Breakfast comes with a lesson in democracy, Poland Today

A group of bleary-eyed people started filing into the Intercontinental hotel in Warsaw just before 5 a.m. on Wednesday, November 7th. The elegantly clad crowd, who should have been in their pyjamas at the ungodly hour, came to watch the results of an election thousands of miles away trickle in, state by state, at a breakfast event organized by the United States Embassy in Warsaw.

The caffeine hadn’t even kicked in (apparently it takes thirty minutes), when at around 5:15 someone exclaimed “Holy Cow,” when CNN announced its projection that Barack Obama would be re-elected for four more years. The room stirred, nobody was expecting the projection to come so early.

By 6. a.m. the room was full. The atmosphere was jubilant, though it was still too early to full-on party. It also was not, after all, a Democratic Party or Obama rally. Though in the beginning, perhaps in a prophetic glitch, only Democratic donkey buttons were available, the Republican elephants hiding somewhere, presumably sensing defeat.

Consul General Charles Luoma-Overstreet said that around 150 people were invited, a group which Mark Wenig, the cultural attache, sporting a star-spangled tie, described as the Embassy’s “working contacts,” its employees from the political and economic sections, as well as a group of American Fulbright scholars.

The new US Ambassador, Stephen Mull was absent, as at the time he hadn’t yet presented his accreditations, which he was to do that same day at the presidential palace in Warsaw.

With the ambassadorial transition and the elections, the embassy had a busy month. Although American citizens do not have to vote at the embassy, Mr. Overstreet said that they had assisted several hundred people with sending in their ballots. “People were coming in even yesterday!” he said. The votes would be valid if postmarked by election day.

Mark Munro, visibly excited by the incoming election results, prudently sent in his Oregon ballot several weeks ago. Munro, a self-described political buff, who is in Warsaw on a Fulbright scholarship studying the relationship between the European Union, the Polish Government, and social entrepreneurship, interned at the White House for the Obama administration.

“I’m very happy,” he said, although he feels a “twinge of homesickness,” observing the elections and his friends’ involvement. But he added that participating and witnessing the American political process from a distance has been interesting. “It’s cool talking to Poles about the election, explaining the electoral college,” he said, calling the latter “an idiosyncratic system.”

Munro has no connection to Poland, aside from a three-month sojourn in the country as a boy while his father was doing business. “I was a wide-eyed 9-year-old in Świdnica,” he said, adding that he’s been interested in Polish culture ever since. While in Poland as a recent college graduate, he has observed a reciprocal fascination with his country politics, an “interesting curiosity.”

Another Fulbright scholar, Thomas Bertorelli, who is teaching English at the Warsaw Społeczna Akademia Nauk, confirmed this Polish interest in the American political system. “My students are open to discussing US elections, excited by Obama,” he said.

Actually, if you think it’s surprising that Mitt Romney lost the elections in the United States, look at his odds in Poland. Despite a rare campaign visit in the country, a vigorous endorsement by charismatic former president Lech Wałęsa, the shared conservative values and anti-Russian sentiments, the Polish historical affinity for Republican candidates, and Obama’s unfavorable track record in American-Polish relations, Mitt Romney lost in every counterfactual poll conducted in the country, including one at the US embassy Warsaw event on election morning.

Although he wouldn’t have won with quite as big of a margin as he did in the rest of Europe, and most of the world, Obama would have won by 17 points in Poland, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 32 countries. In our little Poland Today vote, over 60 percent of responders said that if Poles could go to the polls in the US, Obama would have won.

And finally, the vote at the US embassy, with both Poles and Americans participating, gave a staggering victory to President Obama with 34 to Mitt Romney’s 7 votes.

The Warsaw “local ballot” results came in right before the President’s speech, described as “wonderful,” by Piotr Święcicki, a Polish-American lawyer. “He showed his class, gave hope, the same kind of hope that he did four years ago,” he said. Święcicki emphasized that the speech had worldwide significance.

“Everybody in political marketing is studying what we’ve seen in the USA,” confirmed from a professional perspective Eryk Mistewicz, an well-known expert in the field. He talked about campaign techniques such as “microtargeting” – or narrowing down the online “personality profile” of every individual American voter, in order to convince them in the most effective way. He said that the methods and expensive style of American campaigning, “would first transpire to countries such as France or Germany, and in the second time around, they would come to countries such as Poland.”

But not only Polish marketing specialists were looking to learn from the US elections. So were Polish politicians. Paweł Graś, the spokesman for the Polish government said that “we should be congratulating the candidates on their class, on how they behaved, how they reacted to the other’s victory,” adding that “we should want such standards to be the norm everywhere.” Paweł Graś’s sentiment was naturally echoed in the Polish media and online, where Mitt Romney’s concession speech was compared with the aggressive style of Jarosław Kaczyński’s rehetoric in a meme.

And Romney’s dignified speech was lauded by Americans themselves. After the concession, Deputy Chief of Mission in Poland Douglas Greene gave a short talk of his own, emphasizing how warm and gracious the Republican was in his defeat. “This is an example of the spirit of our politics that we are very, very proud of,” he said.