Belgium and the U.S.: find the differences!

In the United States, it's not a good idea to start discussing politics with your friends when going out on a Saturday right now - this may seem obvious, but as politics in the States have become more subject to polarisation in recent months and years, the Flemings living in the different states have clearly felt this. It's just one of the conclusions to be made after the 12 reports from residents in 12 different states.
The U.S. had one of the most hostile election campaigns in decades.

The hostile atmosphere and the taboo about discussing politics emerged in nearly all reports. Belgians coming to the U.S.have to adapt to this. It goes beyond just discussing things; you may lose friends if you venture out too far. Polarisation has never been as big as now, with two candidates involved in a dirty campaign.

Our first correspondent, Erik Dauwen from Ohio, wrote "I keep far away from the political discussions so I don't offend and/or lose my new-found American friends".

Annemie Van Rysselberghe also found out how sensitive the issue is. She sent an e-mail to 10 close friends with 9 of them replying within 2 days, but also with 5 of them asking her not to discuss their opinion with anyone else.

Lies, attacks and personal insults

A second conclusion from our 12 Belgian reports: the most striking difference with Belgium is how the media (especially TV) approach the election race, and the lack of 'neutral' sources: you are either in this camp or the other. It's also about the content: the negative ads - which would be unthinkable in Belgium -  and the lack of depth in the debates.

Erik Dauwen voiced his astonishment in the Ohio report and said this was hard to grasp: "All these lies, all the personal insults and attacks and the very negative TV ads about the opponent are all things I don’t understand as a moderate Flemish person."

Maxime Brulein adds: "That seems to be the other big difference with a Belgian election. Election campaigns here are being sponsored by money donations from supporters, while a lot of people will also donate their time and energy by volunteering to work on the campaigns."

"Stronger opinions"

About the polarisation, Mieke Lambrecht from Indiana writes: "Indiana voters definitely have stronger opinions during this election season than any other election in the past. It will be fascinating to see what happens."

The negativeness in the campaign and the widening gap could mean the end of the two-party system, as this brings chances for the "small players". Emma Heijmans (Tennessee) points out: "I've also noticed that voting third party is getting more and more popular. While a few years ago, this would have been considered as a stupid idea, more and more people are planning on voting for a different party than the two mainstream parties."

Lost votes now, says Gerrit De Vos in New York. Maybe, but things might change, though it won't be in the short term. 

Red, blue and swing states

For the series, we tried to find a good balance between Republican and Democratic states:

  • 4 red states; i.e. Indiana, Wyoming, Tennessee and Texas
  • 4 blue states, i.e. California, New York, Oregon and Connecticut 
  • 3 states labelled as swing states (Ohio, North Carolina, Florida) and also Washington D.C.

To read one of the reports you might have missed, go to the righ column.