The Rise of Political Tourism

Americans are obsessed with politics and the art of campaigning. The United States’ electoral process has been dubbed “the permanent campaign,” a theory that becomes truer with each passing cycle. President Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign rally in Florida just weeks after being sworn-in and filed his FEC paperwork for a 2020 re-election bid on inauguration day, breaking a precedent set by his predecessors by almost two years. For a growing number of tourists and political consultants, this isn’t enough.

As someone who caucused for Martin O’Malley, I had to offer a forlorn chuckle for the time he went to an Iowa caucus event and at least half of the people in attendance weren’t Iowans, and while tourism used to be limited to American elections, it’s now gone international.

A company called Political Tours is currently offering a peek inside the upcoming French presidential election for roughly $3500, airfare not included. According to their brochure, the tour starts in the Pas de Calais, where you can take a voyeuristic glimpse at the impact of industrial decline, stagnant wages, and an immigration boom. From there, you’ll inspect the rural vote and head to Paris, where the company claims you can witness the impact of the most recent terror attacks on the French psyche. While Political Tours offers the only package aimed towards tourists, it isn’t the only French election tour being offered.

Another one, offered by a trio of political consulting firms and marketed as a professional development and networking event for international political operatives, will take you inside the operations of the French presidential campaigns and give attendees a VIP tour of the entire process, including breaking down exit polls before French citizens see them and providing access to the best minds in French politics.

The question is, when do these events cross the line? Is traveling to India to witness the spectacle of the world’s largest democracy in action unethical, or does political tourism count as another means of exploring a foreign culture and seeing a level deeper than what’s normally presented to tourists? I’m torn.