Posts Tagged ‘American Election’

Election thoughts

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

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.

The end of the beginning

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I’m sure we’re all relieved to hear that the selection of the Democratic candidate for the forthcoming American election has now finally finished. What a waste of time, money and effort! It has taken months, and cost millions of dollars to decide which of the candiates gets to be number one, and which one gets to be number two (because let’s face it, it’s inevitable that they would go into the actual election together, one way or another). I admit that if they had decided by tossing a coin, or sitting down months ago and negotiating it, it might have had a different outcome, but set that risk against what all that they’ve gone through, and it starts to look like a reasonable solution to me. I think there’s a number of lessons in it.

  • Never put the word democratic in the name of a political party. Sooner or later there’s a time when it would be better for a group of leaders to make a decision, instead of putting things to a massive vote, but because of the name, the party is left with no choice. I can see the DUP hitting something like this too in the near future.
  • There would seem to be a long tail arrangement in the Democratic primaries – one analysis this morning indicated that the Clinton campagin focused on fewer, bigger states, with the assumption that the smaller ones would come into line. Obama seems to have foxed that strategy by winning a large number of smaller states, which added up to more votes in the end. That’s very Long Tail (which I haven’t finished reading yet, but I’m getting there).
  • I can’t help being depressed that at the end of all this, the actual proper election campaign hasn’t even started yet. It’s always possible that the American people might choose McCain instead. Let’s face it, after all this effort, it’ll be a real disaster if he doesn’t win the actual election, and ends up having to make environmental documentaries.
  • There’s a part of me that is vaguely troubled by the media coverage of American politics in general. The British media has very little good to say about George Bush, ever, and yet his popularity in America has only slumped fairly recently (after all, he did win a second term in office). I think that means that the American media are probably presenting him differently to ours. Is it possible that the truth lies somewhere in between? If that’s the case, do I really understand enough about American politics to have an opinion on any of this?