Thought I would put down my thoughts on the 2012 US election as I have noticed that South Africans are infatuated with it. I was in 2008. Just like what people are doing now, I stayed up watching the US presidential debates and following (quite superficially) the election. Now having been living here for a couple of years and experiencing the process from the ground I have become somewhat critical of the US process of election. Here is why.
Does your vote count as a US citizen?
The answer is mixed. One thing that is clear is that the Electoral College system has its downsides: Simply, in the US, one votes in their state for their preferred candidate, the candidate that wins the state then gets a vote from the electoral college representatives of that state, the one who loses the vote in that state gets 0 electoral votes. It's not a popular vote, some states have more electoral college votes than others and as candidate you can win the popular vote but still lose the election, that's how Gore lost against Bush. If you live in a state that is relatively Democrat, your vote as a Republican is basically useless. You don't actually need to wake up on election day, it's a forgone conclusion. Same goes for states that are relatively Republican for a potential Democratic voter. You can vote to make yourself feel good as covered in this great Freakanomics post.
If you also follow the money spent by the candidates in campaigning you notice that they spend most of their money in states that can swing one way or another. Appropriately named "Swing States". There are about 8 swing states in 2012, so the candidates are spending most of their time campaigning in 8 out of 50 states. That means over 80% of the countries states are literally ignored by the candidates themselves, they do have on the ground volunteers though there and other party members, as the election day nears.
The Electoral Map - Presidential Race Ratings and Swing States - Election 2012 - NYTimes.com http://nyti.ms/S8rTTK
Do the debates matter?
No. They are basically entertainment. On the qualitative aspect of debates: Both major candidates don't really say anything new at debates. There are other parties outside the Democratic and Republican party in the US, they are mostly ignored by the major media. They stick to their scripts. What people look out for in debates are the slip ups, not actually any new information about policy. Romney has shown us really how pandering is done as a challenger, listen to the people and tell them what they want. Obama on the other hand does the same thing but tries to paint Romney as a flip flopper. Both Obama and Romney tell half-truths throughout their debates, why because there is a hint of truth and it works towards their position. So no one outright lies, or outright tells the truth at the debates.
On the quantitative aspect of the debates: The debates dont actually shift votes much.
Do presidential debates usually matter? Political scientists say no. http://wapo.st/S8qXig
In the news, we are told over and over again how the debates will shift undecided voters to the candidate who "wins" these debates. Well not really. It doesn't matter how much CNN throws technology at our TV screens or how twisted Fox news analyses the debates, the polls don't shift much. People don't switch their votes, and the undecided voters are undecided for a reason. Bill Maher, play us out:
Anyway that was my early morning brain dump. Wait one more thing. Those calling for a South African debates, Zuma vs Zille. I question, outside the intellectual fodder they would give, who would they inform and would they actually have any effect in votes in South Africa, most likely, think 99% certainty, NO!!! Rather work harder on getting SA government to be more accountable to citizens than wishing for likely useless Entertainment that won't really make people switch votes.