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Dublin: 16 °C Sunday 21 September, 2014

USA 2012: Irish thoughts on an American election

TheJournal.ie has asked four Irish people living in the US about their experiences during this presidential election season.

Who eats pizza the best? We didn't really ask that question.
Who eats pizza the best? We didn't really ask that question.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

ALL EYES FACE west today as Americans are asked to vote in the 57th presidential election.

Their choice is effectively limited to two candidates – Mitt Romney or the incumbent Barack Obama (there are other options but alternative candidates do not stand a realistic chance) – and the winner will reside in the White House for the next four years.

Although only US citizens will go to the polling booths, the outcome will affect many, many others. Including thousands of Irish people living in the US.

A recent poll revealed a marginal lead for Obama amongst the Irish in America but there also plenty of undecided as well. Michael Nyland from Connecticut is yet to be convinced either way.

1. If you had a vote, who would get it.

I can vote and I will. But I’m still undecided and the election is only a few days away. I consider myself a Conservative Democrat, but I’m disappointed with the president’s performance on job creation and the economy in general. I’m glad we are out of Iraq and there are many parts of Obama-care that I believe are fundamental to a caring society. With Romney, I think we may have a better chance of economic recovery and creating jobs, but I don’t like some of the things he is saying about Obama-care, and I worry about his foreign policies. On the other hand, both parties have disappointed in office for the past few years so maybe a protest vote would be best, someone like Jill Stein. Still undecided.

2. Who do you think has come out on top in the debates?

It’s not straightforward. Overall I think Obama narrowly won the debates themselves, but Romney performed much better than expected. My opinion of Romney is certainly higher as a result of his performance in the debates. In that way, he may have come out on top.

3. How would you rate your interest level in the campaign so far?

Very interested, it’s hard not to be. For good or for bad, the holder of the office has a significant impact on Americans, and potentially on very many others. I recently watched a documentary on the Cuban crisis and it’s a little terrifying to think there were men who were urging the president to take pre-emptive action with nuclear weapons. You wonder whether either of these candidates would have the backbone to resist similar pressure. So it matters who is in the office!

4. What do you think has been the most important issue of this election? The economy? Foreign Policy? Women’s issues?

The economy, the economy and the economy. In that order. Women’s issues? The economy is the number one issue for all the women I know. And, if we don’t get our people back working we won’t be able to afford a Foreign Policy.

5. In your opinion, is the model for US elections – two parties, three debates, long campaigns – a good or a bad one?

It has its good and bad points. The differences between the parties tend to be more obvious and that helps the selection process. There are extremists in both parties, and they tend to get more press, but both parties also have strong moderate views. The downside is when you have a mixed government, Democrat president and Senate, Republican Congress, or the opposite. Nothing gets done, the opposition basically has a stranglehold on progress and government reverts to party politics and mud-slinging.

Three debates are adequate for me. They are so rehearsed and scripted, it’s doubtful that anything good would come out of giving two politicians more TV time. The campaign is too long, consuming maybe 50 per cent of each presidential term. I would rather the parties spent the time actually doing what they what they talk about on the campaign trails.

6. Are the negative ad campaigns useful? Would you like to see them introduced in Ireland?

I think they are useful generally, particularly when they are endorsed by the candidates. You learn useful things about the candidates and see their ability to respond. The waters get a little muddied however when the ads are put out by Superpacs which support the candidate but are independent of the candidate. They can say pretty much anything, are very well funded, and are subject to very little regulation. Is there any difference between the negative ads here and the back stabbing that goes on in Ireland? I wouldn’t have thought there was a big difference. I doubt Sean Gallagher or Martin McGuinness would agree that Ireland doesn’t have negative ad campaigns.

