Thoughts on the US elections: Making democracy beautiful

Every 4 years for quite a while, the world has been increasingly held captive by the US Presidential Elections. The fact that the US has been the richest and most powerful country in the world for the last century means that whoever becomes their leader has an impact on the rest of the world, especially as we become more connected.

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Four more years.

While some may scoff at the focus and interest shown by the rest of the world, the fact is that the US elections in many ways represent the pinnacle of democracy in style and in substance. For months in the build up to the elections, the world has been captivated by debates, campaign speeches and convention speeches that are as much about spectacle as they are about specifics. In a sense, American democracy works almost too well, with everything choreographed even to the slightest detail. The issues of the election are analysed almost ad-nauseam until a Nigerian can repeat almost verbatim the issues in a US election cycle.

It is still strange for Nigerians to compare what happens in the US – with terms like ‘swing states’, ‘electoral college’, ‘early voting’ and all that comes with such a highly developed democracy – to what we have back home which is infantile at best, but this is because the US elections carry an aspirational quality. Every nation wants a democracy where all voices are heard and seen to be heard. America’s democracy is a celebration that the rest of the world joins in every four years.

Today’s election was a referendum of Obama’s four years, but more importantly it is an insight into the future of US demographics and the future of electioneering as a whole. As the percentage of white voters reduces, the Republican party’s base goes with it. Democrats have done a great job with capturing women, youth and minorities. Coupled with the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado and same sex marriage in Maryland, Maine and Washington, the GOP finds itself on the wrong side of a long term trend which will put them in retreat for the foreseeable future, unless they take back control from the Tea Party fringe. The role of the government in disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy and the bailouts which saved a lot of jobs in Ohio, also directly contradicts the GOP’s obsession with small government as against government that works.

Another interesting aspect has been the use of data to accurately predict the outcome of the election, as well as the targeting of individual voters to influence their choice for president. Data science is an emerging field that is being shown to have a vast range of uses. More and more, we are seeing that if you ask the right questions and collect data based on those questions, there is a lot you can do with it. Four years ago, Nate Silver on his fivethirtyeight blog, correctly predicted the presidential election results in 49 out of 50 states. This year, after being engaged by the New York Times, he was so sure of his model that he bet on it publicly. This time, he correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states. This is the power of data which is showing itself to be stronger than conventional wisdom and everyday punditry. This is the future of electioneering and could very well be the future of most things.

Barack Obama has run his last race, morphing from a charismatic leader to a pragmatist before our very eyes, while still convincing enough people that he deserves a chance to finish the job. To do this, he has had to maintain the same coalition that brought him to power in 2008, which also looks like the same coalition the Democratic Party will rely on for years to come, one which is ‘broader than it was deep’ as Nate Silver put it.

The Democrats will not mind much, and neither will Obama. He has four more years to consolidate his policies and learn from the mistakes of his first term. It also shows the utter failure of the GOP’s bitter and divisive campaign, designed to obstruct rather than point a way forward.

After the victory and concession speeches were given and the analysis of results begins in earnest, I would be lying if I said I was not inspired. The Americans are far from perfect to be sure, but they make democracy look so beautiful. I want my country’s democracy to be beautiful, too. Some day, I want elections in Nigeria to be watched like this, to be analysed like this, to be predicted like this. I want Nigerians to celebrate democracy like this. I want elections to be free from rigging, with results known a few hours after polls close. I want a knowledgeable electorate that will hold their leaders to account and turn up at the ballot box, rewarding good governance and punishing the bad.

When will we have a democracy like this? Can we have it? I think we can. I think that if we each took personal responsibility for it, it can happen. It won’t be in a day or a year, but watching how it is done elsewhere in the world can serve as the inspiration necessary for the perspiration that is vital to create a real democracy within our shores.

God bless Nigeria.

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