Sheffield’s Americans expecting long night

Watching closely: Kate Riley, from Idaho, in the USA, looks at a Presidential election webpage at the University of Sheffield's journalism department. ''                    PICTURE: STEVE TAYLOR
Watching closely: Kate Riley, from Idaho, in the USA, looks at a Presidential election webpage at the University of Sheffield's journalism department. '' PICTURE: STEVE TAYLOR
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Voters in the US go to the polls today to elect the most powerful man in the world – and Sheffield’s American residents are watching the Presidential election closely, as Star reporter Rachael Clegg reports.

IT’S 3599.3 miles from Sheffield to Washington DC, but for the city’s American residents, this doesn’t make the US election any less important.

Right now, amid hurricanes, economic hardship and controversial campaigns, the race for the most important job in the world is on.

But who will win?

The latest polls show both Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama at 49 per cent.

But according to Sheffield University’s reader in political theory and global ethics, Dr Garrett Wallace, it’s a no-brainer. “I am putting my money on Obama,” he says. “He’s leading by a larger margin in some polls and he has a four-point lead in the swing states. Also, the things that people say in polls tend to be more conservative.”

For Garrett, this election isn’t as exciting as the last one. “This election is pretty much business as usual,” he says.

“The country is certainly suffering economically so a lot of the votes are rejective votes, people are voting for the ‘other’ person – this is the key reason why Romney is gaining traction.”

Garrett, from San Francisco, has already voted for Barack Obama and will spend today, the election night, at Sheffield University Student’s Union, where special permission has been granted so the union’s bars can stay open all night.

Garrett’s not the only American watching the elections closely.

Neill Birchenall, from Ohio, who runs an IT company in Sheffield, has been following the elections via Twitter and Facebook, reading the regular updates from his family.

“I’m quite politically-minded so I tend to follow American politics quite closely. My brother went to one of the political rallies in Ohio and it was interesting to hear what he said about it.”

But according to Neill, aged 31, the British press coverage of the election campaign is very different to that in the US.

“The British press puts it in favour of Obama and I think that’s largely down to the political leaning of the two countries – Europe is more left-leaning so David Cameron is probably closer to Barack Obama, whose politics are centre-right by British standards.”

But as for his own politics, he’s undecided. “I’ve got issues with both of them and after weighing up the pros and cons I’m undecided.”

For student Kate Riley, 26, from Idaho, this election is about the lesser of two evils.

Kate will be watching the coverage closely today and has already watched the televised debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

“Romney doesn’t really say anything in the debates but he is a bulldog and he has that very pompous presence that appeals to a lot of Americans.”

But the battle has been put on the back burner, as the clean-up of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy takes priority in President Obama’s agenda.

Garrett explains this may work in his favour. “The hurricane is helping Obama’s image. He’s seen as acting fast and in these circumstances people are known to ‘rally around the flag’, which means they become more patriotic when faced with a calamity or war.

“Traditionally, in these circumstances, there’s an upsurge in patriotism and the president usually benefits. There will be a large number of people who look at what the president is doing in response to the hurricane and say ‘I am going to vote for him’.”

But it’s not only the hurricane that’s marked out this election – Romney has brought wealth and the controversy of a Mormon background to the battle while Obama’s campaign video features Lena Burnham, the actress from hit programme Girls, comparing voting for the first time to losing one’s virginity. In the video, Lena likens ticking the ballot to crossing the threshold from girl to woman.

She’s not the only celebrity to hail the merits of voting in this election campaign. Even Scarlett Johansson made a speech urging people to vote for Obama. Such is the excess of the election coverage in the US that one four-year-old was filmed crying: “I’m tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney.”

But while all this seems remote to Sheffield, the outcome of this election will have a huge impact on the city, as Garrett explains.

“The election will absolutely have a bearing on Sheffield,” he says. “The US is the biggest economy in the world – even though China is the second-largest economy the gap between China and America is enormous. What America does ripples throughout the world.”

With the US’s military might – which is, according to Garrett, the most well-equipped on the planet, the US president could well determine whether young men in Sheffield are fighting on foreign shores. “If you get a yahoo in power like Bush and they are closely allied to Britain the potential for it to affect our lives here in Sheffield is huge.”

Garrett will be anticipating the results of the election campaign at the University Students Union, along with dozens of other students and academics. Kate says: “Whatever I do it will definitely involve booze.”

US Presidential Election factfile

Election day in the US is always on a Tuesday. This was set as presidential election day in 1845 because, at this time, America was a largely agricultural economy and it took farmers a great deal of time to travel to the nearest polling place. Sunday was a working day and Wednesday was market day so election day became Tuesday.

America has one of the worst voter-turnouts of the mature democracies. More than a quarter of non-voters claim they are too busy.

Although there is only ever one president at a time, Bill Clinton and George W Bush are always referred to as President Clinton and President Bush.

The US elections work using the ‘electoral college’ system, whereby each state is given a number of votes, depending on its population. The candidate who wins 270 electoral college votes becomes president.

Ballot papers vary from state to state. In Nevada, voters can simply tick ‘None of these candidates’.