I have recently been following the presidential primaries over in the US and have come to a very blunt conclusion – the Americans do elections far better than we do in Britain.
For a while, I didn’t really get the American system. I knew there were a load of separate bits and pieces that went on throughout a election year. And I knew that at some point in the summer the two candidates running for President (and their vice-presidents) would be announced.
And I know that what follows this looks something akin to a reality TV show public vote where the wannabe presidents (portrayed like some kind of movie stars) travel the country trying to garner as much support as possible before the final showdown in November.
It appeared so over-the-top, so theatrical, so bizarre that I often wondered how the American public could take the whole ordeal seriously…
I mean, the candidates arrive at mass rallies (with supporters who look more like they’ve arrived at a Justin Bieber concert than at an election event) where they give powerful and emotional speeches to cheers and adulation. It’s like that famous speech scene towards the end of the movie, Independence Day…
But, despite all of the streamers, the little red, white and blue bits of paper floating around in the air and the overindulgence in fireworks, I believe the American elections are far more democratic than the British ones will ever be…
Let me show you what I mean.
In Britain, we have a wide variety of political parties. Some represent the far-right wing some represent the far-left wing and others are dotted in between.
Every election we, the British public, are invited to cast our votes as to which political party we want to govern our country. Whichever party gets the most votes, in theory, wins the elections and forms a government either on their own, if they have a majority, or with another party until they can make a majority. The leader of that party has already been determined long before the election by a vote from the party members…
Sounds pretty democratic, right?
But here’s the thing.
At the same time we are invited to elect which local official we want to represent us in Parliament – i.e. which MP we want. However, by voting for an MP, we are also casting our vote for which party we want to govern the country. So if, for instance, we had two MPs (A and B) and we wanted MP A’s party to win the election, we would feel obliged to vote for him or her even if we thought MP B would do a better job…
Starting to sound a bit suspect now, isn’t it?
Then we have another conundrum. Party A may represent your views on how the country should be run, but the leader of Party A is not the sort of person you feel should represent our country on the global stage. The leader of Party A cannot be removed as leader (and will probably not be if the election is won) unless he fails to gain his MPs seat in his own constituency. In fact this outcome is so unlikely that, when I writing this scenario in The Bluebell Informant, I had to check that it was actually possible for it to happen!
So, I am again faced with the issue of voting for someone to be my Prime Minister (even though I don’t think he will do a good job) or voting for a party that will not represent my views.
At this point, I am really beginning to wonder whether Britain’s elective process is anyway democratic at all.
Is it really a democracy if I can only vote between two fundamentally flawed options?
Now, in contrast, let’s take a look at how the Americans do it.
To start with, there are only two parties – the Republicans and the Democrats.
Seems a little undemocratic to me, but it does get better…
In American elections, voters potentially have two chances to determine who they want running their country, although the system is a little more convoluted.
In the presidential primaries, voters are invited to vote in a ballot – the result of which will determine the number of delegates each candidate has supporting them. Some of these primaries are open (meaning that a voter can vote for whichever candidate they want from either party) or closed (in which a voter can only vote for a candidate in the party they are a registered member of).
Each state has its own primary (or caucus depending on the state) and the result of this pre-election election supposedly gives a good overview of which candidates the country are backing in the race for the White House.
From the results of this election, a presidential candidate is chosen. That candidate then chooses a vice-presidential running mate and, together, they go around the country trying to drum up support.
Now, this is why I like the American system.
Let’s say that I wasn’t a massive fan of the Democrats, but I quite liked the idea of Hillary Clinton being president. In theory (provided my state offered an open primary), I could vote my interest in Hillary being the president. Then, once all the delegates have been dished out, if Hillary isn’t chosen as the presidential candidate, I have the option now of choosing between two other people (a Republican and a Democrat) in the actual race for the White House.
My first vote is not the be all and end all. If I don’t like the result after my first vote, I can change my allegiance away from a particular party. I am given more opportunity so that I don’t feel forced to vote for a candidate I don’t like just so that I can get my party in. Likewise, if I like a candidate but not a party, I can change my mind if my candidate fails to make the grade.
It’s not a perfect system – no system is really. But that ability to choose, not only the party I think represents me best, but also the person who will lead that party into the election is about as democratic as it’s going to get.