US elections: Expats' vote could play a crucial role

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US elections: Expats' vote could play a crucial role

US elections: Expats' vote could play a crucial role
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Gathered at a bar in Brussels, American expatriates backing Democrat Barack Obama have been observing the campaign from afar.

Preparing their postal votes, they discuss what a future President Obama would bring to US politics. And they wonder just how accurate the opinion polls really are. “Maybe there are some people who say that they will vote for Obama and won’t, because they are afraid to say that,” mused Kevin Prager of Democrats Abroad, who added: “But there are just as many people on the other side who are afraid, because they are Republican, to say that they will vote for Obama – and they will do it.”

“I think that Mr Obama has really opened up the public arena for debate and Democrats Abroad have done a fantastic job in reminding Belgians that that is what America is about: debate. And not any of this ‘You are either with us or against’ us or any of this very kind of manichean vision of what politics is,” said fellow Democrat Abroad Mary Jane Farren.

Finding a Republican in Brussels is easier said than done. Mike Kulbickas, head of Belgium’s Republicans Abroad expat group, admits it is not always plain sailing being outnumbered. But the former Democrat is standing firm:

“Eventually, I did find that I could not stay in the Democratic Party anymore because of a lack of seriousness in foreign policy matters and the bottom line is that it is interesting to be in the minority. It is challenging,” he said.

“You have to give up being popular at cocktail parties and bashing Bush with everyone else because I am an admirer and supporter of President Bush. Despite his lack of popularity, his lack of communication – good communication skills – I think he has made the right decisions.

“So, it is challenging but it is also something that I am very proud to do because I am standing up for my country and I am standing up for a side of the argument which does not often get expressed very well in the European press.”

Euronews visited a gallery in Brussels where several American artists are displaying their work. Most are pro-Obama, although some don’t seem to feel the degree of passion for the Democratic candidate that is widespread on this side of the Atlantic.

“It just goes to show that Europeans really do believe that Obama will be a big change for the US,” said American artist Marina DiCarlo-Wierichs. “Whether that is true or not, I am not sure. I find that both candidates would bring a change.”

With millions of American expats worldwide, the importance of their vote should not be underestimated. They could play a crucial role in deciding the outcome in key swing states where victory will open the way to the White House.