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ruk_d's avatar

Is the American system of electing it's leaders the best, most democratic method available?

Asked by ruk_d (267points) October 14th, 2009

We had this discussion in class and I was just curious has to what people outside the classroom thought.

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14 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

Of course not – it is nowhere close to true democracy. No country has an ideal system. It always comes back to trying to decide upon the lesser of the available evils, not selecting the best person from within the community for the job.

Sarcasm's avatar

America is a democratic republic, not a democracy.
So no, we’re not in the “most democratic method”.

CMaz's avatar

It should be.
But it is nothing but an elusion created by the powerful and wealthy.

gussnarp's avatar

Being the most democratic is not necessarily the same as being the best. There are aspects of the way we elect our leaders that are good and aspects that are bad and aspects that are good or bad depending on your view of the outcome. I think the electoral college is completely unnecessary and outdated. It should be done away with and the President should be elected by the popular vote alone. Now as to Congress, our election of Congressional leaders has some issues with regard to unequal representation, but I’m not sure those are particularly significant. I think our system is better than the proportional representation schemes common in Europe, and I think that our system in general is superior to the parliamentary model in many ways, but that’s just because I grew up with it. Then we have to ask about the actual technical means of electing our leaders – here we are way behind. We need a secure nationwide standard with nationwide standards for recounts so we don’t continue to have presidential and congressional elections turn into drawn out court battles unnecessarily. I’d also like to see full electronic voting, with a paper trail, that could give us an instant runoff system for Presidential elections. You pick your top 3 in order, and if your 1st choice doesn’t get enough votes to stay in, but your 2nd choice is still in the running, he gets your vote. This would help to break the two party stalemate we have now.

gussnarp's avatar

@Sarcasm We are a republic, but we do elect our leaders democratically, so our system of electing our leader could be the most democratic (although I don’t think it is, at least in part due to the electoral college).

Darwin's avatar

Since we have the electoral college we do not elect national leaders entirely democratically, but rather by a representative democracy, aka a republic. It may not be the best system, but it has worked fairly well for 200+ years (although it has changed along the way – it used to be only wealthy, educated, white, male landowners could vote. Now it is everyone who is old enough.).

CMaz's avatar

“it used to be only wealthy, educated, white, male landowners could vote. ”

Sounds like the the electoral college to me.

Darwin's avatar

@ChazMaz – But now it is unofficial. Then it was the law.

CMaz's avatar

@Darwin – True dog!

DominicX's avatar


Whose fault is it if the “best person for the job” doesn’t even run for office?

derekfnord's avatar

@DominicX: The media, mostly. In the Information Age, anyone in major public office will have their life torn apart and dissected. Obviously, many people, including many of the best and brightest who might otherwise have been drawn to give something back in public service, wouldn’t be willing to put themselves and their families and friends through the hateful vitriol that accompanies running for high office…

derekfnord's avatar

To address the original question… I think our system—while not bad, and while it’s stood the test of time, is well over 200 years old, and could perhaps benefit from some modernization.

The Electoral College has probably outlived its usefulness, and the winner-take-all approach in each state (for presidential elections) is counter-intuitive. (For example, Washington and Tennessee each have 11 Electoral Votes. One candidate could win WA by hundreds of thousands of votes—a massive landslide—while the other wins TN by mere dozens—a squeaker of legendary proportions—and the Electoral College will treat these two wins as identical.)

I think the two-party system with its primaries, etc. is probably outdated too. I’d rather see a wider field of candidates for the general election, without being limited to just one from a particular party, with no primaries, and a ballot that allows for degrees of preference. Not just “Which of these 10 candidates do you want?” but “Rank these 10 candidates in order of most-preferred to least-preferred.” Weight it so a first-place vote counts proportionally more, then scaled down “points” as you move down the ballot. The candidate with the most “points” wins.

I think that would help eliminate a lot of polarization and mud-slinging. Because then you wouldn’t be able to throw everything into undermining a single opposing candidate, even if it makes you look like a total jerk to his or her supporters. You’d want to try to sway people to your candidacy without alienating them… because you’d still want them to rank you second or third or whatever, even if they didn’t pick you number one.

This may seem unusual, but I think it would be a big improvement. Because think of it this way… Let’s say you’re throwing a dinner party. You can serve beef, chicken, or pork for the main course (assume no vegetarians for the sake of this example). Half of your guests like beef the best, also like chicken, and hate pork. The other half like pork the best, also like chicken, and hate beef. What should you serve?

Chicken, obviously.

The PotUS isn’t just the President of the Democrats or the President of the Republicans. He or she is the President of (everyone in) the United States. So the person who wins that office should ideally be the person most palatable to the largest number of people… not just the one who manages to get the most zealots in line behind them…

wundayatta's avatar

Power belongs to the organized. Businesses are a very successful way of organizing people. Unions and grass roots organizations have a much harder time, because they aren’t able to pay people as much nor as directly. Business is not monolithic, and they compete against each other, and have differences of opinion on issues of social concern.

I think these observations are important because they put all forms of government in perspective. No form of government is immune to influence and attempts to corrupt politicians into providing some folks with more access and more money. At least in a democracy, it is possible to make changes on a more regular basis because the society has rules about changing leadership built in. Most importantly, most of the people buy into these mechanisms.

Honestly, I don’t think that the various forms of democracy are much different in outcome. To some extent, the character of a people determines the form of democracy, and in an equal extent, the form of democracy helps form the character of a people. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.

I think that the way people feel about their form of democracy has to do with the overal cultural preferences of a people. In the U.S., we value independence and self-reliance, and as a result, people pride themselves on not being dependent on government. Indeed, they pride themselves on limiting government’s role. So many people do not feel like the government really is of them, by them, and for them.

Others, of course, feel a greater sense of cooperation, although some forms of cooperation are felt to be more acceptable than others (organizing a business, for example, is generally admired more than organizing a universal health care system). Still, between the cooperativists and the self-reliantists, we manage to struggle through.

I really think the specific form of our democracy is a function of these larger cultural memes, but that the memes themselves mean much more than the actual form of democracy. The form is just window dressing. The things that matter happen beneath that, in a less visible place. Kind of the proverbial back room for making deals, except that it’s not even as organized as that.

mattbrowne's avatar

The Electoral College needs some serious reforms. And there should be more than 2 parties in a parliament. The US needs a Green Party which is part of the House of Representatives.

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