Elections and Campaigns
November 18, 2013
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Importance of Elections
Two reasons why elections are important to democracy:
“Ritual expression” and people power.
Elections are very important, as they are symbolic of the ritual expression of the
people being the decision makers.
Reins of power and policies.
Certain policies will likely follow the election of certain candidates (E.g. If Gore
was elected, there likely would not have been such a massive Global War on
Terror; No Obamacare without Obama). Voting determines which policies will
flow from that decision.
Two distinct features of American elections:
“Time, place, and manner” of elections.
50 different elections system. For each state there is a different way of
voting. This was expressed in women’s suffrage.
E.g. Wyoming v. NY. Said that they would only join the union if women
were still allowed to vote (Wyoming women were allowed to vote much
earlier than New York women).
Voting booth v. caucus. In a caucus, you express your support for a
candidate in particular ways. E.g. Walk to this side of the room to
support x candidate; informal but often preferred.
2. Spreading Suffrage
o Originally the people would not have a say in choosing their
party representative. Slowly becomes more democratic – more
women allowed to vote, coloured people allowed to vote,
Senate opened, citizens allowed to vote for primaries, etc.
o E.g. Senate, African Americans, women.
Electoral College (Indirect Vote) EXAM QUESTION
o Most Americans believe that they are voting directly for their candidate (E.g.
Romney or Obama). However, there is a filer: the electoral college. o They represent each state in the US. Depending on the size of the state, they
will have a certain number of electors from this college.
o 435 House + 100 Senate + 3 DC (District of Columbia – not a state, but a
district so it doesn’t get caught up in politics) = 538 Total.
o Why 538 (since 1964)? Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution:
o Each state starts with 3 (not matter what) and then proportionally
divided up based on population. Based on the census conducted every
10 years, they decide which states get how many seats – shift them
around. This is why certain states are so important in elections.
o Elector’s vote supposed to reflect will of voters, but they don’t have to.
o To win, candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes.
o This is why “big” states like California (55) are key.
o 3 states totaling 96 v. 8 totaling 31 votes.
o Winner-takes-all v. proportional distribution.
o Majority of states use the later, but some use the former.
o E.g. Texas majority votes for Romney, using proportional
representation. Other states use winner-takes all. Say Romney received
50.1%, he would get ALL electoral college votes – despite the fact that
49.9 percent voted the other way.
o 270-minimum needed to win the presidency.
Protects small states: Win popular vote, but lose election.
- In a close election, every - Gore (50.3% popular vote; 266 electoral
electoral vote counts. votes) v. Bush (49.7% popular vote; 271
electoral votes). th
This was the 8 time this happened.
Unfair advantage to big states.
- 30 v. 11.
*It is possible to not receive a single vote in 39 states or the District of
Columbia, and still win the presidency.
Electoral College Challenge
How democratic are American elections?
o Frequency of elections.
o Number of political positions.
o Role of money.
Frequency of Elections
o President, Congress (House v. Senate), state, local.
Chronologically fixed. o 2 and 4 years.
o Every two years means that they have to start campaigning right away,
leaving no time for real work. It’s a wonder how Congress gets anything
good. Perhaps good for accountability, but not completely practical.
Combined, more democratic electoral system.
o Too much campaigning, not enough “real” business.
Combined, the frequency and fixed dates of elections leads to a much more
democratic voting system – not like Canada, where it is at the whim of the
Prime Minster. Politicians will therefore be responsible when they know an
election is coming.
Number of Political Positions
Over 500 000 elected positions in the US – 96% are local government-related
(sheriff, librarian, drain inspectors, etc.).
Lake County, Illinois: 1 125 elected official. Makes people stop voting!
Too much democracy?
o Effects? Likely decreases voter turnout.
Role of Money in Elections
US federal elections = world’s most expensive.
$6 billion spent on campaigns in 2012 alone.
o Congress: $3.6 billion, 2010
o Less than ½ for potato chips; under 1/5 for pornography; by
o Congress, 2010: Democrats = $1.82 billion; GOP = 1.77 billion.
o It is the few elites molding the outcome of elections towards their
o Tax breaks are given to those who make these contributions.
o While the money spent DOES go back into the economy, the privileges
and favours that the money buys is much more valuable.
o For every wealthy republican, there is a wealthy democrat!
o Companies usually donate equal amounts to both parties equally.
o 2010: 0.35% more than $200 in terms of campaign contributions.
o Translated into 2/3 of total campaign funds – this small group of
0.35% made a HUGE impact.
o Not so much where it goes, but influence it may have.
There are limits
o Individuals cannot donate more than $2 500.