6 Reasons why the American Presidential Election is a Circus

by Kate Dinnison and Millie Radovic. Kate is an American second year student of BA International Relations at King’s, North America Editor of IR Today, and Academic Secretary of the War Studies Society. Millie, an Anglo-Serbian native, is also reading IR at the War Studies Department, the Chief Editor of IRT, and VP of the War Studies Society. 

1. Fox ‘News’

An entire article, nay book, could be devoted to the sheer absurdity of Fox ‘News’. The second word of that name is unlikely to come out of quotation marks any time soon, as the channel is more of an entertainment centre for those perpetually bored, deprived of education yet loaded on pills Americans than anything relating to a news centre. Certainly, the mere existence of Fox makes the entire media world of the States a circus. But the fact that the channel is being used to broadcast Republican debates makes the election itself one. I can just imagine president Lincoln turning in his grave as the party he once lead in abolishing slavery continues to intellectually deteriorate. Do they genuinely want to seem ridiculous to the rest of the world? Even if a Republican candidate was to win next year, how could they expect to be taken seriously by the rest of the international community when there is a clip out there of them debating on a ridiculous television channel such as Fox? The debate I’m talking about was of course widely recognised as a circus itself, and to quote Mark Levin from a site called Polistick, “it was [like] a cross between Jerry Springer and House of Cards”. Now there are two TV show titles that should never be in the same sentence. All jokes aside, while it is indeed entertaining to read the latest outbursts on Fox all the way from across the Atlantic, the size of their viewership and support is no laughing matter. There comes a point when even though it’s fun to ridicule a major election, the fact that it is one in the most powerful country in the world is more than scary.

2. Electoral College Imbalances

The electoral college is an institution that aims at accurately and fairly representing voters in the United States through 538 electors. Small states are given additional power to prevent politicians from only focusing on issues which affect the larger states. The initial fear was that without this power, politicians would completely ignore small states and only focus on large urban population centers. Sounds ideal in theory, doesn’t it? In practice it greatly distorts the electoral system and has resulted in four presidents being elected who did not win the popular vote in the 56 elections in United States History. This system caused controversy in the 2000 when George W. Bush  won the nomination for president whilst Al Gore won the popular vote by a narrow margin, exposing its flaws and leading the US on a very different path than it would have otherwise. The EC causes some problems in representation in that nearly 40 states are written off by parties knowing they either can’t win or lose it, with nearly all the focus and campaign dollars spend on those key swing states like Florida and Michigan.  The cherry on top is how the EC perpetuates the solid two-party system, with no room for the greens or independents that have the chance to cut the bi-polarity. But that, my friends, is a whole issue in itself.

3. No Donation Caps

America is infamous for its liberal views, and this especially comes into campaign donations. One is at ‘liberty’ to contribute as much as they want to any given candidate or party. In 2012, individual contributions to the main candidates totalled at over 1.15 billion dollars. Compared to the total of £8 million being contributed by individual to all of the UK parties in the General Election of 2015, this is a downright waste of money. How can after the 2008- financial crisis people actually contribute these amounts of money with a straight face? To be frank, the British figure is not impressively low itself, and indeed the UK is a much smaller country than the US. But personal endowment is genuinely a less common occurrence in European politics even when considered in proportion to size.

Frankly, the lack of donation caps is simply not just strange because it doesn’t match our policies here. It’s strange (read – ridiculous) because the elections then turn into more of an auction than a genuine competition to win over the people with best policy proposals. Candidates with the most money can invest the most in campaigning (especially in the ‘swing’ states) and thereby reach more people. As candidates reach out to more people, contributions to their campaigns are more likely to grow. And before you know it it’s a race between wallets rather than ideas.

4. % Voter Turnout

The United States general election is no doubt the most watched and heated cycles internationally, yet, it has one of the lowest voter turnout rates among modern democracies. U.S. turnout in 2012 was 53.6%, based on 129.1 million votes cast for president and an estimated voting-age population of just under 241 million people. In 2014, the mid term elections were the lowest they’d been since 1942 during WWII. These low numbers can be blamed on a number of factors – education, large rural populations, among others. Registration to vote is an individual responsibility, which is maybe why only about 65% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 71% of the voting-age citizenry) is registered, according to the Census Bureau, compared with 96% in Sweden and 93% in the U.K. How can the United States claim to be a democracy when little over a half of the electorate actually votes?

