Ahead of the 2016 election for the US President, The Feed host Jan Fran has traveled to America to find out more about why people are choosing to vote for Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. What she found was a system of values and issues far more complex than we generally perceive in Australia.
The SBS Guide sat down with Jan to discuss the trip and find out more about her special Grassroots America, which airs tonight on SBS2 at 8pm.
How long was your trip?
It was nine days. Four states. Nevada, California, Texas, New Hampshire and basically we headed around the USA to meet the most interesting grassroots campaigners. Different people from different states voting for different candidates. We tried to find out why.
Who did you speak to? Was it bi-partisan?
We had some Hilary supporters, some Trump supporters, we got some nobody supporters, we had some Garry Johnson supporters. People from all across the spectrum.
What did you find about the 'nobody' supporters? Are they really 'undecided'?
There’s a lot of 'nobody' supporters. If there’s one thing that stands out about this whole trip, it’s just how embarrassed Americans are that these two are the potentially best candidates to run, what they think, is the best country in the world. They are very embarrassed about their major candidates. It’s the same in every state, across the whole political spectrum. It’s the same, regardless of if you’re voting for Trump, Hilary, or nobody.
There’s no one that we found, and we spoke to a lot of people, that is really-voting with gusto. Everybody was reluctantly voting. It’s a really negative election this year and I think everybody feels it.
So, it's not that an undecided voter cannot make the decision between one or the other, it’s that they don’t want to choose a side?
Exactly. It’s that they hate the major candidates. That’s kind of the best way to put it. It is kind of understandable. You have this system where compulsory voting is not a thing and you get a whole bunch of people who are like “Well, I’m out”. No one is really passionate this year. That’s what really came through. They could not back somebody forthrightly, so they thought: “Screw them. I’m not going to back anybody”. You have conservatives who can’s stand Donald Trump and you’ve got progressives who can’s stand Hilary Clinton. Large chunks of them. It’s like a really topsy turvy election. I think those people, in particular, rather than voting to keep someone out have decided not to vote at all. I think the vast majority of Americans voting this year will be voting to keep someone out rather than to put someone in.
What was the most astounding thing you discovered?
How important the millennial vote is this year. I don’t think even millennials know how important the millennial vote is this year because, for the first time ever, millennials make up the largest voting block. That’s never happened before. On par with baby boomers. They’ve just reached baby boomers. The difference is baby boomers, frankly, will die. Millennials will keep voting as a block for the next sixty years. They have huge electoral sway, but they are the most disenfranchised. They are the ones who vote the least. It was interesting to see how the demographics in the US are changing and the impact it will have, if not in this election, but the one after that and so on. Millennials are 18-35, that’s a huge voting block.
How many people did you travel with?
It was myself, our shooting producer Will, and then we had a second cameraman/fixer Adam who was with us half the time.
You've aired some excerpts on The Feed, including one exploring gun ownership in the US that was fascinating.
I can see where it comes from. Being Australian is very different to being an American. In Australia we don’t have a history of gun use, we don’t have a constitution, we don’t have a huge lobby like the NRA. It’s very different to compare Australia to America, which, I think, is what Australians do. The culture is very different over there. There are a lot of good people who own guns. You can be a good person and own a gun. Many Americans are and many Americans believe they are. They don’t believe they should be punished for the actions of a few.
Is the point of Grassroots America that you’re trying to get a view of the culture underpinning the US?
I think we’re trying to get an idea of who people are voting for and why. We are going in there with no judgment really. I’m not American. I don’t have anything at stake here. I wanted to hear people out, hear what their grievances are, and hear whether or not they think anything will change and why. It’s letting interesting Americans speak for themselves, which they are very good at.
Did people want to hear what you thought about the election?
I think so. They were quite interested to see how the rest of the world views Americans. Lots of people asked how we think they are doing. I agree with the people feeling embarrassed about it. We’re not doing so great either. The funny thing was how much no one gave a shit about Australian politics. That was the one thing we took away.
Grassroots America airs tonight on SBS2 at 8pm.