X-factor: Americans in Britain cast their votes

The presidential election won’t just be decided in America. There are 300,000 US citizens in Britain – and their postal votes could make all the difference. So how does if feel to have a say from afar? Interviews by Adrian Mourby
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The Independent US

David T Loughborough, retired lawyer, 70, lives in North Devon

I have not yet decided who I will vote for. For me, the most important areas of concern for the next President will be the financial crisis, the war in Iraq and the wider war on terrorism, and the state of illegal immigration into America. I'd say I am a "small-c" conservative, a libertarian perhaps, believing in a small role for national government and a larger role for state and local governments, but I don't cast my vote on party affiliation. I just think about which of the candidates would do the best job in the next four years.

Obama's charisma and great oratory skills would be great assets in representing America throughout the world. But having been in the Senate for only three years, his lack of experience is of concern to me. In addition, he has the most liberal voting record of all senators. McCain, on the other hand, sounds willing to challenge entrenched interests in Washington, including within his own party, when he believes it is necessary to do so.

Governor Palin was clearly selected for the impact that she would have on the McCain campaign, not because she was the most qualified candidate. Without a doubt, she speaks in a way that many Americans find appealing – a kind of folksy, kitchen-table style that makes her appear both honest and "one of us". But as someone recently wrote in the New York Times, Americans like to be governed by someone who understands the "common man", but who isn't a "common man" himself.

Also, just as I have reservations about Obama and his lack of experience, I have similar concerns about Palin's lack of experience and McCain's age and health. I would be less concerned about Biden becoming President than I would about Palin assuming that office.

Kate Tadman, database Manager for the Oxford English Dictionary, 40, Oxford

I left the US right after finishing college, almost 20 years ago. I was born in Virginia, but I last lived in Texas, so that's where my vote will count – and I'll be voting Democrat. I'm glad I left America, but I still take a close interest. I'm sort of sorry to have missed the Clinton years, but very glad I missed the Bushies! I can't stand what has happened to the US – the dumbing-down and crassness, and how narrow-minded and incurious about the rest of the world even well-educated Americans seem to be.

I've followed the campaigns avidly – I even ended up dreaming about them! Aside from British papers, The New York Times online and BBC Radio 4 keep me up to speed. Barack Obama is wonderful. I finally realise what my mother felt about JFK. I have read his book, Dreams from My Father, and think it will be so great to have someone with experience of the world beyond the borders of their state (yes, that means you, Sarah Palin). He's a pretty good writer, too. He has intelligence and compassion, and the ability to make the words "élite" and "liberal" mean good things again.

I'm also with Michelle Obama: I finally feel proud of my country again. It's been a rough eight years. I used an absentee ballot after registering online. If Obama wins, I will be thrilled, but I don't see myself going back now. It's not really my country anymore, although I do defend it to non-Americans who just want to bash it. The first thing Obama should do is appoint a good, possibly bipartisan, cabinet based on knowledge, education and experience, not cronyism, wealth or ability to suck up to the Big Guy. Then he can get to work sorting out the domestic things that really matter – like health care and education, and the economy, stupid.

Dr Randy Lee Comfort, Director of 'Our Place', a centre for families who adopt and foster, age withheld, lives in Bristol

I am happy living in England. I wanted to live here originally because it was then – still sort of is – rather less materialistic than the States. Life is harder here, but maybe that is better. Things are a bit smaller and saner in England. Depending upon the outcome of this election, I may go back to live in the States. My American friends and I all tease about moving to Australia if the wrong man gets into Washington. The outcome is hugely important to me. I was in Cape Cod last summer, where I'm from, and worked on the Obama campaign while I was visiting.

I take in most of my election news from the British media, and my children and friends in the States keep me posted through email about the view their end. I first voted in the Kennedy era, and see Obama as a young, inspiring, morally ethical, diplomatically gracious and intelligent man who carries on the Kennedy tradition. I am excited about the freshness of the Democrats, and feel that Biden was a measured, sound choice for Obama to have made.

McCain's Vietnam experience does not qualify him, in my opinion, to become the leader of our country, and his constant use of the word "fight" intimidates and scares me. The nomination of Sarah Palin is, in my view, the most impulsive, dangerous and degrading choice of running mate.

Neither in this election nor in the last has it been straightforward to get an absentee ballot paper – a major source of distress. I finally got the forms from the US Embassy a couple of weeks ago. Then there was a delay at my town hall in Massachusetts, where I'm registered to vote, in sending me my ballot. This doesn't just happen abroad. My son is based in New York, but is registered to vote in Colorado. At the last election, he didn't receive his postal vote, so this time he's flying to Colorado to vote in person.

