Observations about the US Presidential Elections
By Tai Wei Lim

Observations about the US Presidential Elections

Nov. 08, 2016  |   Blog   |  0 comments


When observing the US Presidential Elections, there are a number of important points to note. First, the US electoral system is highly competitive and pluralistic. It was constructed to be so, with checks and balances, separation of powers, and accents on individual rights, freedom from persecution, etc.

 

Therefore, electioneering often appears to be very colorful and boisterous affairs, integrating the participation of professional commentators, celebrities, and other stakeholders. Because it is a bipartisan system, there is a traditional two-party contest in American politics. Third parties serve as a bit of an unpredictable spoiler, starting from the era of Ross Perot and then Ralph Nader where they siphon off votes from both major parties, sometimes benefitting one candidate more than the other.

 

The American political system is also a system whereby voting is carried out via the Electoral College rather than the one man one vote system. (Contrast this with the Brexit Referendum which was based on the one man one vote system.) The Electoral College consists of individuals who are designated to vote on behalf of their constituencies. The state approves the winner based on a popular vote and the electors of the College will travel to Washington D.C. to declare and record their votes. It is an indirect system as opposed to a universal national vote. Therefore, it is theoretically be possible for the more popular candidate in the national poll to be the loser in the Electoral College. Donald Trump has consistently lagged behind in the Electoral College vote but has narrowed the gap with Hillary Clinton in polls carried out by polling and media companies throughout the election season.

 

The two candidates appear to appeal to different sectors of voters. The popular narrative is that Trump appeals to heart-landers, male voters in general—especially those without college education—conservatives, Bible Belters, Caucasian voters, Republicans left of center (hardcore right-leaning Republicans preferred the likes of Ted Cruz) and moderate Republicans (symbolized by the likes of Chris Christie). Clinton is stereotyped as attracting women voters in general and especially those with college education, liberals, moderate Republicans and the Left (the more extreme, radical or hardcore left preferred Bernie Sanders). These stereotypes of both candidates are reductionist and are at best, demographic categorizations for political commentaries. Voting is a very individual affair and some voters may not voice their political inclinations while other voters are stalwarts and vote along party lines despite their personal beliefs.

 

Both candidates have similar policies in terms of foreign affairs. Both are in support of a strong and robust US foreign policy. Image-wise, at least constructed by the mass media and electioneering narratives, Trump cast himself as someone who is friendlier to Russian President Vladimir Putin, willing to talk to North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-Un, is not in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will subject Western NATO alliances to US interests, and is someone who will be tough on trade deals with China and even Japan. Clinton was one of the architects of the US pivot to Asia, a more robust East Asian Pacific diplomacy, is in favor of strengthening traditional alliances, and at times appears to be willing to consider element of the TPP. Despite these subtle differences, both candidates are not fundamentally different in terms of instituting a strong and robust US foreign policy.

 

Finally, both candidates are highly-accomplished individuals in their own right. They have to be in order to survive the equally rigorous party primaries. Trump is a real estate magnate and tycoon who is featured in mass popular culture, including books on the art of the deal in business negotiations and has starred in the highly-popular reality TV series The Apprentice. He is seen to be a highly efficient and rational businessman bent on maximizing profits, generous to some employees and supporters, and a survivor who has clawed back from bankruptcy before. (A famous photo shows him shopping in Kmart with his family during his difficult days in the past.) Clinton has a long history in politics: a tough Secretary of State who oversaw numerous diplomatic missions during her tenure and a former first lady who did not shy away from speaking her mind. She is well-known for her ambition and determination, and is on public record as being someone who had always wanted to be the POTUS (President of the United States) since young. 

 

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