Looking Across the Pond

International students on U.S. elections

Science and Travel Writer Alyssa Grace

“Basically the whole world is watching what's happening in your country, this time more than any other times.” - Alessandro D’Onofrio, University of Birmingham

I recently gave a short survey of five questions to five students from around the world, asking their views of both American politics as well as their own country’s affairs. All students are currently studying at the University of Birmingham - like me - but have varying backgrounds of study.

Alessandro D’Onofrio is a postgraduate student from Italy studying translation. Betty Castorena, an undergraduate from Mexico, is studying accounting and finance. Jennifer Shen is an undergraduate from Canada studying computer science. Holly Sims, a first-year law student from Nottingham, England, is an hour and a half away from Birmingham by car. Michael Caripis is a postgraduate student from Australia studying Chemical Engineering and Yurika Tsuda is an undergrad from Japan studying Sociology.

Listed below are the five questions and answers from all five students. But here’s a spoiler of their answers: everyone prefers Clinton to Trump, though a few voiced their support for Bernie Sanders - appearing to think that the Vermont senator is still an option, when in fact he did not advance to the general election. Like others, these students believe the outcome of America’s elections would likely have a big impact on U.S. foreign policy, thus makes this election very concerning to some. Interestingly, no one likes their own political leaders either (besides Canada).

  1. What is going on with America right now, and how do you feel about it?

AD: Well, on Nov. 8 there will be the presidential elections and the American people will have to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, so there's an endless debate about who's less worse, basically.

BC: America is a chaos, we're stuck with two options, voting for a racist man or a liar. I'm very upset, I wish [you] had more options.

JS: America is in a situation where they will soon have to choose a new leader for their country. America is a country that holds a lot of power and influence so everybody is in the know about their election. Personally, I care about the results because as a Canadian, America is very close to us and their election will affect us. I hope America chooses the most qualified leader, because unfortunately we cannot help them in their vote.

HS: I have no real opinion. Trump is definitely crazy so I’m for Hillary.

MC: The main thing that’s ‘going on’ is the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican leader. I think it can largely be attributed to a general distrust and exasperation of conventional politicians’ behaviour. His popularity is linked to a global trend of xenophobia and right-wing popularity. I’ve also heard the theory that he secretly has a plan to deliberately lose and will receive kickbacks through the Clinton administration, however it sounds like a farfetched conspiracy.

Although having Hillary Clinton as the next president is quite unnerving, it’s a lot less frightening than the alternative. I can’t understand how voting for Donald Trump is a proper way to express these feelings, especially given the ridiculous things he’s said. It perplexes me how logic and truth can become so irrelevant in politics!

YT: The first thing that came to my mind is the election, but there are some issues America must face other than that; economical rises of other countries like China, problems of immigration and security issues. But at the same time, I feel the U.S. is still a strong power to the world, to some extent.

  1. Do you think the results of the presidential election will affect you?

AD: Well, we live in a globalized world and the USA is one of the most powerful countries in the world at the moment so yes, the elections will inevitably affect pretty much all the "developed" countries, I believe. And that's also why basically the whole world is watching what's happening in your country, this time more than any other times.

BC: Yes, because whoever wins will rule the country, and will affect the economy in a positive or negative way, so it affects me because I'll start working next year and it'll probably be hard to get a job. And also, my family members are immigrants, so if trump wins he'll probably want to kick us out.

JN: Yes, Canada and America work very closely together when it comes to trading and other North American agreements. Therefore, it is important that the relationship between them is strong and that our leaders can cooperate together. Also, as I have had the benefit of working in America under a J1 visa and hopefully one day I can work their full time under a visa again. If the new candidate decides they want to limit the amount of visas permitted - I’ll be in an unfortunate situation.

HS: Yes, because American politics has a great effect here [in the UK] and to the world really because of globalization.

MC: As an Australian, yes absolutely. Australia is closely tied to America in many ways (politically, militarily, economically, and even culturally). Considering the position America has as a superpower, the decisions of the future American government will certainly influence Australian policy and behaviour.

YT: I do think it will affect international relations, but I do not think it will effect me directly, in my personal life.

  1. Who do you think will win? Who do you want to win?

AD: I think Hillary will win, but just because she is the lesser evil, so to speak. I think Donald Trump made too many mistakes in these last days and debates but well, we'll see.