5. Party Imbalance

Next, and in my opinion really not sufficiently discussed in the media, comes the stark difference in the number of declared candidates features in main polls by each major party. The Democratic Party so far has 5 of these, and the Republican 16. That’s over three times more. Whether there is insufficient interest, or whether Joe Biden’s bid is in the works, or whether no one wants to run against Hillary – currently there is little to choose from on the Democratic side. Meanwhile the Republican camp is frankly overflowing with hopefuls. This certainly means one thing: whilst the Republican race is anybody’s game at the moment, candidates are going further and further into extremes to win over votes, and 060415coletoonthe Democrats (read – Hillary) don’t have to try nearly as hard. Sure, whoever wins will have the current president’s support, but they are simply not being challenged enough to justify their claims and promises. Hillary especially, despite her email scandal is still most likely to win. The way that the American primaries are supposed to work is that even though only one candidate comes out of them, the pressure imposed by the competition of their own colleagues shapes their campaign into one that more widely represents their entire party. Right now, Hillary is still barely challenged – and even if she does indeed win, it will appear that she won more on the account of 1) being the lesser of two evils and 2) simply being a woman. And whilst a woman is definitely due a spot in the that presidential seat, winning simply on account of gender once again makes for more of a circus of an election, than a legitimately suitable president.

6. Celebrity Candidates

This year we are seeing some familiar names on the ballot – Bush, Clinton, Paul have all been household names not necessarily because of their careers, but their fathers’, husband’s and brothers’ before them. I think in all cases, such precedence has the chance to damage each of these candidates as the American population fears the dynastic sentiment that comes with electing another Clinton or Bush as president. It seems that with every election cycle Americans are looking for a fresh start, which is why carrying these names will prove to be a challenge for these candidates in the primaries and eventually in November 2016.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who have made names for themselves in other capacities. Business mogul and infamous a**hole Donald Trump has taken far too much space in headlines for months now because of his bold stances on immigration and self-proclaimed war on political correctness. Why, as americans who hopefully wish the best for our country, are we giving him any attention or consideration? Kanye West and Trump throwing their names in for the next few elections, whether or not they believe they can effectively run the country, is simply a PR stunt to shake things up, to fill hotel rooms, and to sell albums.





  1. The Electoral College does not aim to accurately and fairly represent voters in the United States through 538 electors.

    The Founding Fathers in the Constitution did not require states to allow their citizens to vote for president, much less award all their electoral votes based upon the vote of their citizens.

    Presidential electors were appointed by state legislatures for almost a century.

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

    A shift of a few thousand voters in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 15 presidential elections since World War II. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 7 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012). 537 popular votes won Florida and the White House for Bush in 2000 despite Gore’s lead of 537,179 (1,000 times more) popular votes nationwide. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 million votes. In 2012, a shift of 214,733 popular votes in four states would have elected Mitt Romney, despite President Obama’s nationwide lead of 4,966,945 votes.

    After the 2012 election, Nate Silver calculated that “Mitt Romney may have had to win the national popular vote by three percentage points on Tuesday to be assured of winning the Electoral College.”

    The Electoral College doesn’t even accurately and fairly represent voters in each state.

    Minority party voters in each state have their votes counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate. In 2012, 56,256,178 (44%) of the 128,954,498 voters had their vote diverted by the winner-take-all rule to a candidate they opposed (namely, their state’s first-place candidate).

    And now votes, beyond the one needed to get the most votes in the state, for winning in a state, are wasted and don’t matter to candidates.

    With the current state-by-state winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), it could only take winning a bare plurality of popular votes in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win the Presidency with a mere 23% of the nation’s votes!


  2. Presidential elections don’t have to continue to be dominated by and determined by a handful of swing states besieged with attention, while most of the country is politically irrelevant.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The national popular vote winner would receive all of the 270+ electoral votes of the enacting states.

    The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter equally in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    Every vote would matter in the state counts and national count.

    The bill has passed a total of 33 legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states states with 250 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions possessing 165 electoral votes—61% of the 270 electoral votes necessary to activate it, including 4 small jurisdictions, 3 medium-size states, and 4 big states.



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