William Roberts, actor, 65, London

I watch lots of British current-affairs TV shows, but it's a relief that so many people over here have fallen for the American satirical programme The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which is now on MoreFour. My partner and I are fans. I'm far too European, after 40 years here, to consider moving back to the US, though I do go back at least once a year to see family and friends, and still consider myself American. After the last eight years of wildly unrealistic US foreign policy, I look on both candidates with relief, but as a Democrat (and secret socialist), I'm obviously supporting Obama, though I voted for Hillary in the Oregon primary. McCain, though an excellent senator, is too old, and has done himself, and his campaign, irreparable damage by selecting the inexperienced, objectionable Palin as his running mate.

The US's stature and credibility on the political world stage is at its lowest level for decades, and there are huge issues of mistrust. I would want the new president to seek to reverse the naive and dangerous policies of the past eight years, and to engage in new discussions and negotiations worldwide to address such issues as stability in Iraq, stability and peace in Israel and Palestine, global warming, global poverty, etc. Having said that, the first priority for the new president will be trying to turn around the recession inherited from the uncontrolled market excesses of the Bush years. I believe Barack Obama can do that.

Taylor Kunkle, US Air Force Civilian Compliance Officer, 42, lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire

Like other British-based Americans, I've had to fill out a Federal Post Card Application and send it off at least 45 days before the election in order to get a ballot sent out to me. The state you vote in is the one you last lived in – and if you've never lived in the US, there are 16 states that allow you to register, provided your parents were eligible to vote there. There are about six million Americans living outside the US, yet only a fraction of them vote in US elections. This is a travesty.

In the online era, getting media coverage from the States is no problem. I've followed the campaigns extremely closely, and I've voted Democrat. I believe in the importance of everyone exercising their right to vote, whether from overseas or back home. Our democracy is best served when the maximum number of people participate. Voting from overseas can be confusing because each state makes its own rules.

Although I have my preferred candidate, I think both men are decent human beings. I have not been particularly impressed with the direction the McCain campaign has taken, but they are struggling for a message that will resonate with voters. I hope his tactics won't work, for the sake of our country. For too long, American politics have been ruled by deceit and distraction. Our electorate has been carved up into tiny blocks, with narrowly targeted messages, pushing fear, so that people aren't voting for someone or something they believe in, but against someone or something they fear. This is not healthy for a modern democracy. I might be biased, but I see Barack Obama trying to change this, and that is one reason he has my support.

I feel we need a fundamental course correction in the US, and I don't feel McCain will be able to turn the wheel hard enough.

Christian Sahner, student, 23, Oxford University

America is a centre-right country, and our political coalitions are more polarised around "liberal" and "conservative" than in Britain. It's easy to find American-style liberals in Britain. Finding American-style conservatives is a bit harder. I'll be voting for McCain. I trust his views on foreign policy, and value his decades of experience in the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Navy. I also side with his instincts on social issues, and trust him to offer sound nominees for the US Supreme Court.

I respect Obama's intelligence and skills of communication, but am deeply troubled by his lack of experience. The public has carried him atop a wave of political messianism without critically reflecting on his thin credentials. I particularly disagree with his stance vis-à-vis foreign policy and would not trust him to make sound selections for the US Supreme Court.

The new president's first hundred days should be committed to two goals: first, to execute the Paulson plan and stabilise global markets; and, second, create a strategy for victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether that means continuing the surge or adding new troops in trouble spots, such as along the Pakistani border.

Michelle Patient, public relations Director, 38, Saffron Walden, Essex

I have lived in the UK as a permanent resident for 10 years, and I love it here. It's a more tolerant, social country with a cosmopolitan outlook. I have followed the election campaign closely because I need to be informed to vote responsibly. Despite being raised in a multigenerational family of military officers, the Republican Party's policies and beliefs are too conservative for me. I am a registered Democrat, and I voted for Barack Obama. I am behind Obama's policy on international diplomacy and engagement. I also agree with the Iraq withdrawal plan. Domestically, affordable health care for everyone is something I'd love to see. Obama inspires me with hope and has the potential to instil change.

John McCain as president would not be advantageous for foreign relations – he is too hardline. As for Sarah Palin, I am baffled by McCain's decision to make her his running mate.

Kelcey Wilson-Lee, art history student, 27, Cambridge University

I found the vice-presidential debate – and the press that followed it – largely annoying. Sarah Palin relied on stock responses and folsky-isms that I, as a woman, found especially offensive. The whole press response to her has been sexist – about that, at least, the McCain campaign has been correct – as there's no way a man would have been allowed to be so ill-informed and to spout such nonsense while running for the second-highest office in the land. A man would have been laughed off the stage – she was congratulated.

