Perhaps you’ve received a phone call from Mitt Romney's or Barack Obama's campaign, asking for a donation. Maybe you’ve even been invited to an event in your hometown of Detroit or Tulsa or Seattle. But it turns out that you might also be getting phone calls and invitations if you live in London.
While we usually think of America’s elections as being America-centric, 6.3 million American citizens live and work abroad and many of them have a deep devotion to certain candidates and in some cases, deep pockets as well.
The candidates seem acutely aware of these expats especially as they back out of the public financing system, which puts limits on the amount they can raise in exchange for government funding. In the past year, their campaigns have reached out to Cairo, Hong Kong, Geneva, and London.
Stacy Hilliard is a member of Republicans Abroad International and she’s supporting Mitt Romney in the upcoming election. Sharon Manitta is a spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad. She’s supporting President Obama. Both reside in London, and both say that living outside the United States gives Americans a unique perspective on their country.
"You see how America — our culture, our politics — [affects] the world," Manitta says. "It's something that really doesn't hit you until you live overseas, especially for a while. In Hilliard's experience, foreigners as well as American citizens are concerned with American politics. "In London, there's a real interest not just by Americans overseas, but by the general population of the U.K.," she says. "They see that the policies in the U.S. directly affect them here; the economic recovery in the U.S. is going to affect Europe." Americans are constantly asked about the electoral process, candidates, and what exactly the electoral college is.
"Americans really, really care a lot about what's happening back home," Manitta says. Members of Democrats Abroad are active in attending meetings and contributing to voter registration efforts across Europe. There's a clear monetary incentive as well. "A lot of Americans that are overseas are high net worth individuals," Hilliard says. "They're going to be giving more to more campaigns to the parties particularly. That's a resource being used to great effect."
Sheila Krumholz, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics, thinks that the benefits of overseas campaigning extend beyond the pockets of wealthy expatriates. "I think they're reaching out beyond those Americans abroad to the foreign communities, both showing their foreign policy positions and expertise and also developing excitement in those regions around the world," she says.
The increased levels of campaign efforts abroad are another result of the explosion of campaign donations during this election cycle. Another is that the Presidential Public Financing Program is all but dead, with no new replacement in sight. "Right now, the reform community is fighting simply to defend transparency and disclosure, so new public financing programs are not in the offing at present," Krumholz says.