Barrack Obama has declared that democracy is on the agenda in the forthcoming election. The two main candidates to succeed him have spent millions campaigning within the current democratic system but is that system truly democratic? Democracy in its purest form means rule by the people. Every eligible person has a vote and the majority win. That is not always the outcome.
Increasingly voters are abstaining from the processes designed to involve them. In the 1960s the average turnout in the presidential elections was 61%. In the eight elections since it has not been above 60% and on half of these was below 55%.
Across the Atlantic in Great Britain 16.1 million people voted to remain in the European Union but lost. Two years earlier elections for the European parliament in Britain attracted just 300,000 more voters in total than the number who would vote remain. The United Kingdom Independence Party, which does not believe in the European Parliament, won 24 of the 73 seats (32%) in that parliament with 26% of the vote. In the previous election the leader of the far-right British National Party won two seats with less than 3% of the vote and fewer than 100,000 votes.
The British parliament, currently less powerful than the European Parliament, is elected on a first past the post system. The person with the most votes in each constituency becomes the MP. This gave the current government 51% of MPs and 37% of the vote. When the numbers of non-voters are considered, this means that less than one in five of the country’s population voted for the ruling party.
Australia has compulsory voting but still 9% risked a fine by not bothering to show in this year’s election and a further 5% spoilt their vote, possibly in protest at having to rank up to 16 candidates. If one candidate fails to get 50% +1 vote the second preferences are considered. In my constituency the sitting MP received over 3000 more votes than his opponent but she won the seat.
In 2000 Al Gore received nearly half a million more votes than his opponent but George W Bush became president. The successful presidential candidate needs the backing of half of the 538 electoral colleges. Obama was re-elected in 2012 by just under 66 million votes, five million more than his opponent, and roughly 21% of the population.
The likelihood is that neither President Clinton nor President Trump will reflect the wishes of the majority. We can guarantee that their inauguration will involve an ostentatious display of wealth before they start deciding how the majority should repay the nineteen trillion dollars of national debt.