Following the invitation of the US Embassy in Madrid to travel to the United States to for the 2012 Elections in October, I was asked to prepare a Conference for December 4rth at the Political Science Department of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid –the department ranks first among poli science faculties in Spain.
I have chosen to speak first about the political system, focusing specifically on those things I did not know about the system. Secondly, on the electoral system with with a special attention to the micro level. Thirdly on marketing politics; Fourtly, on politics and the youth; and finally, on the global implications of having a democrat versus a republican president.
Let me start talking about the United States Political System, stresing specially things I did not know –despite my in depht knowledge of regulatory policy in the US:
For the following insights I am greatful to Dr. Jeremy Mayer, Director of the Public Policy Program at George Mason University, who gave us a witty and sharp Overview of the US Political and Electoral Systems.
Things I did not know about the United States Political System:
Two principles make federalism in the United States different from others:
1. In the realm of political diversity<br
The structure of government is diffeent across states. The power of the governor is also diferent in each state. The Federal Constitution does not make indications on the governance of the States. Therefore, States does not neeed to have a governor. Texas is the example of the weakest governor in the country, because the state cobstitucion heavily restrains the power of the governor… Thus we could conted that when George W. Bush said that being the governor of Texas was good preparation to become President of the United States… he has betting high.
2. In the realm of olitical freedoms
Political freedom is the reason why the constitution of Massachusetts allowed gay marrige, while other states did not.
Virginia laws are very different form other state laws: if you ever break the law, you may not vote ever again. Florida has also a similar law.
Laws are harder on blacks, and state laws in both states might change the outcome because… 90% of black turn out is for Obama.
There is not a National Register for voters. Thus, there are 30.000 people registered in both New York *and* Florida at the same time. 2.000 are stimated to have voted in both.
A few states have holiday to vote, but most states do not.
State have different ways to select their candidates for a presidential election: Some choose primaries, other caucus, and another prefer state conventions.
1) Primaries might be closed, were only party members can vote. Primaries can also be semi-closed, with members of the party as well as friends. There are also open primaries, where any citizen can vote. One migh well be strategic, inn states with open primaries, such as Ohio.
2) Caucus, where Iowa is example. Caucus are low turn out events because of time schedule and the time they take, over three hours. The meeting is held in a small place, where people step close to the representatives they like more, the winners combine the attention first shared among the varius representatives. Pasion of representatives for Obama favored his candidacy against Hillary Clinton. Rules of democratic caucus and republican caucus might be different.
3) State conventions
In 1998 Obama supporters studied the rules of all states. Hillary Clinton, in turn focused on New Hampshire and Iowa. Obama looked into everything, and to the log view.
In the 2012 election 70% of US citizens are registered to vote. However, since many people work clock ticking, they have to be back to work, thus long lines are discoraging. Furthermore, some states decide to close polls at six, thus many voters cannot arrive to vote. 358, a polling aggregation website offered quite accurate information balancing out the polls with comparative demographic data, and weighting each poll based on the pollster’s historical track record, sample size, and recentness of the poll.
Electoral laws have attempted to be changed at a late statage in Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin –some of these states being swing states.
The Federal state and the member states have fiscal independency. Both levels may decide to have taxes and to what extent. There not limit writen in the Constitution. However, raising taxes in one state may incentivate people to move to a less taxed state. States can be bankrupt and the federal government is not supossed to help. In 1964 NY city went bankrupt. President Ford said: you are spending money like European socialist and drug traffikers, with all those universities free. When NY city asked for hel his answer was: “drop dead.”
As a percentage, 70% of the taxes go to the Federal State Government. 30% go to the states and the local governments. From this 70%, seven hundred millions a year go to the military. About 25% of the Federal budget is distributed among states and local governments according to an existing formula that the President may not change without Congress overview.
Only military academies are national universities. Public Universities are funded by the States.
As for the electoral system. The base is very undemocratic. The winner takes all the votes in each state. And the system grants two minimunn votes to each state, disregarding the population. This makes Wyoming with about half million population and 3 votes (2+1) overepresented with regard to Caifornia, 36 million people and 55 votes (2+53).
Florida, Ohio and Virginia have been deciding who the next President would be. Obama was pull out of North Carolina. Mayer says that the election we can compare with is the 2004, because that was also a very tight one for both candidates.
Jeremy Mayer says the system “is very anacronistic, not corrupt, but it might be bettered”
The system alienates low information voters.
However, one good thing is that it leaves room for qualified talent to raise -as opposed to Europe- But also for the low qualifyed such as Palin. Money permeates because of weak parties, compared to Europe. Three million of US citizens gave money to Obama in 2008. The ability of small donators raising money thorugh Internet brings hope to the system.
On the positive side, the US Constitution and the political system have guaranteed peace and little conflict (just a civil war) from 1777. It has prevented the raise of religious, racial and regional issues beuase it has not rewarded the second or third place. This is embeded in the Constitution.
Each of the following themes deserve an article of their own. For the moment I will offer a documentary and some spoken comments:
On the electoral system with a focus on the micro level, I have prepared this documentary showing interesting mecanisms of citizen participation.
On marketing politics, the meeting with Evan Sutton from New Organizing Institute (NOI) fosused on citizen mobilization during elections and the use of social media to organize during elections.
On politics and the youth, pictures show the talks with volunteers working for both parties. Aditionally, my students at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Universidad Carlos III made comments, sent questions and held debates on the trip. Some of them might be read here –see specifically the comments to the linked post on how the youth in Spain sees the elections in the United States.
Finally, a reflection on the global implications of having a democrat versus a republican President. Lack of new ideas for the challenge representing the change in global paradigm was paramount during the debates previous to the election. Thus, the implications of having one or the other are quite tied to the personality of the Commander in Chief as well as his personal abilities and capacity to build teams to negociate in the international arena. Lack of new ideas, however is a challenge for western democracies. In any case I am still reflecting on this late subject in which I plan to publich some articles both in Latin America and Spain in the following months.