I read US newspapers online every day, as well as the British press, and I often browse political blogs. The overwhelming message I get is that Barack Obama has sound policies, and the wisdom to choose advisers who are out to create a better world, not just to line their own wallets. Obama's charisma is important. He is an individual who can not only accomplish great things himself, but who has the ability to inspire others towards greatness. For someone of my generation, who has only ever been able to vote for the better option, as opposed to a good option, Obama represents not just hope for the future, but the fulfilment of a promise that, at some point in my life, I'd get to vote for someone in whom I actually believed.

I don't think John McCain is a bad person. But his policies are misguided and his outlook is outdated.

Harpriye A Juneja, investment banker, 30, London

I have been following the campaign closely for nearly two years, via newspapers from the US, UK and India. I can't say I'm terribly enthused by either Obama or McCain. The primaries were decided more on the basis of foreign policy and national-security issues, which seemed more pressing at the time, than of economic issues, which have rapidly proven to be the major issue facing the US and the world. It's clear that neither has a comforting grasp of economic issues. In retrospect, I'd have felt more comfortable deciding between, say, Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney.

The irony is that, for all their perceived differences, I don't see a fundamental difference between Obama or McCain on foreign policy or national-security issues. The next president's path on Iraq is relatively set, given that a successful withdrawal is within sight. Neither candidate will let Iran develop nuclear weapons. Similarly, both recognise that Guantanamo Bay needs to be closed, that the US must clarify its opposition to torture, and needs to work with the international community to tackle global warming.

So, to me, the choice between McCain and Obama boils down to who I would trust more on economic issues. Given the stakes, I feel more comfortable with McCain, who has a demonstrated willingness to pursue reasonable pro-growth policies and resist unnecessary intrusions of the state into markets.

Peter Francis, financial analyst, 37, London

To be honest, I think the election has been going on too long already. I don't think much of the two candidates. I'm more of a libertarian, which means I'm interested in limited government. Neither candidate would be my ideal. I see this election as being about who will do less harm.

McCain, while a Republican, is not a big conservative on most issues. He says he's interested in cutting taxes, and I'd be in favour of that – giving workers more of their hard-earned money. I'm not in favour of most of Obama's policies, as he generally favours a larger role for government in our lives – higher taxes and more protectionist policies – policies that were very popular both in the UK and in the US in the 1970s. I haven't voted in many elections, but I'm following this one by watching the BBC and Fox, and reading websites such as Drudgereport.com, Realclearpolitics.com and Instapundit.com. I usually vote Republican but in local US elections, the party matters less, so I have voted for other parties. In this election, I'm for McCain.

Van Howell, artist, 60, London

About three years ago, my niece showed me a newspaper photo she'd taken of Barack Obama – seen from below, his noble features bathed in celestial light. This was the first I'd heard of the guy. She said he was likely to be President soon. I don't have much faith in politicians, especially not in Democrats offering hope and change, but I kept an open mind, and found his debates with Hillary Clinton quite impressive.

For me, the fundamantal issue is ecology. Will Obama save the planet, or its people? He is clearly serious about addressing real life problems, including those other politicians (and the media) pretend not to notice. He studies and thinks, and he allows his proposals to evolve as he learns more. His uplifting rhetoric may be fuzzy and hollow, but his intellect is not. His explanations of his policies are substantive and convincing. He might make a start in the right direction, which is more than I expected to say of any American president in my lifetime.

My "faith" in Obama was confirmed for me in the final debate between him and McCain. It not have been show-stopping but he's done enough for me.

Jonathan White, sales manager, 27, Pewsey, Wiltshire

This is the first election I have voted in. It was the gravity of the global situation that motivated me to ensure I got my absentee ballot and posted it.

I have decided on whom to vote for but unfortunately, it was a case of choosing the lesser of two evils. I would consider myself to be fiscally conservative but socially liberal and there isn't an electable person running on this platform.

The deciding factor, in the end, was Sarah Palin. We Americans are voting for a President, but given McCain's age and health, I couldn't even take a miniscule risk that Sarah Palin could one day be running the country. Just as I wouldn't want your average "Hockey Dad" running the United States, I don't want someone who describes herself as your average "Hockey Mom" to be making decisions that affect the United States and arguably the rest of the world.

Carol Saumarez, book festival co-ordinator, 66, Bideford, Devon

I have always voted Democrat, but feel more strongly this time than I have for 40 years. I've followed the campaign avidly – including watching the debates and speeches when possible. When friends return from the US, they bring me The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

I'm so inspired by Barack Obama, and I'm reassured by Joe Biden's long history in the Senate. I've tracked John McCain for several years, and am appalled by his choice of vice-presidential candidate.

I can only hope that Obama and Biden will surround themselves with equally intelligent and experienced people, and will live in an international world. The alternative of an elderly president who is living on his history as a prisoner of war, and his quite unqualified vice-president is difficult to contemplate. Of all the possibilities, why did McCain choose her?