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American democracy at its…

Election was fixed. He is an establishment man. Fake votes have been cast. Election management system collapsed. Will not accept the result. Typical of Pakistani elections! Wait a minute- we are not talking about Pakistani elections but elections in the 245-year-old democracy: the United States of America. The world has seen what they have never seen. American politics being laid bare with all its strengths and all its flaws. This is unprecedented as the USA remained a democracy idol for the world post World War II. Country after country that failed to develop in the world was given the example of America as the democratic pedestal. Not so now as in the last few decades this model had been under question. It had started crumbling. As President Trump loses the election the accolades again are being showered on the strength of the system. Some say it is too early for any judgement, others say it is already too late.

The American electoral system is quite unique. You may lose the popular vote but still win the elections, as happened with Donald Trump in 2016. Instead of a direct vote, an electoral college forms the majority vote. The Electoral College of the United States is the group of presidential electors required by the Constitution to form every four years to elect the president and vice president. Each state has electoral votes according to its population. California has the highest population so it has the highest electoral votes of 40. Wyoming amongst the lowest population has only 3 electoral votes. Total number of electoral votes is 538 and to win the Presidency the candidates require 270 electoral votes. That is why the Trump-Biden election was such a thriller. Despite the popular support swinging either way the election was still open. Regardless of the result there are five major lessons emerging from this global mother of all elections:

1 Beware of voter intent- Voters in America vote for WIFM i.e “What’s in it for me”. There were two key consideration points affecting the average American voter, i.e., the economy and COVID-19. The Economy was doing relatively well before the pandemic and many who considered the pandemic as a temporary crisis voted for Trump on that basis. Others horrified by his denial and mishandling of the pandemic voted for Biden. Trump’s racial discrimination was a contributing point with the “Black lives Matter” movement. The principal point of preference for the voter was which of the two crises – economy vs COVID-19 – mattered more in choosing blue Vs red.

1 Beware of polls and surveys- The polls got it totally wrong in 2016. There was a hue and cry over such erroneous research. This time it was predicted that the pollsters were much smarter. They were not. The first three days of the result count almost showed a neck to neck fight that no survey ever predicted. So, what happened? In research, there is something known as the “social desirability bias”. That means that the real response, if considered socially unacceptable, is hidden and instead fake socially acceptable response is given. In an America where Trump supporters are routinely called “racist” (or worse), it is no surprise that many of them preferred to keep their political leanings to themselves. The other secret the pollsters hid was the lack of a representative sample. Call response rates have plummeted as people do not want to answer dubious callers. The Pew Research Centre reports that its response rates have plummeted from 36 per cent two decades ago to just 6 per cent now. Lesser renowned companies are as low as 3% making it risky to attribute such small response behaviours to the population as a whole.

2 Beware of policy impacts- The pro-white policies that got Trump elected were indeed popular and got Trump to really give Biden a tough time. In the long run policies that are not based on principles and values are likely to rebound. The “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-black” policies really put off the saner Republican loyalists. Though their number was not huge but was enough to make Biden cross the line in key Democrat states that Hillary had lost last time. On the contrary, his “anti-war” policy and peace dialogue with Afghanistan was popular and forced the Democrats to continue it.

3 Beware of fad based highs- The vibrance of the conventions and the heat of the debates help in voter swings, but the heat can totally melt away in more normal times. Voters realize that Biden is not the most charismatic choice. Voters also realize that Kamala Harris is an instant attraction because she is the first woman for Vice Presidency, she is black with South Asian origin, but so was Barrak Obama. Obama with all his peace talk ended up selling more arms and ammunitions to the world than any other President and threw more bombs per hour than his predecessors. Similarly, the voters also know that COVID-19 handling of Trump will affect the economy badly. Thus the narrowing of the margin in the elections.

4 Beware of Social networking rebound- Trump won the US elections in 2016 due to social media and lost 2020 elections due to social media. While Presidency has become an information war the lure of the click to rebutt and retaliate has been equally wonderful and fatal. The social media should not be part of the whims and fancies of individual candidates but aligned with the overall communication campaign.

While America has changed for Americans, America will more or less remain the same for the rest of the world. Pakistan is geo-strategically important. Previously, for imposing a war on Afghanistan and presently for finishing a war on Afghanistan. Pakistan has a window of opportunity. It has and must continue to play its role in not only brokering a peace deal but also as a peace facilitator that will make the USA dependent on it for exiting Afghanistan in the future as well.

The US, Israel, India nexus will remain robust. With China post COVID-19 first country to recover and rise, the Americans will bend towards India as a foil to China. What Pakistan needs to do is to continue building a relationship based on not aid but trade. Pakistan also needs to develop stronger economic ties with Central Asia and Africa to decrease its economic dependence on America. Post COVID-19 and post-US election if Pakistan builds on its stabilizing economy its political importance will grow. This will then become an opportunity for Pakistan to realize its vision of a key peace and prosperity partner in the region.

Andleeb Abbas, "American democracy at its…," Business Recorder. 2020-11-16.
Keywords: Political science , Pakistani elections , American politics , Electoral votes , Social media , Economic ties , Barack Obama , America

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