American presidential election – A German perspective

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As a German student who is studying here for one semester,I was so excited about the Election Day and tried to follow the campaigns of Romney and Obama. When I first arrived in Minneapolis, I was somehow disappointed because I couldn’t really see and feel the spirit of the famous American election campaign.

For foreigners like me, the American election campaign is very strange. The image we receive via the media shows very emotional people who are absolutely passionate about politics. I had assumed that I would feel this excitement everywhere. But the reality was different. I must admit, that in general the people were indifferent about the election. Of course, there have been a lot of people who very were into the whole campaign and loved to talk with me about politics, but in the everyday life there have been very little.

In Germany, people are bombarded with posters everywhere – an election campaign is mostly a poster campaign. In America, I expected the same, probably because we judge others by our own standards. But I learnt very fast that the election campaign happens almost exclusively on TV. As I have no TV, I couldn’t really see the hundreds of advertisements. However, those I saw made me thoughtful – not because they were so profound. No, because they were so mean! Romney and Obama attacked and blamed each other in a way that was very alarming for me.

I’m used to an almost rational election campaign; of course the parties are blaming each other, but never in such an emotional and attacking way.

On Election Day, I got up at half past six to be at the polling place in time. Normally I’m more the kind of person who sleeps in but this day I was too nervous to sleep. I wanted to see the people waiting in line in front of the door. When the polling place opened, it was very busy and probably that was why the guy at the door denied me the entrance.

“Are you a registered voter?” he asked me.

“No, I don’t want to vote,” I replied politely. “I’m writing an article for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and I wanted to observe the polling place to write an article about Election Day.”

The guard got angry and yelled at me “No, you cannot go inside. You have to stay here.”  I thought: “Hmm, nice, then I will take my notes from the outside.”

I saw that the “Same-day-registration-line” was very long, I saw eight ballot boxes and a lot of people wearing their “I voted” sticker, which I thought was a very nice idea. I think those stickers are showing that people are proud to have voted and maybe can convince other people to vote too. Here what I saw was not that different from Germany.

Next year are the “Bundestags“ elections in Germany. This election has the same significance as if Americans are voting their president.

I was an election judge in 2009 at the last “Bundestags” election and I remember that it was not that busy at my polling place. However, we had a lot of elderly as the polling place was in an old people’s home. The Hamline highrise in St. Paul was also a home for assisted living, so this way the elderly had also the possibility to vote.

In general, I had the feeling that one goal of American elections is to make the participation as easy as possible. My university provided an escort for student voters. “We want the students to vote. There is no excuse if we even provide an escort,” said the driver.

I thought, if America wants to have a high participation and wants to make election participation as easy as possible with same-day-registration, escorts and whatsoever, why don’t they hold the elections on a Sunday!?

The American presidential elections have always been on the second Tuesday in November, because Sunday was the holy day where people should rest and go to church. But nowadays, this tradition is outdated – I mean, so many people are working even on Sundays and so many shops are open, Sunday is an almost normal business day, so why do not vote on this day? People argue that voting is very, very important and that it is a human right and a duty, so why not combine such an important event with the holy day?!

After my visit at the polling place, I stayed on the campus to do my homework but I could not focus. Every five minutes, I checked websites to see if there were any news.

Volunteers walked through the university and urged people to vote, I really felt the tense atmosphere and got more and more nervous the later it got.

In the evening, I gave it another try and drove to the polling place again. This time, it was not that busy and another election judge showed me around and explained me how the process works.

Thomas Larsen said that, “It is busier than four years ago,” and this shows that a lot of things have been at stake this time as so many people have prophesied.

When the first results were published, I could not concentrate any more on my homework. I was sitting in the cafeteria, watching CNN and checking huffingtonpost.com for the amendment results at the same time. I was lost in the projections and discussions with my friends – how did Americans feel when even I am already so nervous?!

This made me think if I felt in the same way for my own elections four years ago. I don’t remember that I was that nervous, but shouldn’t I have been, especially because it was my country?

Maybe I care more about politics than four years ago, but I think too that the American elections affect the whole world. In Germany I’m not happy if the other side wins, but I can still count on them and that they are not too far away from my values and my desires.

 In America, the Democrats and Republicans are so unbelievably far away from each other that it would have serious consequences if the other side wins. This elections showed how deeply divided this country is and having experienced this on my own, I can understand Americans better.

I try to imagine people in Germany going crazy after the election, the winner showered with confetti and he or she saying that Germany is the best nation in the world.

No, I can’t associate such images with the elections in Germany but it is the reality in the United States.

The end of this election was too much for me. All the confetti, the cheering and speeches were too patriotic. In Germany, no politician who wins the elections would ever say “We remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth”.