7. Which moments of the campaign have had an impact on you, for good or bad?

Impact may be too strong a word. The Republican Primaries were great reality TV and it was interesting to watch the candidates stumble their way into their platforms. Romney’s gaffes along the way were telling but it’s not like he expressed an opinion I didn’t already know. Romney’s reluctance to publish his tax returns was a bad call. Fair play to him if he can legally get a 14 per cent tax rate. I don’t blame him for that, I wish I could do it. The presidents handling of the killing of the Ambassador to Libya on 11 September was terrible as was his poor performance in the first debate, I expected more.

~~~

Liz, a 29-year-old school teacher in Massachusetts, hasn’t seen the full impact of the stagnant economy and high unemployment cursing the nation as the local economy in Boston continues to thrive under the watchful eyes of Harvard and MIT. This is her US second presidential campaign and she’s missing Sarah Palin.

1. If you had a vote, who would get it?

President Obama – his beliefs regarding social policy and social justice are much more in line with my feelings than Governor Romney’s. I think that Obama’s model will mean slow and steady prosperity with government taking a more long term view on policy, rather than the creation of another merry-go-round bubble. Also, I just don’t trust Romney. He is such a chameleon with policy and I find it very telling that he is not even contesting Massachusetts where he was governor, and where Republican Scott Brown won a senate seat after Ted Kennedy’s death.

2. Who do you think came out on top in the debate series?

Romney was very steady in the first one, and was well able to quote facts and figures about the economy that certainly pinned Obama back. Biden was very strong in the VP debate and I thought that his answer on abortion, compared to Rep. Paul Ryan’s, brought people back to social issues. I think that while many swing voters are fiscally conservative, they are also more socially liberal. The second debate Romney seemed to lose his mojo once the debate moved away from the economy and he seemed to be out of touch with people.

When President Obama got a round of applause from an audience who were told not to make any noise over Benghazi, Romney’s goose was cooked. I thought that Obama should have tamed down the “zingers” in the last debate, but most Americans seem tired of war and appreciate the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, so Romney really was limited in what he could argue about.

3. How would you rate your interest level in the campaign so far?

Pretty high – I watch NBC news every night, avoid cable news as much as I can and listen to NPR during the day. Twitter has been hilarious to follow though. I love watching [Stephen] Colbert at night as well.

4. What do you think has been the most important issue of this election? The economy? Foreign policy? Women’s issues?

Living in Boston, the local economy is honestly quite strong with Harvard and MIT attracting a lot of knowledge based investment. I think around here the priority is social issues, but further out in the state and the region at large it’s the economy. Saying that, things are improving but Americans want the pace to be much faster. The urban/suburban/rural divide in issues is really evident in the MA senatorial race between Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren: Warren is polling well in urban areas around Boston, and Brown is polling well in the western part of the state.

5. In your opinion, is the model for US elections – two parties, three debates, long campaigns – a good or a bad one?

Well it’s certainly entertaining! George Washington’s farewell address was a warning about political parties – I don’t think he’d be too happy with the current model, or that he is dragged into the rhetoric!

6. Are the negative ad campaigns useful? Would you like to see them introduced in Ireland?

They are awful, yet borderline laughable in terms of production, use of slow mo and dangerous sounding music, and of course zooming in on the common Boston man drinking his Dunkin’ cawfee looking vaguely happy/worried about the future. We have a lot of them on the local channels for the senatorial race, but not too many for the presidential race as Romney is not really campaigning here.

7. Which moments of the campaign have had an impact on you, for good or bad?

The 47 per cent comment, Biden on social issues, Obama getting the applause on Benghazi…I miss Palin all the same ;)

~~~

Amy Feran has lived in New York City since 2008, moving there just ahead of the flurry of excitement that was the Obama inauguration. Four years on, she hopes the incumbent gets the time to finish what he started. But she’s also looking ahead to 2016, hoping for America’s first ever female leader.

1. If you had a vote, who would get it?

Obama would get my vote, because I believe he is a true champion of the middle class and those trying to get into the middle class. He has the humility to discuss and address America’s social problems, and the ever-growing gap between the have and have nots. His policies and plans are rational and intelligent, and they aim to level the playing field for success here. When I moved to NYC four years ago, Obama won the Presidency, and I’ve never experienced such excitement in this city, and such pride in America. He deserves another four years to finish off what he started. Then I’ll be ready to vote for Hillary in 2016!

2. Who do you think came out on top in the debate series?

I would love to say Obama, but actually Romney really impressed me in the debates. Considering he has changed his stance numerous times on many issues, and is financed by big oil companies and people like the Koch brothers, he appeared consistent, human and rational in the debates. He completely dominated Obama in the first debate, which was frustrating to watch because most of Romney’s rhetoric and plans are empty on substance! Obama redeemed himself in the second debate, which was pretty even. Then in the debate on foreign policy, Obama showed who was boss and who reversed much of the damage done overseas from years of Republican leadership. Romney didn’t really have much to say. So overall, it was even. Romney was an impressive debater, Obama an impressive strategist.

