13 Nov 2016

Donald Trump and the failure of democracy

It is terrifying that the American People could have elected someone like Trump, who clearly has a list of personality traits that should normally rule him out for any high office. He clearly managed to press a lot of buttons that worked with some Americans. Almost nobody predicted the result - except Michael Moore, who back in July gave us 5 reasons why Trump was going to win.  Here they are:
  1. Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit.  
  2. The Last Stand of the Angry White Man. 
  3. The Hillary Problem. 
  4. The Depressed Sanders Vote. 
  5. The Jesse Ventura Effect. 
I think he was spot on. Why did no one else manage to take into account these important factors?

Incidentally, I strongly recommend Michael Moore's recent stage show "Michael Moore in Trumpland" which I have downloaded from the iTunes store. Very very good - very funny, but tragic at the same time. He really did everything he could to get America to wake up. Unfortunately, he failed.

But the amazing truth is that voter turnout was at a 20-year low in 2016 and only 26.3% of eligible voters actually want Trump to be president. Here are the figures:

The American electoral system has yet again proved that it is unfit for purpose.

Why do 46.6% of eligable voters not even bother to vote at all, even when the future of the whole planet depends on their choice? When I think that Trump is planning to start burning more coal, when everyone with a brain knows that this is insanity, I honestly despair. Clearly the power of the fossil fuel lobbies is unstoppable, or Trump is truly stupid.

For me, one of the reasons is clear. Take a look at the map of voting districts from the Guardian's election website.

If you live in any of the huge number of counties where Trump has a 15% lead (the dark red stuff), you can be absolutely sure that your vote won't have any effect, even if you did vote for Clinton. So why bother voting? Unless you are a big fan of Clinton (and many people weren't) you won't make the effort. 

Effectively, your vote will really count if you happen to live in one of the Swing states.  And, not surprisingly, it turns out that 2/3 of the presidential campaigning took place in just 6 states
(Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan) as shown in this figure from the NationalPopularVote website.

Furthermore, even without the Swing State effect, the weighting of each state is not fair. There's a campaign for fair voting in the US website that notes that "on average a state is awarded one electoral vote for every 565,166 people. However, Wyoming has three electoral votes and only 532,668 citizens (as of 2008 estimates). As a result each of Wyoming's three electoral votes corresponds to 177,556 people. Understood in one way, these people have 3.18 times as much clout in the Electoral College as an average American".  And they have a pdf with all the gory details that you can download.

Even if you wanted to maintain the present electoral college system, surely you don't have to be a genius to realize that you could fix that by just multiplying the number of electoral college members by 100 to get a better balance. In case nobody has realized this in the US, you no longer have to send the electoral college members to Washington on horseback. 

Because of this insane system, you can almost guarantee that democracy will fail. How can anyone defend a system where Hillary Clinton gets 60,955,981 votes and Trump gets 60,325,005 votes and yet Trump gets to be president? (those numbers will change a bit, but we can be confident that Clinton really did get about 600,000 more votes than Trump). 

I think that every US citizen should have a moral obligation to get their stupid system fixed. It would take just a single measure to make the US elections fair. Just count the number of people who voted for each candidate. Simple. It's not rocket science. 

Of course, I'm not saying that the electoral systems elsewhere are perfect - certainly not in the UK. But the French system for electing presidents with two rounds of voting is way better. 

NOTE Added 26th November 2016. As of November 25, 2016, Hillary Clinton had received 2.23 million more votes in the general election than Trump, giving Clinton a 1.66% popular vote lead over Trump. It is the worst ever travesty of electoral justice. But it is not unique. In the 2000 presidential election, despite Al Gore receiving 543,895 more votes (0.51% of all votes cast), the Electoral College chose George Bush as president.[7]

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