In 2010, 247,500 expats were living outside Australia. These men and women, away from their home country, their culture and for many, their families, are given the option to vote for their nation in unknown, uncontrollable or inconsistent ways other Australians don’t whether it’s through an embassy environment or through a postal vote.
Most democratic countries allow citizens overseas to vote, and for most people in these democracies, the option is considered a human right. However, the question surrounding whether or not citizens are allowed to vote for leadership in a country they no longer participate in is slowly becoming more nuanced and has been the subject of debate since nations began tracking their lost kin.
It’s typically a matter of social psychology.
When a person is introduced to a new social, cultural and environmentally different group or country, they tend to go through what’s called enculturation and acculturation, the process by which a person will learn, and then be influenced by another culture.
For some areas, an acculturated person will most likely ‘integrate’.
Integration is a phase in which a person successfully melds their previous cultural identity with a new one.
The appearance of integration, generally speaking, depends on how welcoming and culturally linked a new country is with the previous one. Nations that are equal, both economically and socially, tend to have the most integration, and thus are more ethnically, religiously, ideologically, and traditionally diverse.
Assimilation, on the other hand, is where an immigrant or expat entirely abandons their previous cultural traditions, social norms and mannerisms in favour of the new cultural group.
Integration has been a vital policy point for many refugee accepting nations.
However, assimilation raises an interesting question.
If an expat completely sheds their Australian identity, values or beliefs, are they still Australian?
Furthermore, should they have the right to vote?
This is understandably, a sensitive topic, of course, a nation’s identity and culture change over time, just as a traveller’s view on the world might after living in a foreign country.
Some believe this for the better.
In 2018, researchers from the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Technology discovered some correlations between Italian and French expats in Australia and the way they voted.
They found expats that had emigrated to Australia had developed more progressive and economically left-leaning views than their compatriots at home.
But it’s likely not just ideology either.
Different nations have different politics, and even how a host country elects its officials can have profound effects on how an expat may view specific policies as more important than others.
In a 2010 study, it was found that how proportional a country’s voting system is, changes the kind of political leaders that emerge in public discourse. This is important because the type of politicians a nation puts into the spotlight directly affects not only how people vote but also what they consider to be the “normal” middle ground between far-right and far-left policies.
Interaction with a different culture in a country more dispositioned toward conservatism or liberalism can grant an expat more objectivity and perspective to act in a more socially educated and responsible way back home.
For a foreigner to be exposed to all these new ideas and ways of thinking, it can make it easier to reconsider the politicians they would usually vote for.
Of course, this globalisation of the democratic system itself comes with disappointments for those who feel as though their friends and family have separated themselves from the normal rational middle-ground thinking of their homeland and have instead become slightly more ‘radical’ to the left or right.
Some look to these slow, but drastic changes in expat voting as evidence that giving expats the ability to vote at all provides people who are no longer culturally “citizens” anymore the chance to mess with politics not concerned with them.
As more and more people leave their homes to work globally, this underlying issue will only grow and become more relevant.
Will the future peoples of this growing new world embrace their patriotic identities?
Alternatively, are we ready to defy nationalism and progressively move ever closer to a global network of democratic individuals?
Just how will future democracies cope with this rising minority of cosmopolitan, and truly global citizens?
(2011). 3412.0 – Migration, Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Canberra: Government of Australia. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/3412.02009-10?OpenDocument
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Helbert, M., & Mascitelli, B. (2018). Transnationalism and expatriate political engagement: the case of Italian and French voting in Australia. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 72(4), 329-342.
International IDEA. (2007). Voting from Abroad: The International IDEA Handbook. Stockholm, Stockholm County, Sweden: Trydells Tryckeri AB.
King, A. (2002). Leaders’ Personalities and the Outcomes of Democratic Elections. Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford Scholarship Online.
Sanderson, L. (2009). International Mobility of New Migrants to Australia. The International Migration Review, 43(2), 292-331.