‘Real’ America can’t wait for it to be over

Barack Obama and rocker Bruce Springsteen wave to the crowd during a rally on the last day of campaigning. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Barack Obama and rocker Bruce Springsteen wave to the crowd during a rally on the last day of campaigning. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

MY legs are utterly exhausted, my hands are freezing as they cling to the handlebars of my bike and a light rain begins to fall.

I check Google maps and see that I am only about five miles from Athens in southern Ohio, and as night falls and the temperature plummets to near freezing I finally make my way into town.

After living in San Francisco for nine months, I decided I wanted to see more of the “real” America, and set out to explore the Midwest, a largely conservative and intriguing part of the country that encompasses two rather infamous “belts”, the Bible Belt and the Rust Belt.

For the past eight days I have been riding through Ohio, probably the most important state in this year’s election contest.

Athens, where I stopped and waited out Hurricane Sandy, is a small college town of about 24,000 and like everywhere in Ohio at the moment it is highly politically charged.

The distinguishing thing about liberal Athens is how one-sided it is, with entire neighbourhoods showing off their support for Obama and only the occasional smattering of Romney/Ryan signs and placards.

For most Australians the scope and intensity of the presidential election is almost unfathomable.

I stayed with a family in central Ohio who received on average two phone calls a night, either from volunteers urging them to vote, or pollsters trying to figure out which way they are going to vote.

For the past month the coming election has been all-consuming.

Riding through the city of Cleveland, a working-class city in northern Ohio, there are signs, placards and other paraphernalia everywhere.

People’s lawns are literally littered with them, and everywhere you looked you would be confronted by something telling you who to vote for.

But it doesn’t end there. Turn on the radio and you are immediately bombarded with political advertisements, same as the TV, and even watching YouTube in Ohio means you are going to get a higher amount of political advertisements than anywhere else.

Religion is probably the biggest factor in determining people’s votes.

Many evangelical Christians believe Obama is waging a “war on religion” (Americans love their wars).

Riding past a church south of Cleveland I was surprised to see a sign saying, “Help reclaim America for God, Vote Obama Out!”.

The problem I have noticed with the amount of pressure and intensity is that people become so overwhelmed by the ordeal that they lose faith in the system altogether.

A woman in Cleveland told me she was considering moving back to Michigan so she wouldn’t have to go through this in the next election.

But a more common reaction, especially among the youth, seems to be a complete disillusionment with the system.

With 15 per cent of Americans living in poverty (and it is a much more extreme form of poverty than we have in Australia), there is a feeling that this money could be better spent helping the people of America than by trying to buy their votes.

That’s why candidates such as Dr Jill Stein, the Green candidate, who opposes donations from big businesses and Ron Paul who also opposed such excesses, are receiving mainstream support.

Whatever the result is today, I can guarantee the people of Ohio and other swing states will be glad for the reprieve.