Inside story: Political divide

By Juliet zRowan

1 comment
This year's United States presidential election is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic and divided in history. Americans living in the Bay reveal their opinions on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the other candidates while Juliet Rowan explains the US voting system of primaries, caucuses and delegates. Local politicians also share their views on the contenders and why the election matters to New Zealand.
Mount Maunganui residents Jeff and Chelsea Gardner hail from the staunchly Republican state of Utah, but are firmly in the Democrat camp for this year's American election. Photo/John Borren
Mount Maunganui residents Jeff and Chelsea Gardner hail from the staunchly Republican state of Utah, but are firmly in the Democrat camp for this year's American election. Photo/John Borren

Chelsea and Jeff Gardner hail from Utah, sometimes branded "the most Republican state in the union".

Chelsea has traditionally voted Republican, while Jeff describes himself as "centrist" and has voted both Republican and Democrat.

But this election, the couple, who are living in Mount Maunganui with their three children, are firmly in the Democratic Party camp.

I feel like he's a cartoon character and I'm not impressed with his morals or his ability to lead.
Chelsea Gardner on Donald Trump

Jeff is spending a year working as an emergency medicine specialist at Tauranga Hospital and favours Bernie Sanders over leading Democrat contender Hillary Clinton, who Jeff views as capable and experienced but lacking in honesty.

"Still, I'd take her over any of the Republican candidates because I frankly think they're crazy," Jeff says.

"I think Donald Trump is visibly the most obnoxious, but I think they all have reprehensible positions on social issues."

Chelsea, who works part-time as a violin teacher when in the States, rejects any notion of Trump as an advocate for the people.

"I feel like he's a cartoon character and I'm not impressed with his morals or his ability to lead. When he announced his candidacy, I honestly thought it would only last a few weeks, that it was a publicity stunt," she says.

Chelsea also supports Sanders, saying her decision to switch to the Democrats has been influenced in part by living in Tauranga.

"After living in a country where I've seen socialised medicine work and social programmes that function well, like New Zealand, I feel much more open to that being a good possibility."

She believes more than ever that this year's election campaign is bringing to light problems with the US political system, including a lack of moderate candidates.

"That happens when we have a system that has to pander to special interests and where the people who get the most attention are the most outrageous."

Campaign costs can run to $1 billion in US presidential races, and Chelsea says this creates a flawed system.

"You eliminate 99.9 per cent of average people who would genuinely like to serve because it's just not financially viable."

He seems the most compassionate of the candidates [and] certainly idealistic.
Jeff Gardner on Bernie Sanders

Her husband likes Sanders because, he says, he has not sold out to corporations or special interest groups. "He seems the most compassionate of the candidates [and] certainly idealistic."

Jeff says living in New Zealand they get asked about Trump all the time, but he does not believe the flame-haired 69-year-old will make president.

"I have plenty of Republican friends who are staunchly Republican, but they won't vote for him. He's not even really a real Republican. He doesn't really have any conservative roots. He's just a complete sell-out."


Bill Murphy, executive director of Tauranga investment firm Enterprise Angels, is "stunned and embarrassed" by the rise of Trump.

As an American living in Tauranga, Bill Murphy is "stunned and embarrassed" by the  rise of Donald Trump.
As an American living in Tauranga, Bill Murphy is "stunned and embarrassed" by the rise of Donald Trump.

Bill, 61, first came to New Zealand with his Kiwi wife in 1980 and has lived here since 1996.

He says the popularity of Trump, who has made deeply divisive comments about women, Muslims, Mexicans and other subjects, is a sad commentary on his homeland.

"It's also a bit of a scary commentary, first of all how disaffected Americans are with their system, and secondly, that they would go to such an easy option. It's easy to be opposed to everything. That's a really easy position to take. And Donald Trump represents that."

Bill does not see Trump beating Clinton, saying he supports her over Sanders, who he views as "too socialist".

However, he is also suspicious of Clinton's motivations.

"There's not a lot of people who would be super-happy about her. Knowing what she knows, why the heck would she want to run for that office? She's been married to it, she knows what it's like, so that immediately makes her suspect in my eyes."

Bill, originally from Boston, says New Zealand would have a lot to fear in terms of trade if Trump became president.

"Trump's version of Republicanism would be very protectionist."

It's a crazy system and the money that's spent is just obscene.
Bill Murphy

Like the Gardners, Bill says the US system is deeply flawed, with campaigns weighted heavily in favour of wealthy candidates.

"Out of the four years, three years you're spending trying to get back in again. It's a crazy system and the money that's spent is just obscene. It's a disgrace."


ELLYN BRUNSKILL echoes Bill's comments about Trump, saying she is also "horrified and embarrassed".

Ellyn is from Illinois and has lived in New Zealand 17 years, running her own financial management company, Streamline Group, and an internet business in Tauranga.

"I'm very worried for the States if Donald Trump were to get in," she says. "It's just a big joke. How can America even tolerate that kind of behaviour and allow him to be running."
She says Trump's rhetoric is targeting both rich and poor voters.

"He's appealing to both the lower socioeconomic ones who think we can have guns, who really hate Muslims, who are really racist ... [and] he's appealing to really wealthy Republican voters.

"It's very appealing that a millionaire or billionaire would be a president and make everyone find a path to riches or something. It's just really skewed values."

She supports Sanders, who she sees as the antithesis of Trump, but says he has little chance after being painted as a communist and socialist.

Ellyn will vote for Clinton if she wins the Democratic Party nomination, but neither is she a fan.

"I haven't heard anything compelling out of her mouth. What she says is all a little ambiguous."


