American in Spain

Why Are Expats More Liberal?

April 20, 2012

A Large Group of National FlagsI will never forget the feeling of terror and exhilaration I experienced when I first moved abroad as a twenty-year-old IAESTE exchange student to Copenhagen, Denmark. I was so far from everything I knew, and was thrust into a society that had its own way of doing things. There were weekly meetings of other exchange students in which I could converse with other young people from Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Turkey, Norway, Thailand, Japan, France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Scotland and Greece. It was incredibly mind opening. The biggest lesson I took away from meeting all these people from around the globe was two-fold:

My way is not necessarily the best way.


Cultures can be different without one being better than the other.

For one, I was in a country in which everyone over the age of five spoke perfect English, but they chose to speak a different language to each other. You mean my mother tongue isn't the inherently superior human language? It sounds stupid in retrospect, but I remember thinking that.

Look again at those two ideas. They are both inherently Liberal ideas.

Over the years, I have noticed that I am almost always in political agreement with other expatriates that I meet. We generally hold similar values on the left-right political spectrum, both in financial and social issues. I always attributed this to the unavoidable epiphany brought on by immersion in a foreign culture. It necessarily shakes any conservative patriotism you have to the core.

Just recently, in the past couple years, I've been reading about the psychology of decision making and politics, and I think I may be mistaken about why expats tend to be more liberal. The positive correlation between voluntary emigration and Liberal values is still very strong, but I think I may have the causation backwards. It's not that living abroad makes you liberal; it's that having a liberal mindset makes you want to live abroad. People on the left end of the political and moral spectrum are much more open to having new experiences and hearing new, possibly conflicting, points of view. Conservatives are much happier with what they know. It's even right there in the meaning of the two words: Liberals are for change and rocking the boat, and Conservatives are for maintaining the status quo.

Here's a TED Talk on the subject:

I just sent off an absentee ballot today for a state primary. Just as it's in the Conservatives' interest to make same-day voter registration difficult, which tends to disenfranchise poor and minority voters (who will always vote Liberal), it would also be in their interest to stymy the ballots from non-military expats, although I suspect there aren't enough of us for them to care…yet.