THE BLOG

Misperceptions of the U.S. Election

This blog is part of the Elections 2012 Visiting Journalists Program of the International Center For Journalists. Visit ICJ's website for live updates by the participating journalists.

The United States' presidential election is viewed as one of the most important elections in the Democratic world. Yet the 2012 campaign has illuminated aspects of the election that has left me questioning whether or not it is a democratic process.

As a Sri Lankan, I have been exposed to elections back home that have been scarred with violence, allegations of corruption and outright disregard of sections of the country due to war. And so the opportunity to view the U.S. election firsthand was an exciting prospect.

Having closely followed the election for the past few months, and in the past week and a half having had the opportunity to cover the campaign trail at the ground level, I have a clearer impression of the process.

Originally the U.S. presidential election is one that I had perceived as being a cornerstone of democracy. Unlike in Sri Lanka, these elections are not violent affairs that have supporters worried for their safety and political watchdogs questioning the authenticity of the result.

However, while this may be the case, I have come to see that there are many other aspects of the U.S. presidential campaigns and the candidates which make me question whether or not they follow a true democratic model.

Despite a president being expected to lead his country, the U.S. election sees candidates come from the upper rungs of a country which has 15 percent of its population living under the poverty line.

According to reports, Mitt Romney is worth an estimated $250 million dollars. And while Obama is worth only $6 million dollars, he too is miles ahead of the average American in terms of financial worth.

To an outsider, it seems a mystery as to why only millionaires are able to run for office. Republicans have been perceived as supporters of the upper classes in society, and so it would seem natural that their candidate be a millionaire himself. But the idea that the Democrats, who supposedly appeal to the working class, also put forth such a candidate is surprising.

Despite the numerous explanations as to why so much money is needed for a candidate, and why their financial backgrounds are necessary for success, it continues to remain a mystery as to a country with such a high poverty rate would look to a millionaire to lead them.

Of course, while the choice of candidates remain a mystery, the bigger surprise to Sri Lankans is the manner in which an election can be won.

The U.S. system, to a Sri Lankan, is a complicated one with a candidate being able to win the popular vote but still lose the election. In Sri Lanka, a candidate can win an election by winning the majority of those votes cast by the public.

Once again, for a country that professes to stand for the values of democracy, it seems bizarre that the popular mandate cannot get a person elected.

What is even more confusing is that very few Americans themselves can explain how an election works, while political analysts have criticized the system. Yet despite the apparent widespread displeasure with the system that is in place there have been no moves to alter it.

While the U.S. election is a peaceful affair, untouched by corruption, it is still not the democratic affair which I had perceived it to be. The candidates are from a class that is above the majority, in a financial aspect, and the voting system is a complicated procedure that the masses do not understand.

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