THE PATH TO PRESIDENT

Becoming American president first involves candidates winning the presidential nomination from their own party.

This is determined through a system of primaries and caucuses, which are held in the first half of an election year and involve candidates winning the majority support of party delegates (see graphic "The journey to United States president").

Each of the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, then formally nominate a presidential candidate at their party conventions mid-year.

University of Waikato political scientist Dan Zirker says Hillary Clinton is the strongest Democrat contender, partly because she has the support of so-called "super-delegates".

A super-delegate is a delegate in the Democratic Party who is free to support any candidate for the presidential nomination at the party convention.

They differ from pledged delegates, who are awarded to candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. Pledged delegates are bound by state results when selecting a candidate at the convention.

Professor Zirker says super-delegates are generally members of Congress or major party leaders, and of the Democratic Party's 4765 delegates, 712 are super-delegates.

As of this week, Clinton had the support of a majority 467 super-delegates.

She needs a total of 2383 delegate votes to win the presidential nomination, and currently has 1163.

Professor Zirker says Bernie Sanders, as a socialist and senator from a small northeastern state (Vermont), would be fighting "an extreme uphill battle" for the nomination.


THE REPUBLICANS have a smaller number of delegates - 2472 - with 1237 needed to win the party nomination.

In both parties, the number of delegates is proportional to the state's population and representation in Congress, so the more populous states such as California and Florida have more delegates. To complicate matters, some states are winner-takes-all, meaning the leading candidate is awarded all the delegates for that state to add to their delegate count.

As of this week, Donald Trump had the support of 680 Republican delegates, making him his party's leading candidate at this point.

Despite this, Professor Zirker predicts Trump is unlikely to win the general election in November, saying the primaries are not necessarily indicative of wider voting patterns.

Professor Zirker says in the general election it would be difficult for Trump to succeed without African-American, Latino and liberal votes, and there was also the outside possibility he could yet be trounced by fellow Republicans at the party convention in July.

"If some of the larger states [yet to vote in the primaries] went for another candidate or candidates, then if Trump did not have a majority, there might be room for some manipulation in the convention," Professor Zirker says.

Until the 1950s, presidential candidates tended to be chosen at party conventions rather than through primaries, and although it hasn't happened since 1952, a brokered convention is always a possibility if no candidate emerges with a clear majority.

In that case, pledged delegates may be free to vote for the candidate of their choosing.


Our US journos recoil at idea of President Trump

The Bay of Plenty Times numbers two American journalists among our ranks and like other Americans living in the Bay, both are deeply disturbed by Donald Trump.

Bay of Plenty Times journalists Dawn Picken (left) and Allison Hess are supporting the Democrats in their home country's presidential race. Photo/George Novak
Bay of Plenty Times journalists Dawn Picken (left) and Allison Hess are supporting the Democrats in their home country's presidential race. Photo/George Novak

"He's a big old joke," says digital reporter Allison Hess. "I'm unsure how it got to this point because there's always clowns in the presidential races, but this is just taking it to a whole new height."

Allison is from Colorado, which is traditionally a Republican state but won the Democrat vote in the past two elections as Barack Obama came to power.

Allison, 22, has been in New Zealand since she was 11 but plans to vote in the US election in November and supports Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders.

As well as keeping a small US flag pinned at her desk, she has a picture of President Obama greeting a cleaner at the White House and another of Sanders.

The 74-year-old is emerging as a favourite among young female Democrats and Allison prefers him to Hillary Clinton.

"I don't want to vote for her just because she's a woman and she's going to be the first [female president].

"I'd vote for her if I really believed she was going to be the right person for the job."

Allison was in Washington DC in November and saw Sanders at the Senate, saying she was impressed to watch him making a speech about decriminalising low-level drug offences despite the presidential campaign being well underway.

"He wasn't out on the campaign pandering to big-money lobbyists. He was just doing what he was elected to do - his job - whereas anyone else running for president wouldn't have been near. They'd be in Iowa and New Hampshire."

Since 1980, all successful Democratic and Republican candidates have won in either Iowa, New Hampshire or both, with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1992.

Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reporter Dawn Picken, who has lived here five years, also feels Trump is a bad look for the US.

"I just want to run out when people hear my American accent and say, 'By the way, I'm not a bigot. I'm not racist.' Donald Trump in no way represents who I am as an American," she says.

"It feels really unfair that this guy is out on the world stage trying to represent Americans."

Dawn is alarmed by the fact people in her homeland appear to be gravitating towards Trump because he was on a reality TV show.

She says the most enlightening and funny commentary on Trump has come from UK comedian John Oliver, who spawned the hashtag #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.

The Trump family originally went by the name Drumpf and Oliver argues it holds a lot less appeal than the surname Trump.

That's really frightening. It just sent a shiver of fear up my spine.
Dawn Picken on President Trump

Dawn grew up in Ohio but votes in Washington state, and is happy to be in New Zealand away from the relentless political advertising on American TV and radio during presidential races.

The 45-year-old plans to vote for the Democratic Party and supports Clinton over Sanders.

"She's got a lot of foreign policy experience and a lot of political experience and I see her as more mainstream."

Unlike Allison, Dawn fears Trump could become president after hearing a commentator rate his chances of victory as 40 per cent.

"The commentator said all it takes is a terrorist incident or the FBI to dig something up on Hillary, and then you've got a really close election with a possibility of a President Trump. That's really frightening. It just sent a shiver of fear up my spine."

- Bay of Plenty Times

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 11 Dec 2016 11:34:20 Processing Time: 609ms