BC: I think Hillary will win, because Trump has a very bad image, even worse than Hillary’s. I honestly want Bernie to win, even if he's not in the race anymore.

JN: I think Hillary Clinton will win and I hope she does too. I believe she is the most qualified and stable candidate.

HS: I think Hillary will win. But you never really know. No one thought Brexit would happen but it did.

MC: Although recent polling has suggested Hillary Clinton is currently more popular, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if either of the main candidates were elected – it’s pretty much 50/50 in my opinion. Polling has shown to be flawed, or in the case of Brexit working against the front-runner [protest votes.]

I would prefer someone sane to be elected, so maybe Bernie Sanders? However out of the two main candidates, I’d prefer Hillary Clinton/Democrats.

YT: Hillary.

  1. How does voting work in your own country? Does everyone’s vote count? Are you required to vote?

AD: In Italy we have what is called indirect elections: we vote for the members of one part of the Parliament - Camera dei Deputati - then the majority will put forward a proposition for the chief of government, who will put up the composition of the government that has to be accepted by the President of the Republic. I know, pretty confusing. We are soon to vote for a referendum to abolish the Senate and change a big part of our political system in order to be faster when it comes to approving laws, but not everybody agrees with this new system. Everyone's vote counts when it come to the parliament and we are not really forced to vote, but I think that you could lose your right to vote after a certain number of years of not voting.

BC: It's a really easy process, you just need your ID, and that's it. You go to your nearest elementary school on election day and you vote. It's not as complicated as in the U.S., where you need to register to vote. You're not forced to vote, so a lot of people don't do it. Everyone’s vote is supposed to count, but it's Mexico. So there’s a lot of corruption, usually rich people end up winning.

JN: We are not forced to vote and to be honest I am not sure if they count votes based off seats - like America or overall.

HS: Everyone can vote but we’re not forced to. Every vote counts and it’s pretty much majority wins but they have to win by a certain margin. I voted against Brexit but now it feels like it didn't really matter.

MC: Australia has compulsory voting with penalties for failing to vote without legitimate justification, although the penalties are not severe enough to really force people to vote. However you can’t force people to cast a legitimate vote, so many people will get their name ticked off the list and then cast a ‘donkey vote’ [informal/invalid vote.]

Without going into too much detail, Australia has a two-house preferential voting system, so it can be argued that each vote does count in some way or another.

YT: The biggest problem [in Japan’s voting system] could be a disparity in the vote value between huge cities and rural areas. Another one might be the fact that less and less young people vote these days.

  1. Are you satisfied with your own country’s current leadership?

AD: I think [Italian prime minister Matteo] Renzi did some good moves, to be honest, but nobody's perfect. We are never really satisfied with our leader, in Italy, there's always something quite wrong about him - it's always a "he,” unfortunately. We are always split and the division doesn't really allow the person in charge to really work in whatever direction. It's like compromise it's pretty much killing our country, nowadays.

BC: No. Not at all. [Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto is] uneducated, he can't even speak English; his wife was an actress who is very corrupt, and they use taxpayers’ money to travel with their friends to Europe. He has made so many new laws that affect every Mexican, making us pay more taxes but making essential things like health care private, and just letting us use IMSS (like our NHS) for common colds. He bought votes, giving poor people food enough for a week and fake promises.

JN: Yes, I hate to admit I don't follow Canadian politics as closely as I follow Americans currently, but our prime minister [Justin Trudeau] is doing well. He is well liked by the country and making our country more and more progressive.

HS: No. But I don’t think I’ve liked any of our political leaders. They all seem to be concerned only with the really wealthy people.

MC: No. Briefly, [Australian prime minister] Malcolm Turnbull has abandoned all his morals and beliefs prior to being elected. Generally speaking, he held popular and sensible points of view aligned with central politics. However Australian politics has adopted some of the American focus on party leaders rather than the parties themselves. In this way, the population voted for ‘Malcolm’ rather the Liberal party, of which he is the leader - which confusingly is the name of our conservative party. The result is that he is held accountable by the far-right of the party, and is now just another political puppet who has failed to produce any significant reform in areas of importance.

YT: Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe sometimes does some things wrong, but I do not dislike him.