'I can't stand it': American expats in Australia on the agony of watching the US election campaign

Elias Visontay
·7-min read

In the weeks leading up to the 3 November election, US citizens living around the world have been casting their votes.

In Australia, where between 200,000 to 300,000 US citizens live, interest in the US election has soared, with presidential debates broadcast live across most major TV stations.

Guardian Australia spoke to several Americans living in Australia about their voting intentions and hopes for the upcoming election – and what it’s like living in a country that observes US politics as if it’s “a contact sport”.

Dianne C, from Maryland, living in Sydney

A musician and mother of two who has lived in Australia for more than 20 years, Dianne describes herself as a lifelong Democrat, and has already voted for Joe Biden at the US consulate in Sydney.

Dianne, who grew up in Virginia and most recently lived in Maryland, told the Guardian she has become “completely distressed” watching the Trump presidency from outside the country, particularly out of concern for her family who still live in the US.

“This wasn’t the America I grew up with, and it’s deeply saddening to watch it deteriorate as much as it has.”

Having lived in Australia for several US elections, Dianne said the upcoming vote had generated more interest and discussion among her Australian friends than ever before.

“I’m often asked to explain why Americans are listening to Trump and voting for him, and I can’t answer that. I don’t know why. It’s unbelievable.”

Gun control in the US had become a real concern for Dianne. Before she moved to Australia, two of her first cousins were murdered by a gunman not known to them.

“That’s just the way it is in America, that’s what it’s become,” she said, noting she has “never felt as safe walking the streets after work” as she does in Sydney.

Dianne will feel “relieved” if Joe Biden is elected president, but she is worried riots could break out, noting there may be angry Trump supporters who own guns “venting their frustrations”.

Racial tensions, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and what Dianne describes as Trump’s lack of respect for the presidential office are of significant concern.

Ashley, from Chicago, living in Sydney

As a Trump supporter living in Sydney, Ashley has had several uncomfortable conversations with people who assumed she would be voting against him.

When she went to submit her vote at a post office on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where she lives, a man in the queue saw she was holding a postal ballot.

“He told me to get my vote in because it was important to get Biden in office. I told him I was actually voting for Trump, and he just gave me this bizarre look.

“It’s entertaining how everybody here is so concerned. When people find out I’m American, they say ‘I bet you’re happy living here’, to escape Trump.”

The stay-at-home mother of two young children, who grew up in California but most recently lived in Chicago, believes neither candidate in the election is perfect, and wishes Trump was “more polished” as president. However, she also voted for Trump in 2016.

“He doesn’t come off great, and he should be taken off social media. But people should pay more attention to the positive things he’s done, as opposed to every headline about a tweet.”

Ashley believes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will not win the US election
Ashley believes Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will not win the US election. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Ashley said she believed Trump had created new jobs for working-class Americans, and that many opposed to Trump do not acknowledge his appeal to middle America, who find it “refreshing” that he flouts traditional presidential stereotypes.

“I think he’s really fighting for Americans.”

She also cites America withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal as a positive of his presidency, and believes the high coronavirus death rate in the US was mostly the responsibility of state governors and their state health systems.

Ashley expects Trump to win the election, and is concerned at how polarised American society has become. She has come to expect people to unfriend her on Facebook after learning she supports Trump, and is disappointed people seem unwilling to ask her why she supports him.

Ashley’s family moves countries frequently because of her husband’s job, so she voted knowing she may return to live in the US during the next term. She is most concerned about gun control if she moves back, but notes the difficulty in recalling weapons from an armed population.

“There is no reason to have an assault rifle, unless you’re in the military. The US should adopt laws more similar to how Australia limits guns.”

Matt E, from California, living in Sydney

Traditionally a Republican, Matt is not voting in the upcoming election because he thinks neither candidate deserves his vote.

“You’re voting for the least of the worst, and the Republicans are just as bad as the Democrats this election. My view is, sure your vote matters, but it’s not worth voting from overseas, for all the red tape associated with it.”

Having moved to Sydney about 10 years ago, he thinks Australians have never been “as fevered” with a US election because of “the Trump circus”.

“I hate it, I can’t stand it.”

While unable to escape talk of the election in Australia, he has become cautious about talking about it with relatives and friends in the US, fearing some have become Trump supporters.

I’d go bankrupt getting treatment back home, thank God I’m in Australia.

Matt E

“He’s the leader of the nation and it’s become so separated. That’s his intention. And now people don’t talk to each other because of their political side. Life’s too short for that.

“I think he’s done a lot of great things for the economy, but he’s a jackass, a racist, an outright bigot and a womaniser.”

Matt thinks Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequent downplaying of its seriousness, is a “narcissistic effort to stay in power”.

“He thinks it’s fake news. Come on man, tell that to someone who has lost their parents.”

While he cares about politics back home, Matt also describes himself as in “health insurance exile”, and doesn’t think he will ever be able to live in the US again.

Originally from California, Matt moved to Sydney with his Australian wife, where they started up a Mexican restaurant in Sydney. They planned to stay for a few years, but he was subsequently diagnosed with cancer, and is thankful he has been treated under Australia’s public health system.

“It’s ridiculous, we spend billions on the military and people can’t get their flu shot. It actually makes me angry, that we don’t take care of each other.

“I’d go bankrupt getting treatment back home, thank God I’m in Australia.”

Aiden G, from California, living in Melbourne

Exercising her Australian citizenship inherited from one of her parents, Aiden moved to Australia from California for cheaper university in 2015, because she was unable to secure financial aid from a university in the US that offered her a course.

The 23-year-old, who has voted for Joe Biden, initially hoped Elizabeth Warren would win the Democratic nomination, and while she feels the party isn’t as progressive as it should be, it was important to vote in opposition to Trump.

Now working in the hydrogen energy sector on the outskirts of Melbourne, Aiden has noticed Australians becoming more engaged in the US election, but thinks Australians discuss US politics more generally as if it’s “a contact sport”.

“It’s like watching theatre for them,” she says, noting that conversations in her workplace have become colleagues wanting to weigh in on “how crazy Trump is” and not engage with societal and policy issues.

“Anybody with a conscience can feel bad for Americans.”

Aiden is concerned if Trump becomes re-elected, it will make it harder for her to find a job if she wants to move back to the US.

“The sector I work in is renewable energy. If you have a climate change denier in the White House, there’s not going to be a lot of investment and career opportunity in my sector.

“It feels more and more like I’m never going to get back there.”