US expats can make 'big impact' on the poll

US expats can make 'big impact' on the poll

Americans rooting for Trump, Biden stake out claims

All eyes are now on the US election on Tuesday. American expats in Thailand said their votes from overseas can make a big impact on who will be the next US president.

President Donald Trump, who won the last election with the zealous slogan "Make America Great Again", is now facing off against Joe Biden, who served as Barack Obama's vice-president for eight years.

Battered by the coronavirus, Mr Trump has promised to revive the economy and protect US trade interests. He will uphold "America first" principles in foreign policy. Meanwhile, Mr Biden has vowed to support workers and minorities and expand public healthcare insurance.

Vote for friends and family

Born on American soil, William Johnson, 39, a forensic accountant, spends most of his time outside the US. He has worked and lived in Thailand for three years. He married a Thai woman last year. He said he enjoys being an expat and what happens in America is not going to affect his life. However, Mr Johnson said he cast his ballot abroad for the first time three weeks ago for what he calls "the common man".

"I vote for my friends and family and for the future of my kids if they want to go back to the US. I vote to see the progress of America," he told the Bangkok Post.

Mr Johnson, whose ancestors came from South Africa, recounted his experience of how the presidential election can improve someone's standard of living. He has a friend with cerebral palsy who cannot get health insurance. Living in San Diego, one of the most expensive cities in the US, she shouldered the huge financial burden including rent and medicine. "It was a thousand dollars a month. When Obama came into office, he changed it so if you are under certain amount of [earned] money, you get free community college and grant. After Obamacare [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] came in, she is now fully covered," he said.

When asked who he thinks will be the next US president, he said he no longer goes by polls not only because he comes from Florida, one of the swing states where voters are split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans, but also because he fears an unpredictable election result, as he did in 2016. "I woke up and went to the gas station at 5am. People just looked at me and shook their heads. What is going on here? You don't know? No, I don't know. Trump won!" he said.

Voter turnout surge

Tony Rodriguez, chairman of the Republicans Overseas Thailand, said this year's turnout of American voters in Thailand is five times higher than four years ago because "they are very passionate about the big choice between socialism and capitalism".

The Republicans Overseas Thailand helps inform American expats about voting procedures and reporting their concerns to the US.

Mr Rodriguez said Americans overseas can affect the national election, citing the presidential race between Republican candidate George W Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore in 2000 as an example. "The election came down to Florida and George W Bush won Florida by less than 500 votes. There were over 500 votes from the expatriates of Florida. The truth is that, you know, foreign [American] voters can decide the president of the US," he said.

When asked how the new president will affect Americans overseas, Mr Rodriguez, who supports Donald Trump, said one of his foreign policies will increase engagement with Asia amid the US-China rivalry.

"We are going to defend our interests in Thailand. We are friends with Thais. We support capitalism and democracy in Thailand," he said.

Nail-biting race

Meanwhile, academics have weighed in with differing views about the US election at the event held at Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus last Monday.

Viboonpong Poonprasit, the political science lecturer at Thammasat University, said like Thailand, the US has blue (the Democratic Party) and red (the Republican Party) states. Therefore, undecided voters in the swing states often determine who the next US president will be. "In the past, Republicans outnumbered Democrats, but over a period of 30 years, the rise in immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa, has expanded Democratic strongholds in coastal areas," he said.

Asst Prof Viboonpong said the TIPP, which predicted Donald Trump would win presidency four years ago against other polls for Hillary Clinton, said Joe Biden is ahead of Mr Bush narrowly while other surveys show Biden stands a higher chance of victory. "It is very close. Anything can happen," he added.

Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, drew attention to the demographic shift in Florida given the increase in Hispanic and women voters. "Statistics show that they are more in favour of Mr Biden," she said.

Assoc Prof Siripan said some erstwhile supporters of Mr Trump are campaigning for Mr Biden on social media because they can't tolerate the Republican Party under Mr Trump. "They are still staunch supporters of the Republican Party. They want to bring back past glory, but it is impossible unless it leaves behind the shadow of Mr Trump," she said.

Nevertheless, Kitti Prasirtsuk, Thammasat University's vice-rector for international affairs, said if Mr Biden wins the presidency, his foreign policies will be "Trump-light" as he counters China.

Mr Biden, though less aggressive than his counterpart, will continue trade and tech wars with China and keep its presence in the South China Sea.

However, it is likely the US will join hands with China on global issues such as climate change, and support multilateralism.

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