Millennial expats eye US election with mix of unease, skepticism

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during the Get Out the Vote campaign event at Carl Hayden High School on March 21, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona.
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during the Get Out the Vote campaign event at Carl Hayden High School on March 21, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona.

When Peter Petracca, tells people in Vietnam — where he now lives —that he's American, the conversation always turns political. Usually three questions or statements ensue.

"'Who are you voting for'" is one question asked, along with expressions of admiration for current President Barack Obama, the 27-year-old start-up founder told CNBC recently. Yet more recently, he'll get an occasional shameful shake of the head, along with the words: 'Oh no, Donald Trump.'"

As U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reach the home stretch of an unprecedented general election cycle countries around the world have been have captivated even as Americans grow weary of the spectacle. The Democrat and Republican have received wide coverage in foreign media, appearing regularly on the front pages of international newspapers and on their TV screens.

Despite Election Day being more than a week away, millions have already cast their ballot via absentee and early voting. The volatile race is fluid: the Democratic former secretary of state holds an edge in most polls but the billionaire real estate mogul remains competitive.

There are an estimated 8 million Americans living abroad, not including military, according to The Association of Americans Resident Overseas organization. CNBC spoke with a number of millennial American expats, most of whom already voted in their resident countries. The voting bloc of U.S. citizens under 35 are among the most hotly coveted by both campaigns.

"Most people in the U.S. don't realize that other countries follow the U.S. election and even know a lot on how the U.S. government is structured and operates," Kyle Austin, an expat living in Germany, told CNBC.


'No one would be safe anymore'

Donald Trump
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Donald Trump

And the political discourse that's surfaced just the past few months have made many Americans living abroad uneasy.

Clinton has been dogged by a private email server she maintained while operating as America's top diplomat, as well as controversies stemming from a series of leaked emails. Meanwhile, Trump's unconventional style, brash language and allegations of sexual improprieties have upended his ability to communicate his message to voters.

"Our leading candidates are giving the world an impression of corruption and racism. That is not who we are, and I don't feel proud," Steven Kass, 30, an Illinois resident who works in health-care administration in Abu Dhabi and has lived in both Chicago and New York.

Kass said he was supporting Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson until recent TV interviews left him with a lot to be desired with respect to the candidate's position on international relations. Ultimately, he didn't have time to request his absentee ballot because of his busy work schedule.


An absentee ballot for the US election.
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An absentee ballot for the US election.
"Something quite scary to me about Trump, in particular, is how unaware he seems to be of the repercussions from his proposals" -Laura Authier, U.S. citizen living in Singapore

Austin, a graduate program coordinator in Germany, said he was embarrassed about the coverage the U.S. election has been getting since he arrived in Germany seven months ago. "I was at a school in France during the 2004 election, but I don't recall any of the candidates being so uncivil," he added.

Austin, a registered voter in Missouri, submitted an absentee ballot for Clinton after initially supporting Bernie Sanders in the primaries. "Trump is too unstable to know what he would do with the U.S.' military forces," he said.

"People here joke with me asking if I am glad I will be in Germany instead of the U.S. if Trump wins," Austin said. "I say 'No' because if he wins, no one would really be safe anymore."


Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Austin's not alone in dodging Trump-related questions as an expat.

"I often feel as though I am expected to provide an explanation for many of Donald Trump's actions and why so many Americans support him," said Caitlin Williams, a 26 year-old who's living as a teacher in Spain.

Williams is registered to vote in Kentucky, where she grew up and is working as a school teacher, and is in her first year abroad. The educator said she's been interested to see how engaged people in Spain have been over the election.

"Even my 12-year-old students know the names and faces of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and can talk about the things they are saying and doing," she said.

Across the world in Asia, the sentiment is similar.

"Something quite scary to me about Trump, in particular, is how unaware he seems to be of the repercussions from his proposals," said Laura Authier, who has been living abroad since 2012.

Before relocating to Singapore to work as head of production for a media company, the 29-year-old lived in London. Authier cast her absentee vote in Massachusetts and said international relations, especially for economic progress, was important to her.

Petracca, who is from the Bay Area in California and launched Chameleon City, which is aimed at helping people adapt to life abroad, said he cast his vote there for Hillary Clinton.

"As Americans, we tend to take for granted clean air and quality health care. Seeing as Hillary has a comprehensive understanding of these issues, and even considers them issues in the first place, that's one of the reasons I'm supporting her in this election," he added.