This years American election was the most interesting and widely covered in history. This is partially because of the rise of social media platforms and the quick access to information through the internet, but it is also (and perhaps more worryingly) due to the quality of the candidates available.
As an outsider to the American system, I could not understand how the race for presidency had come to a choice between someone with a dodgy political record, and a reality TV star with no relevant experience? So, I decided it was time to educate myself on how, and why Americans ended up in this unenviable position. Rather than go through the figures of which section of the party demographic voted for each candidate (which can be very boring), I decided to explain the system and how Trump and Clinton were chosen.
The USA has a population of around 320 million people. In the end, just two people get to run for the country’s main political parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, in the hope of becoming president. This basically makes the campaign for the White house a two-horse race. (There are other choices, but they, for the most part, don’t have the support required to make any meaningful impact).
As it stands, the American people are extremely divided both politically and socially. Republicans and Democrats are now further away from each other on key issues then ever before. The biggest divisions exist between those who are the most active in the political process. These people (the delegates) are generally the ones who get to vote in the primaries for the parties. The democratic and republican primary nominations aren’t open to public vote. Both parties are private institutions with their own rules, policies and agendas. Therefore, their representative for the presidential race is chosen by the party delegates themselves.
So, it’s all very simple thus far, right? But here is where I believe the flaw in the system lies. Only 18% of the American population are eligible to vote in the primaries, and this year about half of those eligible chose either Clinton or Trump. The rest voted for the other candidates. The other candidates stood for a wide range of political positions, from very liberal (Bernie Saunders) to Very conservative (Ted Cruz) and everything in between. As only one person can run from each party, the views and polices of the other candidates are no longer represented once they don’t receive the backing of the party. The fact that nominees are chosen by the party delegates (with their obvious strong connection to the party) is the reason why the public are eventually only left with two candidates, when there should be more options really. To make it simple, you have a small sample of the population deciding who best represents their views. What happened in this case is we have two very different people with different views chosen, and little or no middle ground.
Clinton and Trump combined to be the least popular presidential candidates in history. However, I must also point out that neither Clinton or Trump were always this unpopular. Hilary was quite a popular secretary of state and left the office with a 63% favourability rating at the time. This changed quite rapidly after she announced her candidacy for president. Clinton’s campaign was shrouded in secrecy and problems with her past (Emails scandal, Bengazi and Whitewater to name but a few). Trump on the other hand was the face of one of the most popular American reality TV shows of the noughties, the Apprentice. Despite this, his controversial views and brashness did not always translate to popularity among democrats, main stream media or moderate republicans, like it did on his show. I believe both received their nominations because they aligned themselves with the best people in their parties, not because they were the best candidates.
In conclusion, the reason for such a controversial (and at times entertaining) election can be tracked directly back to the two-party system. I believe America has gotten quite lucky up to this point in history. There have generally been two, or at least one, relatively competent representatives available to the voter on election day. 2016 was the first time that hasn’t been the case.
Thanks for reading!