Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Democratic? Fair? Confusing?

In the UK the process of selection of candidates is simple really. Local parties, often guided from central office, select their candidate for MP, MPs and party members select the party leader. It limits choice to the voter but the process is transparent and in theory should encourage the interested to get involved at a local level.

In the US the path to being presidential candidate is long, arduous, complex (at least to an outsider), and privileges the rich or well sponsored. The single, most stark contrast is that in the UK an individual with no personal money could get onto the ballot paper and not worry about winning or losing if they have party support, in the US this is not the case.

Here is an explanation of the system:

Iowa will be critically important in this race. But there are some unique aspects of the Iowa caucus that you need to know about. Here in the first state where the Democratic candidates will compete, people don't "vote" for their candidate in the way that you might think. In order to win, we have to turn people out to a caucus -- a process that lasts over an hour and requires supporters to publicly advocate for their candidate and persuade others to join them. That means in Iowa, it's all about organization. We have to organize all 99 counties and train over 1,700 precinct captains to lead these caucuses. We have to recruit more Obama supporters to attend their caucus and build the ground game to turn them out on caucus day. It's a massive undertaking, and with just over 100 days left before the Iowa caucuses, I'm asking for your help. Why does Iowa matter to you? Because the momentum from a win in Iowa could create a domino effect in the rest of the states that follow. In the last two presidential elections, the candidate who won the Iowa caucuses went on to win the Democratic nomination. Now is a crucial time to show your support. A donation of $12 will provide ten yard signs for Iowa lawns. $27 will send fifty Iowans a piece of mail telling them Barack's story. $53 can sponsor a college student at a Students for Barack Obama weekend training. And $114 buys enough t-shirts for canvassers to wear while knocking on every door in Evansdale, Iowa. Please make a donation now to help us win Iowa.

The issue perhaps is the economy of scale, how do you reach the number of people required in a nation the size of the USA; perhaps it is no wonder that all but the most liberal of Chinese argue that democracy would not work in China. But when you consider the money here it takes obscene amounts to get elected as candidate, that is before the presidential race proper begins. One wonders what impact this has on those Americans to whom $53 is a significant sum of money, who are concerned about politics but who know that they can have no role in the process of selecting who will go forward to the two-horse race.

Is there a real sense of low self-efficacy and cynicism (perhaps as a product of one another) born out of the fact that there is no real input into the process until it is largely two late? This is not to suggest the wrong candidates emerge at the end, but a comment on the nature of a system and the way in which it can either encourage or discourage participation.

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