Editors’ Note: The term “election season” does not do justice to what our country has experienced for the past two years. Election era seems more accurate. The journey from the primaries to the conventions and now to the debates and Election Day has been riveting, regardless of what candidate you support. As November quickly approaches, the importance of this election only becomes more obvious to the college-aged crowd. It is no secret that much of the country is looking to us as a determining factor in November 4th’s results. Will we raise our voice or will we keep our mouths shut?
TBG will be raising its voice every month of first semester by featuring an election article from one of our four sections. Keeping you fresh on election topics that go beyond what we are handed in stump speeches is our way of pushing you to the polls in November to punch your ballot for whatever cause you believe in.
This month, one writer investigates what the rest of the world is thinking about electing America’s next president and how their opinions reflect political activity among America’s young voter demographic.
[vote2] It is the day everyone has been waiting for. Families gather around the television; newsrooms are packed and bustling, hearts pump nervously in the chests of two men decked out in red, white and blue at elaborate galas. The world waits with bated breath. The nation’s future will change with the utterance of one name.
But it is not just the future of the United States that will change. Whoever is elected will make weighty decisions that affect the futures of Middle Eastern countries and other foreign nations. More people than just Americans will be glued to their televisions on Election Day; the whole world will be watching. Despite such interest, most of the world will not participate in our election. Some countries will not participate in any elections, period, because some do not offer the same voting rights granted to American citizens.
“Middle Eastern people are well-informed,” said Shereen Hamed, a political science freshman with roots in Damascus, Syria. “The hot thing isn’t pop culture, its politics. People in Syria can’t critique the domestic policies. The mindset is still as if the ‘walls have ears.’ But when it comes to international issues, everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to the rest of the Middle East.”
[clark]Hamed, who sports a red “VOTE” wristband and a sharp look in her eye, says that Syrians do not get much of an opportunity to express this opinion.
“The government in Syria right now is socialist. It has been ruled by the same family for over 30 years. The current dictator, Bashar al-Assad, took office in 2000 when his father died. His father was more into socialism than he is. Syria is slowly getting a little more Westernized, and free enterprise is promoting competition. But people in Syria do not vote or speak of voting because they cannot, and are living under a dictatorship,” Hamed said.
The Middle East is watching over this election closely in hopes of a more peaceful relationship with the West, Hamed said. “They are hoping that the next president is able to give an open dialogue, is for a more diplomatic system, and they are hoping for someone who will talk to countries that we haven’t talked to before, like Syria, where I’m from. There is a lot of hope in the region, but at the same time, there are those who are still cynical,” she said.
Sebba Alqetrani, an engineering freshman who was born in Iraq, understands the cynicism that some Middle Easterners feel toward the two candidates in this particular election. [vote1]
“They kind of see it as a ‘lose-lose’ situation. Barack Obama is trying to prove that he’s not Muslim, which is offensive. There’s nothing wrong with being Muslim. And people in the Middle East see John McCain as ‘Bush Number Two.’ Lots of people don’t feel like we will get anywhere,” Alqetrani said.
Alqetrani said that she is not well-versed on the new voting policies that have been put into place in Iraq since the war, but knows that women can vote and that there is a policy of using fingerprints (instead of photo identification) to protect against voter fraud.
She also hopes that young American voters get it together in time for the election. “I hope people actually care this time. It’s sad to be the country where more people vote for American Idol than [in] the election,” she said.
But the Middle East is not the only region that is carefully watching this election. Europe is also curious to see who the United States chooses as its new leader.
Political science professor Dan Lee said European countries are following the current race for the presidency. “I think a lot of people in Europe were really turned off by the Bush administration, so they’d like a change in leadership, and certainly John McCain would be a step up from Bush, but I think around the world there’s a perception about the Republican party and how they are the source of ‘the problem,'” Lee said.
