With U.S. elections just one week away, international students on campus find themselves in a unique position.
Students who come from countries outside the United States, many of whom are unable to vote next week, offer an outside perspective on the upcoming elections, especially in regards to the American two-party system. Noting robust on-campus political activity, such as phone banking, canvassing and debate-watching, they said that American students often do not realize how high the level of participation in the American political process is.
“Americans might not appreciate how substantive their political discourse is compared to other countries. For example, in Filipino elections, you’d never have discussions involving health care as a deciding factor in an election,” said Leandro Leviste ’15, a Philippines native who is the son of Filipino Senator Loren Legarda. “As much as people paint the American political system as elitist, it is still more open to people rising through the ranks than many other countries in the world.”
Seven international students interviewed said that, compared to their home countries, American voters seem more engaged and passionate about politics, and the American media is more heavily focused on covering election news.
Specifically, two students mentioned the widely viewed presidential debates as an example of Americans paying close attention to national politics.
“People in America seem more involved in politics than back home [in Pakistan], especially the Average Joe,” Hannia Zia ’16 said. “That’s really heartening to see. Back home, we have more than two parties, but most people seem so disillusioned with the corrupt political system that most don’t vote. In the United States, the debates are watched with rigor, although most people already know who they are going to vote for.”
Ben Mallet ’16 said that in contrast to the U.S., in his home country of England, television ads for political candidates are banned, limiting the amount of money that candidates can spend.
Students also commented on America’s two-party system compared to coalition governments found in many of their home countries.
“I think people around the world are both fascinated and baffled by American elections,” said Fil Lekkas ’14, who holds both German and Greek citizenship. “The domination of the political scene by two parties and the total absence of coalition forming is strange, especially to Europeans.”
Nick Lo ’15, a citizen of the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United States, said that although he plans on voting next week, neither party really reflects his views. He added that the two-party system does not give him much flexibility when filling out his ballot.
“The two parties are not that different in reality, in terms of their policies,” Lo said. “The United States needs more varied opinions and political representation than just Democrats vs. Republicans, because you miss out on many segments of the population who don’t agree with either party’s views but are forced to vote for one of them.”
International students comprise 10 percent of Yale College enrollment, according to Yale’s admissions website.