Just days before US elections, American expatriates in Europe feel increasingly anxious about the neck-and-neck race between incumbent President Barack Obama - heavily favoured on this side of the Atlantic - and Republican contender Republican Mitt Romney.
"Americans in Germany are really excited about this year's election but nervous too," said Nancy Green, an opera singer who chairs the Democrats Abroad in Berlin.
As the campaign draws to an end and Americans go to the polls on 6 November, expats in Brussels are also feeling the pinch of uncertainty: the storm that hit the East Coast, Friday's jobless report and a long-anticipated Romney ad blitz could influence the outcome in unpredictable ways.
“I believe perceptions are already formed,” said Michael Kulbickas, who chairs Republicans Abroad in Belgium.
But latest polls do not show a clear-cut advantage. The Real Clear Politics rolling average of major polls, as of yesterday (29 October), had Romney leading Obama by 47.7% to 46.7%
The Huffington Post statistical model, which combines state and local polls, showed Romney up by a mere two-tenths of a percentage point, 47.2% to 47%.
Americans abroad have posted their absentee ballots thinking they could make a difference in these elections.
Republicans and Democrats have courted the expat vote since 1988, when absentee ballots reversed the outcome of a Senate race in Florida, allowing Republican Connie Mack to beat Democrat Buddy MacKay, who had led when polling stations closed. The close race has made the expat vote arguably more important than ever.
US citizens wanting to vote have to be registered in advance in a state, each with its own rules and deadlines. With some 6.3 million Americans living abroad – 1.6 million in Europe – the overseas vote could have an impact in key swing states, such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia. Overall this year, 207.6 million of the 303.8 million Americans are registered to vote, government figures show.
Obama better liked in Europe
A recent German Marshall Fund poll showed that if Europeans could vote, an overwhelming majority (75%) would support Obama. Only 8% said they would vote for Romney.
“People here don’t know Romney, Obama is very popular,” Kulbickas agrees, stressing the victory of Romney will be a choc for most Europeans.
Tom McGrath, a banker at the helm of Republicans Abroad in France, told Reuters that Americans were suffering in a deep recession and Obama would be held accountable.
"French people that I know can't really imagine Obama losing," he said. "They don't see Romney as a serious contender. They just cannot imagine Americans would throw out Obama. What they miss is that Americans haven't experienced the type of economic situation that we've been through since the 1930s."
Kulbickas said Europeans don’t understand American conservatism: “They have a cartoonist view of political parties. They think they are a bunch of religious politicians, but that is an inaccurate portrait.”
In Britain, where about 400,000 Americans live, several of them admitted the mood was subdued this time and they were less passionate about Obama. There is disillusionment that Obama’s 2008 promise of hope and change was dashed by partisan politics and congressional obstacles.
Regardless of the outcome, Europe will remain a main partner for the US. But Republicans unhappy with Obama’s legacy on foreign policy think that if Romney wins, Europe will be better off.
“Obama has paid very little attention to Europe and he has alienated many European allies,” Kulbickas said, adding that Romney’s bashing on Europe at the onset of the political campaign was to underline a different economic model.
“If America will get its economy in order, the positive impact will be felt in Europe,” the chair of Brussels’ Republicans abroad added, arguing that Obama failed to properly address the economic crisis.
Democrats pointed to the domestic policies that are far-reaching and game changing - like the healthcare reform.
“In Belgium, we take for granted health care with the mutuel system – the US was the only developed country which did not have universal health care until President Obama’s Affordable Care Act,” said Jeffrey Edison, who chairs Belgium’s chapter of Democrats abroad.
Edison also pointed to Obama’s move to lead the US out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan launched by his predecessor.
“President Obama has made it ‘cool’ to be an American again. I want my kids to be able to say that they are proud to be American,” Edison said.
- 6 Nov.: US presidential election