Although there’s still some counting going on at the edges, the American election is over. I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about it, because personally I favoured Barack Obama, but I know that my American Republican friends are very disappointed by the result.
The first, and probably most important thing about the election, is the incredible turnout. For this to be the biggest voter numbers in American election history indicates that people have really engaged with their system, and that can only be a good thing. I also think that it’s a real challenge to us in the UK, where democratic engagement has been on the slide for a long time. What can we do to energise ordinary people the way that the two American parties have other the last few months?
The second thing that I think is very interesting is the odd effects of their particular electoral system. All voting systems raise their own peculiar effects (for example, here in Northern Ireland, we mainly only vote for idiots or gits, with the challenge being to identify which category any particular politican falls into. But I digress). One peculiarity of the American system is the cascade effect which amplified a small difference in the actual votes cast into a very large majority in the electoral college. On the electoral college votes Obama has roughly a 2:1 majority. But on the ground, he had only 52% of the actual votes cast. That means that behind those headline figures, this election was really close. While that won’t bring much comfort to Republican supporters right now, I think in time that it will, because it means that as a party they are not actually down and out.
I also worry for the new president. This election victory seems to me to have some parallels with the election of Tony Blair in the Labour landslide of 1997. The UK was a country that was fed up with an unpopular government, desperately wanted change and so chose a young and dynamic new leader. Unfortunately, the New Labour project constantly struggled with the weight of that expectation, because of course it could not live up to all those hopes and dreams. I think it’s fair to say that Barack has even more pressure on him to deliver, and given the current state of the world, even less chance of delivery. He has a unique opporunity, as I think most of the world is behind him right now, but that won’t last long, and isn’t much good if he can’t bring most of America with him.
But most of all, my thoughts are with him right now, as in the next day or two he will have to deal with the funeral of his grandmother, the lady who brought him up for many years. I’m sure in his heart it’s not quite the celebration he was hoping for.