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and a landslide it was

In my last two blog entries I raised the question whether we will see a landslide victory in the US-elections. The media reactions to Obama's win last Tuesday/Wednesday suggest that the answer has to be “yes” we saw the mother of the landslide. While John McCain got only 162 electoral votes, Barack Obama received 364 votes.

However, on a closer look things become a bit more difficult: Although the result here is quite clear as well (Obama: 52.6 %, McCain 46.2%) it is by no means a landslide. To make it more clear: 52.6 % of the popular vote have led to 67.7 % of the electoral college votes. A difference that can by no means be tolerated in any kind of democracy. Before the elections I said to friends of mine that if John McCain is going to win after the polls we saw before, the next US-elections should take place under UN-surveillance. Although it didn't come to that, I still believe that Obama's message of change should be extended to a reform of the electoral system in the USA, and this is why:

This time around the odd character of the American electoral system helped the Democrats, while in the last two elections the Republicans were the beneficiaries. All in all I believe there is no way around reforms of the electoral system of the United States. It is a system that was set up for a society of settlers living far away from each other and it does not serve the needs of today's media democracy. Historically speaking, the current system has its merits: It enabled a decentralised election on a very small scale after which the votes of individual states were put together like the pieces of a puzzle. When channels of communication were rather insecure this system must have been ideal. Vote for a man in the middle of nowhere, send him to Washington where he will cast his vote for the candidate he said he would vote for.

Nevertheless, the Obama victory makes one thing crystal-clear (if the Bush victory in 2000 did not do before): you could get a clear win, even without being favoured by the majority of Americans. Winning a US-election is more about getting the right people's votes, and less about getting the most people to vote for you. The Obama campaign delivered a formidable example of how to become the American president:

  1. If your far ahead in one state, stop campaigning, even if the margin narrows and your still going to win, do not worry too much. These people are your supporters even if you will not make many promises to them.

  2. Try to win the typical swing states. Most candidates will try to do that by promising advantages to the majority of the people their. This leads to the absurd situation that all Americans have to live with laws that were tailor-made for a minority of people. Since both candidates will do so, the results will basically be the same, no matter what the outcome of an election is.

  3. Attack the other candidate in states where he might be ahea by a narrow margin. Here, the same principles apply again. Make promises that secure the state for you, even to the extent of disregarding a few demands in states which are going to vote for you anyway.

In the course of the campaign, Obama moved from the centre-left to the centre to the centre-right, as far as ideas and concepts are concerned. he had to do so to gain the votes of Florida, North Carolina, and irginia. Should the proposals of a candidate really change in the course of a campaign in order to secure electoral colleges? In the old days this wasn't as important since a programmatic change could not be communicated as quickly as it can be today. It did rarely reach the voters before they made their decision in the booth.

I could clearly understand programmatic change to gain more “mass appeal” in general because this would mean that the ideas and ideals of a larger group of people are reflected in the platform of a certain candidateb. Right now, to win an election your platform has to reflect the political views of a decisive minority.

No matter what is going to happen, the outcome of this years elections allows me to like America again, something that was almost impossible for the last eight years. And the even the US American electoral system cannot change that.

2008-11-11 10:44:10