Sitting in a rented bedroom in Bushwick my view of Manhattan is somewhat obscured by the neighbouring flats and homes. You can see one building comfortably – One World Trade Center – and that’s hardly surprising since it’s the sixth largest building in the world.
Every other day of my time in New York I’ve been motivated to leave and explore as much as possible. As a visitor today is no different – there’s no shortage of things to do and see – but with the election in full swing I’m feeling more inclined to take in that limited view, itself hugely significant and symbolic, from the comfort of said bedroom.
As an Australian passing through its been interesting to watch and listen to New Yorkers as they live through the most divisive election experiences in recent decades. The candidates have strong ties to NYC – Trump was born and raised in the city, and Clinton was its first female Senator and lives around 30 miles north of the big smoke.
Since I’m not voting in the election my political views don’t really matter on this one, but having talked to people on the ground I figured I’d share some insight and comparison based on my Australian voting experience.
When Australia voted in a double dissolution election earlier this year it came on the back of a campaign of around two months, and needless to say by the end of it we were all pretty tired of hearing about Turnbull’s privilege and Shorten’s lettuce preferences by the end of it. By contrast, Clinton and Trump announced their campaigns for presidency three days apart in June. June 2015. From the initial campaigning for their respective party tickets to now the American people has sat through some 18 months of political talk and speculation, commercials, accusations and scandals. The majority of everyday people I’ve spoken to in New York just want it to be over, and it’s not hard to see why.
The voting system
Australians are required by law to vote, but Americans are not. As a consequence while there are people who vote in every election there are scores of people who need to be convinced by one candidate or another that it’s worth their time and effort to turn out on election day (a Tuesday and not a public holiday, by the way). I haven’t been here long enough to establish a strong opinion on it but I’m sure this would have an influence on the candidate rhetoric and where they target their campaigns. I’ve seen reported that early figures suggest a strong Latino voter turnout – I have my theories but where this significant minority vote will go and what motivated the strength of numbers remains to be seen. It also probably clouds the reliability of polling – no one really knows who will turn out on election day.
As an aside, when I told one guy that Australians were required to vote he insisted that was undemocratic. I’d never really thought about it.
Perhaps this is another consequence of the voluntary voting system, but it seems to really matter to people which way their favourite celebrities vote. The Clinton campaign has called on Beyonce and Jay-Z this week and appears to be more popular with entertainers of this ilk. I had an interesting conversation at the ice hockey of all places with a builder from upstate, who told me he liked Billy Joel’s philosophy on political endorsement – “who cares about the opinions of a piano player”. As an outsider it is interesting that the lines between the celebrity and political realms do appear somewhat blurred – I can’t imagine Barnaby Joyce calling on Flume for an endorsement anytime soon.
Whatever happens with the vote today and politically in the coming months, the heart of New York City seems entirely likely to continue ticking as it has done for years to come.
I’m grateful to have visited at such an interesting point in its story.