Elections here and there

Michael Burke

Thursday, November 08, 2012

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BY now everyone knows whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney won, if the result was not a cliff-hanger like the election in the year 2000. In that year 2000 US presidential election, George W Bush eventually emerged the winner after court action in Florida. I am writing before the election results are known, so I cannot really comment on the results.

As usual, I made no predictions. As far as Jamaican elections are concerned I have opined that elections are won on election day. But not so in the USA. Indeed, it would be impossible for a US presidential candidate to do what is done in Jamaica on election day. In Jamaica, the party that is more organised in getting more of its supporters on the voters' list and then on election day gets more of its voters to vote will be the winner.

In the USA where only one state is smaller than Jamaica, a gubernatorial candidate would be hard-pressed to be able to finance party workers to work through an entire state on election day, let alone candidates for the presidency of the entire USA. Elections in the USA are mainly determined on the issues, no matter how important or trivial they are, but not always.

In that context the election debates (which started in 1960 between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon) are very important. Yet it is difficult for a man deemed to be ugly by most American women voters to become the president of the United States. In that first ever US presidential debate in 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy came to the debate with make-up on, considered standard for going on TV today but a novelty in 1960.

In the eyes of many American women, the 43-year-old JFK looked young and handsome on the one hand. Richard Nixon on the other hand did not have on any facial make-up. Worse, he was under physical pain because one of his feet had been caught in a car door a few hours earlier and his physical features manifested how he was feeling. Kennedy's ratings went up.

Here in Jamaica, the election debates are basically media events. It is a time when supporters of both major political parties are glued to their TV sets and therefore the time for advertisers to pay for advertisements both on radio and on television. But such debates have little bearing on the outcome of the elections.

In 1993, the then leader of the Opposition Edward Seaga won the 1993 election debate hands down over PJ Patterson. But the PNP led by Patterson won a landslide victory, gaining 52 seats to the JLP's eight out of then 60 available seats on March 30, 1993. In 2007 Bruce won the debate hands down, but barely beat the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP on September 3, 2007.

And in 2011, Andrew Holness held his own and some say he won the debate, but his party was buried in a landslide on December 29, 2011. All of this makes it much easier for the psephologists (opinion pollsters) in the USA than in Jamaica. For whom will they vote, and will they vote at all in a nation where people make up their minds early will be reflected in the opinion polls. In Jamaica, the party workers tick off the names of those who have voted and go to the homes of those who have not to urge them to go out and vote. Many times as much as three hours before the polls close in Jamaica both major political parties know who won.

In the USA both parties know from early how their stronghold states voted, but they might be hard-pressed with finances to know about the battle-ground states. In Jamaica, if each of the 63 constituencies has 100 workers and if each is given only lunch and no financial remuneration, it is still a lot of money.

Let's say one cooked lunch costs $400. In one constituency, that would be $40,000 and multiplied by 63 you would get $2,520,000. If each worker were paid three thousand for the day, that would be an additional $300,000 per constituency and $18,900,000 for the entire Jamaica. It is next to impossible for Democrats and Republicans to do the same in the US presidential election for one state, let alone all 50, even though they are much wealthier.

This leads to the question of whether there should be some control of campaign spending by allowing everyone to contribute to a fund and the major political parties each given roughly half the money. For a financially poor person to be elected to office in Jamaica or the USA, that person will have to be sponsored by those who would then control the goings, comings and even minds of the elected person so sponsored.

In both Jamaica and in the USA it is possible for a political party to gain the most votes in an election and still lose. The last time it happened in the USA was in year 2000 when Al Gore received more votes, but George W Bush won the election. In Jamaica in 1949, the People's National Party received 3510 votes more than the Jamaica Labour Party, although the JLP won more seats and therefore formed the government. Should both systems be changed? This has been debated for decades.





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