Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Passports and Presidents

This may come as no surprise, but it turns out that John Kerry has a commanding lead (58% to 35%) over George Bush among Americans who hold a passport, according to a Zogby Poll conducted recently. Likely voters without an active passport prefer Bush over Kerry, 48% to 39%. It seems fitting, somehow, given that Kerry spent part of his youth attending school in Switzerland (his father was a diplomat) while Bush went to Europe for the first time just three years ago, after becoming president.

The good news for President Bush is that his supporters are less likely than Kerry's to be abroad on Election Day. Registered voters who are out of the country on November 2 have several options, depending in part on their status. Absentee balloting is, of course, possible for those who are away because they're on vacation, studying abroad, or traveling on business. (Regulations concerning absentee balloting vary from state to state. This site offers information on absentee voting for all fifty states and the District of Columbia.) The five million Americans who live overseas and the half million military service members and their families, on the other hand, have some different options. (This site offers the basic information overseas voters need. Embassies and consulates can also help.)

How many Americans could be in Europe (or elsewhere) on Election Day if they wanted to? Or, to put it differently, how many Americans have valid passports? During Fiscal Year 2003, the U.S. Department of State issued 7,300,667 passports, according to the data here. Since 1994, approximately 62,700,000 Americans have acquired passports. The State Department doesn't indicate how many of the passports it issues each year are for persons under 16 and thus good for five years rather than the ten years for which most passports are valid. In other words, some of the passports issued since 1994 have expired. Others have been lost. It seems likely, though, that roughly 55,000,000 Americans possess valid passports. There is, in other words, about a one in five chance that the fellow citizen you meet on the street has a passport--unless, of course, the street where you meet her happens to be the Champs Elysées.

Incidentally, the New York Times recently reported on problems in college study-abroad programs. Here's a key point:

Indeed, with at least 160,000 students overseas each year - more than twice as many as a decade ago - many college officials argue that they are exporting drunkenness, misconduct and other trouble to an unprecedented degree, prompting an industrywide overhaul of policies and practices.

The State Department has the same worries whenever Dubya travels abroad.