Curious to see how the world viewed the presidential election between Obama and McCain, Bragi Þór Antoníusson, Steinar Hugi Sigurðarson and Hjörtur Smárason of Iceland started “If the World Could Vote,” a simply designed Web poll to find out which candidate the world would favor as the United States’ commander-in-chief. “If the World Could Vote” has received votes from 193 countries around the world, from neighboring Canada and Mexico to slightly more exotic countries like Portugal and Finland to the relatively unknown (Niue, anyone?).
But what is it about the president of the United States that inspired these guys rather than the somewhat controversial election of the president of France? The Web site states it simply: “The president of the United States is a powerful man, probably the most powerful person on the planet.”
If this is true, people in countries around the world should watch to see who Americans vote for, especially in the Middle East, where we are involved in an unprecedented combination of war and trade. And shouldn’t 18-to-25-year-olds, 46.7 percent of which registered to vote in 2004, voice their opinion, especially when there are so many around the world who cannot?
Levi Clark volunteered for Progressive Future, a liberal political advocacy organization set up to get people, regardless of partisanship, to register to vote. “The general student reaction was, ‘I’ll register if I have the time.’ I think a lot of students probably wanted to do it but aren’t as driven as they should be and are using time as an excuse. I think it’s a product of American individualistic society – it’s all about you. It’s all about free will,” Clark said.
Clark is also unsure about what methods would get young people to vote more often, since being informed about current events and pledging to vote does not seem to work, but Clark better understands the importance of involvement in civic activity after his volunteer efforts. “Our generation is being a handed a big bill – and the money is due next week,” Clark said.
[shereenhamed]Because young voters have a huge responsibility looming over their heads, organizations have been using the fact that more Americans vote for American Idol to their advantage, and signing celebrities onto their staff lists, trying to get young Americans to vote by any means necessary.
The Rock the Vote organization, founded in 1990 by Jeff Ayeroff, is known for using celebrities in its ads. Similarly, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs launched Citizen Change, a group behind the ominously titled “Vote or Die” campaign in 2004, which featured celebrities like Paris Hilton and Alicia Keys wearing the group’s T-shirts. There’s Declare Yourself, a group that tries to influence young people to vote by displaying disturbing images of celebrities’ mouths being bonded or sewn shut. MTV, the holy grail of young American pop culture, has a “Choose or Lose” campaign filled with celebrity-oriented opinion about the campaign.
Though celebrities seem to have the magic touch that controls what young Americans watch, listen to and wear, they may not be so successful when it comes to inspiring civic duty.
“MTV is always trying to get people involved. And even Rock the Vote, way back to Bill Clinton, you know, the ‘boxers or briefs’ sort of thing. That tries to build up younger participation, but it never really increased,” Lee said. “Even Diddy with the “Vote or Die,” it did not have any really discernible effect. I think what it would take is something more personal, say, if it got to the point where we had to institute the military draft. It gets to the heart of people’s self-interests.”
Haley Perez, an elementary education senior, says that while she would not vote for something because a celebrity would, she feels the power of celebrities should not be overlooked. “I like to have my own opinion,” Perez said. “But I think it’s a good idea for organizations to use celebrities. A lot of young people in America follow pop culture.”
As it turns out, celebrities may have more influence on the youth vote than expected. A 2008 survey done by Washington State University argues that celebrity-driven voting campaigns can draw young voters to the polls, stating that these campaigns “lowered complacency” and that young people were more aware of societal issues. Currently, 44 million Americans aged 18 to 29 will be old enough to vote in the upcoming election.
But how many will actually vote for the next president?
“Honestly, I don’t think American kids get it,” Hamed said. “Even when they do follow elections, they are more likely to point out McCain picking at Obama instead of anything in his platform. I do think that soon they will start to realize that this is their future; that they’re going to have to pay off the debt and may not get to live the affluent lifestyle they dreamed about.”
Due to the economic crisis, explorations in alternative energy, and foreign policy, the young American vote becomes more and more important because the hot button issues are also long-term. And come Inauguration Day, the presence of the president elect will not be felt by just 300 million Americans. The feeling will be magnified 21 times over by the population of the world. After eight years of arguably one of the most controversial administrations ever both domestically and internationally, there is no doubt that the world will be watching.