Being a dual Canadian-American citizen means that, among other perks, I can vote in the elections of both countries. Last Tuesday, the 2018 US midterm elections were held. They occur every four years at the halfway point of the current president’s term and are often regarded as a referendum on the president. Fortunately, UTSG’s fall reading week coincided with the election date, which meant that I was able to go home for a week — not only to see my family, but also to cast my ballot.
While a perk, this responsibility comes with the stress of having to focus on two separate political systems. As an American attending school at U of T, it is difficult to give myself the kind of separation from American politics that most of my Canadian peers do. Granted, many Canadians do tune in to American politics since it affects Canada. But for Americans who live abroad, the added layer of the US being our ‘home’ country especially compels our attention to the political situation over there — at least, to the federal races.
Living in Canada makes it especially difficult to follow the multitude of local races in my home state of Connecticut, which occurred alongside the higher-profile federal races. In Canada, I felt a sense of urgency when I voted in the Ontario and Toronto elections this year, as well as a sense of camaraderie with voters around me. By contrast, I am unable to fully invest myself in the politics in my hometown of Norwalk. I found myself unaware about many of the local ballot measures and candidates.
I’m certainly glad that Ned Lamont, a Democrat who promised to defend key sections of the Affordable Care Act, was elected to be the governor of Connecticut. However, I won’t really be able to share the feeling or the implications of this election when I return to Toronto. It makes me wonder if I can be an American beyond the citizenship, especially since I am less affected on a daily basis by politics in the US than in Canada.
And I’m not alone in feeling disconnected. In a 2014 survey, at least 28 per cent of American respondents living abroad were certain that they had not voted, while 15 per cent were unsure. Of those who did not vote, 23 per cent felt out of touch with their national or local community.
However, this year saw upticks in Americans living abroad seeking assistance to vote in US elections. And it wasn’t just overseas voters: while the 18–29 age bracket has historically poor turnout rate, this year saw a 188 per cent increase in youth voter turnout from 2014.
And that wave had a very striking direction this year. Millennials are more likely to lean Democrat, and the Democrats ultimately won the House of Representatives, along with several governor seats.
The vote can be seen in two ways: either this is an angry rejection of Trump and Republicans, or a signal of excitement for Democrats. I argue that it’s both. Millennials tend to get more excited with progressive candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was recently elected as the youngest congresswoman in history.
They joined a trend that saw one of the highest rates of voter turnout in a non-presidential election. There is no doubt that this was the result of intense campaigning by both major parties.
Republicans used racial overtones and fear-mongering to suggest that, if Democrats won victories, the country would be “overrun by masses of illegal immigrants and massive caravans.” Democrats noted that the president’s actions since inauguration have occurred mostly without any checks on his power. In both cases, the president casted a long shadow over the entire country — making local politics seem even less important.
As I mentioned, it’s already difficult to feel in touch with American politics — especially local politics — when you’re living abroad. As a result, many of us don’t vote. Furthermore, many millennials feel that their vote doesn’t matter at all.
But in an increasingly polarized country, every single vote does count. With just a small increase in the number of millennials choosing to vote this year, the tide shifted tremendously. What would happen if even more of us voted?
As much as I sometimes want to when I watch the news, I have no plans to throw away my American citizenship. As long as I am a citizen, I still have a stake. And if you’re also a dual citizen living here, so do you.