3. How would you rate your interest level in the campaign so far?

Extremely high. I’m a US politics buff. I would love to be involved in a US presidential campaign one day. I can’t get enough of the coverage, and when the debates are on, I can’t sit still with the anxiety and anticipation! I’ve also started to understand Republicans and the conservative state of mind, something I didn’t think I could ever understand. The mentality is just different – people don’t trust government or think it should intervene in their lives. You have to live here to understand that. But it’s pretty different from my mindset, having grown up in what some people would call a ‘nanny state European country’, Ireland. Thanks to that, I have no college debt.

4. What do you think has been the most important issue of this election? The economy? Foreign policy? Women’s issues?

The economy – specifically jobs. That’s all that anyone here cares about. America is really suffering, and unemployment is crippling, so it’s understandable that all anyone cares about it is whose plans will get more jobs for them. It’s a shame for Obama, because his many achievements thus far, such as The Equal Pay Act, The Dream Act, and the fundamentals of ‘Obamacare’, are not on people’s radar.

People are nervous that the economy hasn’t improved significantly yet, so they’re feeling impatient, and many will vote for someone new to help them. Romney’s salesman exterior and corporate success comforts people who are unsure, so many people feeling desperate will vote for him.

5. In your opinion, is the model for US elections – two parties, three debates, long campaigns – a good or a bad one?

I don’t think it’s a good one, but I’m not sure what is. I think there’s a widening gap for a third party in the US – a socially liberal, fiscally conservative party, led by someone like Michael Bloomberg, NYC mayor. The current parties are more polarised than ever. I think the debates are brilliant. They’ve probably become more entertainment than educational though. My opinion of Mitt Romney improved during the debates – he was very calm, smart, and tenacious. It’s just a pity that he doesn’t actually have any realistic plans to back up his arguments, and that the party he represents is so extreme.

6. Are the negative ad campaigns useful? Would you like to see them introduced in Ireland?

I’m not sure they’re useful, but they seem to be effective in swing states. I wouldn’t like to see them introduced in Ireland, I don’t think it would wash well culturally. There is a bigger distance between the candidate and the ad here in the US – in Ireland, it’s too personal and close to home. Hopefully Irish politics won’t get dirty enough for those kinds of ads!

7. Which moments of the campaign have had an impact on you, for good or bad?

The Romney ’47%’ video really impacted me. We all estimated what he believes in, but seeing him standing up in some country club, surrounded by wealthy WASPS (white anglo saxon people) just reinforced to me that he is a puppet for big business interests and is way out of touch with the average Joe. He has to keep the rich conservative millionaires who funded his campaign happy, and that scares me. He inferred that people who avail of the small government aid available are dependent on the government, and he basically wrote them off. I honestly think the idea of the ‘American dream’ will slip away if the Republican party get more power. After seeing that video, I donated a nice chunk to the Obama campaign.

~~~

Gráinne Fetherston is a dual citizen living in Washington DC who doesn’t want to see a return to Bush policies.

1. If you had a vote, who would get it?

As a dual citizen I have the vote and will vote for President Obama. He steered the country out of the dreadful financial crisis that he inherited, while Romney wants to go back to failed Bush-era policies.

2. Who do you think has come out on top in the debates?

Romney clearly won the first, Obama the last two.

3. How would you rate your interest level in the campaign so far?

Very high – more than is good for my overall mental health.

4. What do you think has been the most important issue of this election? The economy? Foreign policy? Women’s issues?

The economy.

5. In your opinion, is the model for US elections – two parties, three debates, long campaigns – a good or a bad one?

It’s a poor model because of excessive campaign length and the influence of unlimited and unregulated outside funding.

6. Are the negative ad campaigns useful? Would you like to see them introduced in Ireland?

A definite no on both counts.

7. Which moments of the campaign have had an impact on you, for good or bad?

Good – attended Obama rally where he first used the term “Romnesia”. Bad – Obama’s weak performance in the first debate allowing Romney to redefine himself.

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