future? The power of the ballot is in your hands, all international comments aside. Listening to the opinions and predictions of our allies across the pond can help us understand how we are perceived internationally, and how our choice of presidential administration can affect our future.

So that is the challenge: Will you take advantage of the freedom we have been given to voice our opinions that will not only have domestic, but also international repercussions? Let’s hope that this election year we will try to become as informed as our foreign friends, for the betterment of ourselves, of our future and of our fellow supporters of democracy.

 

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