Democrats Abroad

M.G. Zimeta

Super Tuesday didn’t begin at 6 a.m. in Virginia, USA, but at 12.01 a.m. in Wellington, New Zealand, which declared for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton by 21 votes to 6 (with one spoiled ballot). Since 1988, Democrats Abroad – members of the Democratic Party who live overseas – has been considered a state in the presidential primaries. It sends 21 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, only slightly fewer than Wyoming, North Dakota or Alaska. (Republicans living abroad have to vote by absentee ballot in their home state.) In 2008, DA was among a handful of states on Super Tuesday to declare overwhelmingly for Obama, who until then had been more or less tied with Clinton.

DA was created by Americans in London and in Paris who were unable to vote in the 1960 contest between Nixon and Kennedy. One of the founding members, Life’s picture editor John G. Morris (who ran Robert Capa’s D-Day photos), still lives in Paris. Sharon Manitta, who has been a member in the UK since 1979, told me that the next major surge in international membership and activism was the election of George W. Bush. ‘People were very angry. He was the best recruitment tool we ever had – people joined the Democrats from all around the world.’

Since the 1970s, DA has campaigned to secure citizenship rights – including national and federal voting rights, and access to healthcare – for Americans living overseas. Since the late 1990s, it has campaigned on tax legislation: the US is the only country other than Eritrea to ‘double tax’ its overseas citizens.

‘American media concentrate on the US, but when you live in another country you have a broader view of the world,’ Manitta said. ‘The only time that doesn’t seem to apply is when you’re very very rich, and you send your children to public school, and you don’t mix with a range of local people from different backgrounds, and you live in one of the American ghettos – neighbourhoods like Chelsea and St John’s Wood and Knightsbridge... It’s very sad, staying in a bubble like that.’

DA uses teleconferencing tools to host discussions accessible to Americans around the world. A couple of weeks ago, Sanders attended the first Global Town Hall event ‘in person’; Madeleine Albright and Jake Sullivan attended on Clinton’s behalf. There are other ways, too, in which she’s been more remote than Sanders. Last week the Clinton campaign held an event at a private gallery in Mayfair, with Chelsea Clinton and Anna Wintour. Tickets cost $500. To have your photo taken with Chelsea would cost a further $500; dinner was $2700. I wondered if someone like me could afford to be a Clinton supporter. But the Sanders event – a rally outside Parliament – was free, and open to the public, so I went to that.

At 6.30 p.m., his supporters held up a lit ‘Bernie’ sign and to chants of ‘We’re not a Super-PAC!’ made their way to the voting centre. The queue went down the street and around the corner for an hour after the doors opened as more people arrived. Kedar Patel, a recent graduate from South Carolina, told me that this was his first time voting in a primary. He’d never before believed there was much difference between the candidates – not even with Obama’s candidacy in 2008. ‘But this time there is someone trying to do something unprecedented,’ he said.

‘I feel lukewarm about both the candidates,’ Joseph, a young African-American, told me. ‘I wish Elizabeth Warren had run.’ ‘After Obama, it’s a return to the status quo and the established families,’ Coretta, who was with him, said. ‘Bernie is patronising, and I don’t trust Hillary.’

‘The campaigning has been the most energetic I’ve seen it in 16 years,’ Tim Warmath, a middle-aged white man who’d volunteered for Clinton’s campaign, told me. ‘It’s the election of a lifetime, and the tone has been driven by the absolute disaster of the Republican candidates destroying the American political process.’

Inside, DA officials and volunteers kept the queue moving through the corridors, up the stairs and into the main hall, where a swing band was playing as people came in and voted. ‘Living abroad, we see how much America affects the lives of other people around us, and we recognise what a privilege it is to be able to vote in America’s elections,’ Karin Robinson, a former DA-UK vice-chair told me. ‘Now we’re getting a lot of questions about Donald Trump, and it makes us sad because we can’t explain. We don’t understand it either.’

DA voting will end on Tuesday 8 March, when voting centres close in Abu Dhabi, Luxembourg-Ville, Oslo, Santa Domingo, Prague, Tokyo and Niagara.


  • 3 March 2016 at 10:26am
    Rikkeh says:
    Hillary seems to be a foregone conclusion. But every so often, I hope for Sanders to be on the ticket as Veep. Sadly, the world follows my cynicism more often than my hopes and I imagine maybe John Kerry (or someone similar who stood for something, once) is the smarter bet.

    Speaking of gambling, the betting markets currently put a Trump presidency at around the same likelihood as Brexit. Both sides of the Atlantic are lining up a game of Russian Roulette with bullets in a third of the chambers.

  • 3 March 2016 at 11:17am
    Joshua K says:
    How many more sectors of corporate America would Hillary have had to be in the pay of for primary voters in the South to recognise her as being corrupt? Democrats voting for a blatantly corrupt candidate, in preference to clean one, is far more unsettling than Republicans opting for Trump over Ted Cruz.

  • 3 March 2016 at 3:28pm
    Graucho says:
    Slightly off topic, but we should always be grateful to anybody who expands the range and subtlety of the English language. So thank you Hillary for adding an extra meaning to the word misspoke.

  • 3 March 2016 at 11:27pm
    farthington says:
    Because of the reach of American policy, there are effectively extra millions of 'Democrats Abroad', whether they/we are US citizens or not.
    If the US has a global reach it demands a global electorate.
    As an Australian, I deplore the influence, direct and indirect, that the US has on my country and my life.
    Unfortunately, mostly it doesn't matter which side provides the President, as the deep state dictates that it's a matter of Tweedledum or Tweedledee.
    The outsider Carter soon learnt to mind his p's and q's.
    Hillary is the establishment candidate par excellence.
    Deeply corrupt, deeeply in hock to her backers, her period as Secretary of State was a disaster for the world (Libya, Honduras).
    There was never a war that Hillary didn't like.
    The Australian media gives a much too favourable image to Hillary, and there are progressive people (who appear to expose themselves only the mainstream media) who think she's a godsend.
    Heaven help us, because the Democrat Party machine won't.

    • 4 March 2016 at 9:49am
      Graucho says: @ farthington
      Well sir, console yourself that you live in the lucky country. If you lived in the Middle East that influence would be lethal.

    • 5 March 2016 at 10:53am
      M.G. Zimeta says: @ farthington
      Yes, I found Robinson's comment thought-provoking too. It would mean that in global terms, American citizenship functioned as a kind of aristocracy.

    • 5 March 2016 at 10:57am
      M.G. Zimeta says: @ Graucho
      When Jeb Bush dropped out of the race, Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker published this, which I enjoyed:
      "Iraqis Celebrate as Threat of Third Bush Presidency is Over"

  • 4 March 2016 at 3:47pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    Has any research been done comparing these voters' opinions before and after they went abroad? Could it be that residence in other countries has radicalised/moderated them?

    • 5 March 2016 at 11:11am
      M.G. Zimeta says: @ Bernard Porter
      Several of the DA voters I spoke with said that their experience of living in Britain and seeing things like the NHS had made them more left-wing (one mentioned knowing former hard-core Republicans living here who had become Democrats because of the NHS).

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