Living the US elections as a Dane

by Ella Navarro

Everyone is talking about it. Everyone is anxious to know the result. But while we stayed in Denmark watching debate after debate, some flew to the US to really make a difference.

Learning from the best
We met with Elisabeth Bjerregaard – a Law student from Aarhus University, and member of the Social Democratic Party in Denmark for around eight years now – who together with a group of 40 other members of the party departed on a road-trip adventure from Miami to Chicago to encourage democrat voters to vote early, and make sure they vote for Hillary Clinton.

H signs for everyone

Held as a tradition within their party whenever there is a big election, Bjerregaard explains that the group attends for two main reasons. “I want to help Hillary win, as I don’t appreciate how Trump talks about women and politics in general. And I really want a female president. I think it’s a statement,” she said.

However, she admits it is also an instructive trip for the party. “We want to learn how the Americans campaign, because they are really good at it. If something is going on in the States, it will happen in Denmark. For example, when they started canvassing, we started too.”

Canvassing is known as a systematic initiation done during political campaigns by political party supporters in order to engage  voters in a more personal and direct way.

”If they have new methods, we want to know about them first-hand and imitate them, because we know they work, as they tend to do a lot of research about it. There is not as much research done in Denmark,” she added.

1700 miles of persuasion
The road-trip started in Miami with its sunny beaches and an energetic campaign led by the Latino-Caribbean community. “The Latino’s were on fire in Miami! They didn’t take Trump’s comment on them being ‘Bad Hombres’ very well, so they were campaigning strongly for Hillary. But the further north we went, the quieter it got,” commented Bjerregaard.

They visited southern cities like Atlanta and Charlotte – they waited in line for eight hours to hear Hillary’s speech in the latter, which was definitely worth the wait and the extended stay.

“Hillary doesn’t know how to do TV, but she does know how to move a crowd when it’s live; there is a world of difference. I was completely moved by her speech. I teared up and I am not someone that has that easily,” admitted Bjerregaard.

Only 40 meters from Hillary Clinton

Only 4 metres from Hillary Clinton

Other stops included Columbus, Ohio and finally Chicago, Illinois, which proved to be her favourite city. They also attended a very intimate rally of about 100 people with Tim Kain, the candidate for Vice President.

“He was very moved when he saw outside young Danish crowd, as his rallies are mostly known to be attended by older people. It was very special to see the person behind the politician,” expressed Bjerregaard.

A very likable speaker in an intimate setting

Tim Kaine, a very likeable speaker in an intimate setting

It got personal
The methods used for getting campaign volunteers started with phone-banking. Bjerregaard explains that she used a more personal approach when she called voters. She used her first name to introduce herself and made conversation more personal, with anecdotes, to make the voter comfortable. In Denmark, because of the Data Protection Law, the method is handled in a different way, as you can’t call people randomly and collect data in this terms. 

“It took work – we had to call them like three times, but always going straight to the point on what they could do to support Hillary. It was kind of a bully method, but it worked because people showed up in the end,” she said.

The Democratic Party campaign offices provided all the data: who they should call and which houses they should knock on, but they only did it with Democrats. “Republicans hate when you get in the middle of their business and they make it really difficult to register and sometimes they have even blocked the bills. Besides there was no point on convincing Republicans, we needed Democrats to get to the polls,” she explained.

With canvassing, the plan was to get them started on early voting by provoking questions like: How are you getting there? Who are you going with? And the different practicalities involved in the process of voting.

People opened their homes to this group of Danes and were touched by their experience. Bjerregaard recalls many friendly Americans who told her: “If you came all this way, then I will go vote. It’s the least I can do.”

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Strategy planning in the campaign offices

Understanding Trump’s voters
In Clinton’s campaign offices, it was made very clear to the Danish group that they couldn’t speak about Trump. Whenever voters mentioned Trump, they had to be really polite and answer: “I am glad you follow the politics so closely.”

However, Bjerregaard’s political spirit meant that she couldn’t be stopped from asking around during her free time. She remembers hopping in a taxi in which the African-American driver said he was voting for Trump.

“I was like WHAT!” exclaimed Bjerregaard. But as the driver explained his reasons – how in his experience his economy had been ruined by the Obama Care – she understood. This conversation helped her comprehend the logic behind Trump voters, and begin to respect them.

“First, I think Donald Trump is crazy. But Hillary is so much part of the establishment that people hate her so much, and when Trump calls her ‘Crooked Hillary’, they really think she is. So I don’t think they are voting Trump, but more like against Hillary Clinton,” she explained.

However, she observed that, instead of trying to understand Trump voters and why they will vote for him, Democrats are just ignoring them. “It is a very dangerous thing to do. I think the same thing happened here in Denmark at the last election – when so many people voted Dansk Folkeparti and they won,” she explained.

The Dansk Folkeparti, known as the Danish People’s Party in English, is the right-wing party in Denmark.

Bjerregaard reflects on this as a lesson for her own party. She understands these voters, and she feels the Social Democratic Party failed to help them in that election. That’s why they are ready to act differently next time.

The next elections in Denmark are supposed to be three years from now, but if a majority exists against the existing government, they have to call on elections. 

“We are ready for that,” enthused Bjerregaard.

The crooked or the crazy?
With this panorama and her observations, we asked: Who do you think will win?

“Hillary is going to win. The polls are kind of even now, but I think it will be better on election day. The Democrats have one last grab in the pussy-gate,” she answered with certainty.

However, the question will remain until next Tuesday, November 8.

“I made a difference. I made people vote and that was the whole purpose of the trip. If she is not winning, it is not my fault; I did my part,” laughed as she concluded proudly.

Hillary gave a moving speech in Charlotte

Hillary gave a moving speech in Charlotte

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