I’ve noticed some rather striking differences between the way Americans run their elections in comparison to how the British do the same. In a way, the American election cycle is the most efficient thing I have ever seen, at the same time, our change of administration is far better. I’ll try and outline my case.
We don’t get bombarded with political advertisements. Advertising for any political candidate in the UK is completely and utterly illegal, even a company that supports one candidate cannot advertise on their behalf. Instead, political television adverts are tied down to five minutes each, per political party, these are shown maybe two or three times each. For the fortnight running up to the election date, the BBC will run these broadcasts in the last five minutes of the 6 o’clock news program each day. We do get bombarded with fliers and advertising boards, but at least our television airwaves are kept free of bias and wasting of millions of pounds of advertising money.
On top of that, we also have a very quick removal from power. The day after the election, providing there is a clear winner (there usually is, there have only been three coalition governments in the past 100 years), the new government is installed by the following day. We literally wake up to the new administration, all the ministers and members of the cabinet have been appointed overnight.
In the US there is a two month transition of power which seems to serve no discernible reason whatsoever. This to us would seem incredibly dangerous, the idea that someone remains in power even when they know that the whole country is against them is a very interesting proposition. Theoretically, the ousted president could start a war and have no accountability for it whatsoever.
We don’t have any system similar to the Electoral College as there is in the States. We elect our local Member of Parliament (your equivalent of members of the House) and then the party with the most amount of MPs at the end of election day wins a majority and then has the numbers to rule the country. The idea of voting for the president and for your representative from separate parties is a completely foreign concept to us. You may disagree with the way your local party is being run, but you may have to vote for them in order to get the Prime Minister you want.
We also don’t have the endless political news constantly during election season. Whilst our main headlines become all campaign-trail related, at the same time we still continue with other, normal non-political news. For the last day or two of the campaign it does become ‘BBC News Specials’, and obviously overnight on election night we have wall-to-wall coverage (without adverts), but we don’t tend to get ‘bored’ of the programmes in the same way Americans do.
This is particularly interesting as we do not have electronic voting. Our polls close at 10 p.m. across the country and then we are usually getting our first results by about midnight. The real picture of how the country is voting only becomes apparent by about 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. This year, we knew that Obama had won before midnight. This is completely unbelievable to the British.
Overall, your elections are more efficient, but the way they carry on for months and months must turn many away from politics.