Monday, 27 April 2015
It's been a busy month in US politics as things finally start to get underway for the 2016 Presidential election. The big announcement, of course, was the widely anticipated launch of Hillary Clinton's campaign, but recent weeks have also seen the official confirmation of both the Rand Paul and Marco Rubio campaigns, both of whom are expected to be major contenders in the Republican nomination. The race for the White House is well and truly on.
So at this early stage we decided to take an overview: what are the dynamics taking shape at the root of this contest and who are the big players going to be? Lets start with the voters.
The VotersThe voters simply can not make up their mind. A Democratic wave election in 2008 was followed by a Republican wave in 2010, which was followed by a Democratic wave in 2012, and another Republican wave in 2014. The United States electorate has seemingly been swinging wildly from left to right from one election to the next. The ostensible reason for this is the changing demographic make up of the voters between Presidential and midterm elections, and it's arguably the number one factor to who will prevail next time around.
So who will be voting in 2016? America has a notoriously low voter turnout for a developed democracy, exacerbated by a number of factors such as holding election day during the week, the fact that a number of cynical politicians see an advantage in disenfranchising certain demographics, and of course good old fashioned voter apathy.
Effectively this means that elections typically disproportionately represent the kind of demographics who have free time on a week day, who are more prone to fanaticism, and who can't be disenfranchised. In other words, the elderly, the religious, and white males respectively.
As you may have realized, the above demographics tend to vote heavily in favour of the conservative Republican Party, which sheds some light as to why elections are usually so close despite the fact that Americans as a whole somewhat consistently seem to favour the left-leaning Democratic Party. The numbers imply that if everyone in America voted, the Democrats would win most elections, even in states typically considered "red".
This goes a long way towards explaining the violent swings between recent elections. Those demographics turn out consistently for all elections, the total vote numbers for Republicans in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 are notably consistent. Meanwhile the opposite groups, young people, academics, and minorities/women, voted in record numbers in 2008 and 2012, but were almost totally absent in 2010 and 2014.
The generally accepted wisdom holds that Americans by and large care very little about Congress, and thus these groups only turn up in Presidential election years. But then again it may simply be the effect of Obama only being on the ballot in those years, with his famously efficient get out the vote operation.
Either way the turnout among these heavily left-leaning voter blocs has been swinging wildly between midterm and Presidential election years. In 2012 60% of those aged under thirty voted Democrat, 80% of minorities voted Democrat. A whopping 70% of academics and scientists vote Democrat. These voting blocs didn't turn up in 2014, but it would seem that who wins in 2016 will depend on whether they do this time. Ultimately the big question that needs to be asked is will these groups turn up just because it is a Presidential election year, or was it specifically Obama and his impressive operation that got these voters to the polls?
The PartiesIn the marvelous mess that is American politics, there are only two parties that matter. The other minority parties are so completely invisible that they can only dream of having the electoral influence of those in a multi-party system like in the UK, and most Americans probably don't even notice they exist.
Democratic PartyThe minority party in both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade, but they still have the all important Presidency thanks to two-term winner Barack Obama who despite whatever else anyone might think of him, has shown himself to be a vote-winning machine.
A Presidential election year will offer better demographics and, in contrast to 2014, most of the Senate races are being held in blue leaning states. The Democrats will therefore realistically be aiming to win the White House and the Senate. The House of representatives, however, is another matter. The lower chamber of Congress has been gerrymandered so insanely beyond recognition that even in a year like 2012 where the Democrats won a strong majority of the vote, they still ended up with a tiny minority of the seats. The House elections have been rigged such that there is no even slim chance of flipping it until the next time districts are redrawn, even if the Democrats won an historically huge majority of the vote. Democracy at work ladies and gentlemen.
Republican PartyFor a party that controls both chambers of Congress, the Republicans have made surprisingly little attempt to do any governing. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it's difficult to deny that the current GOP strategy for the moment appears to be simply to block anything from passing, aside from the odd symbolic vote of dissent against Obama that they have no intention of actually making law.
It's easy to see why. No one pays attention to Congress. If nothing gets done and things go bad, the President will take the blame, and likewise if the Republican Congress passes anything good, the President will get the credit, as Clinton did for balancing the budget through the Republican Congress in the 1990s. It's a very sad state of affairs that politics in America has sunk this low, but that is the nature of the game nowadays. Indeed the Democratic Congress under Bush abused their position in a similar (albeit far less extreme) manner.
When it comes to the Democrats' prospects, there has only ever been one likely candidate, and that is former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
On the surface then it would seem all the stars are aligning, qualified, vetted, ideologically mainstream, and representing a landmark in American politics to boot. It's easy to see why she is the heavy front runner in her party. But she has her share of issues too. She is the ultimate Washington insider, and will be inextricably linked with this Obama administration, so much will depend on how he is perceived in a year's time, and she will be hard pressed to present herself as any different to politics as usual.
At the moment there really isn't anyone else in the party who looks even capable of winning the primary, let alone the general election, and the majority of Americans would probably have difficulty naming more than one or two other potential candidates, if that. But then the same was also true in 2008, and yet she ended up losing to a previous unknown in Barack Obama. Right now she is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but a lot can change in the next year as the other contenders become more well known among the public.
Vice President Biden lost his 2008 Presidential campaign hopelessly. In fact until he was picked as Obama's VP, something of a surprise choice, few people were probably even aware of who he was. Now after eight years as Vice President he will be in a much stronger position should he run, but that still doesn't make him a great candidate.
The progressive darling of the moment, Warren has long been a champion for consumer rights and "the 99%". Serving previously as Chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Committee and as special advisor for Obama's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was elected to the Senate in 2012. Also considered to be a foremost legal scholar, Warren brings with her a long list of credentials and experience.
O'Malley is one of those candidates that has been talked about for years as a Presidential candidate, and yet no one is still really sure who he is or why he demands such hype.
On the surface there's certainly no reason he couldn't run. Good looking guy, charismatic enough, former Governor (Presidential elections love Governors), and yet O'Malley at the moment doesn't look anything like a potential spoiler in the Hillary parade.
The speculation is that O'Malley might try to out-liberal Hillary in a play for the party's disillusioned progressives, but will that be enough to win over the super-delegates? O'Malley looks certain to run, but he's surely a no-hoper.