Nearly four years ago, on November the 4th 2008, a total of 132,618,580 U.S citizens voted in the Presidential election, which saw Barack Obama succeed in becoming the first African American to hold the office of President of the United States. The voter turnout was a mere 56.8%. This is a very poor showing by Australian standards, but incredibly this was the highest turnout percentage since 1968, when Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey.
In the four years that have passed with Obama in charge, he has had a considerable impact in domestic affairs, but more significantly, on international relations and world politics. The President of the United States is today so much more than the leader of a country. When looking at Obama’s achievements worldwide, as well as what other US Presidents have done in the past and will continue to do in the future, it is fair to say that it is not just American citizens who are impacted by the US election; it is a worldwide occasion. The decision to kill Osama bin Laden, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, opting out of the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, are all decisions which are having massive implications worldwide. One suggestion made is that the result of the US Election should be a worldwide decision. Whilst this would undoubtedly be a radical move, there is some merit to the idea. As stated previously, the title of President of the United States is more than just that. They are the face of capitalism, and their decisions are just as influential on an Australian citizen as they are on Americans. Global Post US did a worldwide survey on people from over 20 different countries, and found that if there was a worldwide vote, Obama would win in a landslide with 65% support compared to 18% for Mitt Romney. Looking back in time, had this method been employed, Al Gore would almost certainly have defeated George W. Bush in 2000.
A Simple Majority is not Always Enough
The effect this vote could have had on an international scale is undeniable. Several crises that we are facing today could surely have been avoided. Global warming, the war in Afghanistan, and even the Global Financial Crisis could theoretically have been avoided under Gore’s leadership. Given the effect that this could have had on countries such as Australia, Canada and other democratic states, it is reasonable to suggest that citizens of these countries should be able to vote in these elections. What gives this argument even more credibility is the fact that nearly half of all Americans have no interest in who their leader is, so much so that they won’t even take the time to cast their vote. As most US citizens fit the realist model of a self interested voter, they would vote for the candidate that would most benefit them personally, at whatever worldwide detriment this may cause. Of course, it is easy to brush aside these suggestions with the arguments of state sovereignty and individual rights. Other countries don’t have the right to interfere in the interests of sovereign states, therefore cannot have a say in who leads the country. This is certainly a valid argument, but in the era of interdependence that we now live in, times are changing.
The US has a responsibility to the rest of the world to make decisions in the best interests of everybody concerned. This isn’t to say that Obama would do a better job than Romney; only that the worldwide perception is that Obama has changed the international political landscape for the better in his term of office, and most countries would be happier if he was in charge for a second term. Latest poll predictions are changing by the day, but the general trend is a narrow victory to Romney. Compare this with the worldwide vote which sees Obama win with a 40% margin, and it is clear there is a serious discrepancy between what America wants and what the world wants. One of the reasons for this is that Obama’s reforms, although undoubtedly beneficial, are very expensive. Although many Americans may agree in principle with ‘Obamacare’ and other similarly expensive policies, when it comes to footing the bill many citizens are less inclined. Other nations who aren’t faced with the economic burden of Obama’s reformist nature would fully support this measure. As such, it does seem harsh to leave America stuck with a President they don’t really want, just because other countries think he’s the best candidate.
A far less radical alternative is to institute compulsory voting for US citizens. This is an idea that has been promoted for many years, but has always fallen at the same hurdle; America’s rights based framework for the functions of society. The US is obsessed with the notion of human rights, and although throughout history this has been a successful element of their democracy, one aspect they neglect is that of human responsibilities. In Australia of course we have the responsibility to vote; it is seen as more of a duty than a right, even if it is protected by the Constitution. In America they approach elections in the sense that they have the right to abstain from voting, rather than adopt the democratic process as a responsibility. Most of the people who don’t vote choose not to do so because they have no interest in politics, not necessarily because they want to exercise any right of abstaining. The same people who would be outraged at the idea of other countries interfering in US politics are likely to be the ones who can’t be bothered taking the time to vote or to make an informed choice if they do vote. Of course, any argument about a worldwide ballot is merely theoretical. It is all but impossible that a worldwide vote for the US President will ever occur. The advertising cost in America alone is already too much; the media coverage necessary worldwide would bankrupt any government.
The US Supreme Court strongly believes that common law principles protect state sovereignty, although other legal experts have suggested the 10th and 11th Amendments of the US Constitution also do the same. Either way, state sovereignty is well and truly entrenched in America. Despite this, the argument that the President should require a greater mandate is valid, thus the proposal for compulsory voting. The US has always been a country that neglects the idea of human responsibilities, a principle that goes hand in hand with human rights. Their rights dependent society needs an overhaul and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. If America isn’t inclined to change its electoral methods it is not going to have disastrous implications, but it is imperative that the US does look at their role beyond the scope of the interests of American citizens.
If they are prepared to champion themselves as the “global superpower,” then they need to take the responsibility that the position requires, even if that means going against the wishes of their own people. The ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, resolving the war in Afghanistan and healthier trade regulations with China are all essential international problems that need to be addressed, but are continually being overlooked. The importance of these issues cannot be overstated and with the responsibility of the handling of these being placed firmly on America’s shoulders, they need a leader with almost universal support, who can make internationally beneficial decisions. How they choose to ensure this is in their hands, and although the ideas put forward are unlikely to be implemented, it is clear that something must be done.
– Ashley Blake