What makes the quadrennial U.S. presidential election unique? Why popular votes alone do not determine who the next President is, unlike in the parliamentary systems? Here, I briefly explain.
The United States will go to polls on November 3 to find the next POTUS (President of the United States) and the Vice-President (V-P). Perhaps, there is no other political event as keenly overlooked and observed as the US presidential election which happens once in every four years, since 1789, to decide who is going to occupy the most powerful constitutional office in the world today.
For the past one year, all media eyes are on the deeply contested polls in which the incumbent President, belonging to the Republican Party, Donald Trump will take on Joe Biden of the Democratic Party, a former vice-president.
Interestingly, both the quadrennial presidential elections and biennial general elections happen on the first Tuesday after first day of November on even-numbered years, a custom deep-rooted in America’s agricultural calendar. Coincidentally, the presidential election falls in leap years, a tradition going all the way back to1792 when George Washington was elected for the second time.
About 330 million people live in the United States. Out of which, roughly 250 million citizens are eligible to vote, amounting to 78 % of the population. But, only a little over half of the eligible voters have taken part in recent elections. If that comes true again, only about 137 million people would cast their votes this time. But, due to the pandemic, an expanded early voting could send that number higher.
Citizens elect their‘electors’, who in turn elect POTUS and V-P
The direct votes casted by eligible citizens do not actually determine who the President and V-P are, but a college of ‘electors’ known as the Electoral College does that on behalf of the people. Unlike in many parliamentary democracies, it is not the national ‘popular vote’ that decides who the next occupant of the White House is.
Rather, it is decided by this Electoral College, and the only task of this body is to choose the next President and Vice-President. It gets dissolved soon after accomplishing that task, and it won’t reappear until the next presidential election.
Once the popular votes are in and counted, it is for the ‘electors’ of the states to vote for the President. The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes, which is at least 270 out of 538, is declared the winner.
So, it is not the popular vote that directly determines who the POTUS and the V-P are, but the votes casted by these electors.
Consider the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton received the most number of popular votes. But, she couldn’t make it to the White House, as it was Donald Trump who topped in electoral votes from the states. The 2016 presidential election was the fifth one in US history wherein the winning candidate lost the popular vote. Thus, the people have an indirect role in the process of electing the POTUS and the V-P, once the polls are over.
There is a ‘winner-takes-all’ system in place. If a candidate passes the majority electoral vote mark in a state, he or she can take all the other votes too in that particular state. For instance, if Joe Biden crosses majority mark of 20 in Texas, a state with 38 electors, he can take the state’s entire electoral vote.
Composition of the Electoral College
Every U.S state has their respective number of electors to send to the Electoral College. A state’s total number of electors will be same as the number of representatives in the House and the Senate, which in turn is dependent on the respective populations of each state.
Thus, the Electoral College consists of 435 Representatives (of the House) and 100 Senators (of the Senate), and the three additional electors from the District of Columbia. Electoral candidates will be finalized by the state units of the Republican and Democratic parties.
Coming to the distribution of electors among the states, California has the most (55), followed by Texas (38), New York (29), Florida (29), Illinois (20), and Pennsylvania (20).
‘Battleground states’ as key to victory
As mentioned before, the electors from the states play a decisive role in deciding who wins the presidency. Now, looking at the predictability of outcomes in the 51 states of the Union, including District of Columbia, many are perceived as historically aligned to either of the two major political parties – Democratic or Republican. But there are a few swing states, often referred to as ‘battleground states’, that are yet to make up whether to go Democratic or Republican.
A major chunk of campaign activities of all political parties are centred on these states to influence fresh votes or to manipulate voter preferences in their favour. Opinion polls every year can give a vague picture on the swing states, based on which campaign strategies of parties can be formulated.
A US media group, Politico, has identified eight states this time that could be potentially be the battlegrounds, namely Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Joe Biden is poised to lead in seven of these states, as research indicates. Final results, however, are beyond all reasonable predictions.
These swing states are identified based on different variables such as polling dynamics, past and recent election history, demographic composition of the electorate, voter registration, interviews with party officials and strategists and so on. Those locations prioritized for campaigns can be understood by looking at the staffing, resource allocation, state visits, television and radio advertising employed by different parties and their respective candidates.
Thus, instead of focusing on all states equally, candidates campaign heavily in just a handful of decisive states. This comes at the cost of disregarding smaller states, having only the election victories in mind.
Due to these reasons, critics accuse the U.S. Electoral College system of lacking internal democracy, by not giving each vote the same weight or by inflating the influence of some regions over others or due to the ‘winner-takes-all’ system. Despite all its shortcomings, it is here to stay, as it requires hectic legislative maneuverings through the Congress that are rarely undertaken.
What if no candidate cross the majority electoral votes mark?
If no candidate gets majority in the Electoral College, i.e., if they fell short of the 270 votes mark, consequentially the task of choosing the President is passed on to the House of Representatives, the lower house of the U.S. Congress (the apex legislature in the United States like the Parliament).
Similarly, if no vice-presidential candidate gets majority, the task will be passed on to the Senate, the upper house. They do it by holding what is known as Contingent Election, as it occurred in 1800 and 1824.
Road to the Inauguration Day
After the November 3 election results are out, a new Electoral College comes into being. This body of electors then meet in their respective state capitals and will officially vote for the presidential candidate. And, there is no legal requirement that electors should vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states.
The counting of these votes takes place in the presence of joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate. A majority votes in the Electoral College determines who the next POTUS is. As a candidate cross the threshold of 270 votes, the POTUS emerges from the shadows of the process.
Later, the new President and the Vice-President will be sworn-in (inaugurated) to their respective offices on the Inauguration Day, which usually falls on January 20, as in 2021. And, the White House will be ready to welcome its new occupant for the next four years.
Why are some Muslims, from India to the U.S Voting against their Natural Allies
Recent national elections in the U.S. and regional elections in India have presented an interesting conundrum. The numbers show that some Muslims, are voting in a counter-intuitive fashion. Given the rise of Islamophobia and right-wing religious nationalism, both in the U.S. and in India, one would surmise that Muslims would vote overwhelmingly to the left of center. But both, in India and in the U.S., many Muslims have however chosen to send a message to the center-left – your sympathetic rhetoric and your verbal condemnations of Islamophobia is not enough, we want to see concrete policies that improve our political and economic conditions. Neither the promises of Joe Biden, nor the fear of Hindu-nationalism is influencing their vote. These Muslims are, for sure, in a minority albeit a growing one. Politicians on the center-left may ignore them at their own peril.
In the U.S.
In the U.S., President-Elect Joe Biden’s campaign outreach to Muslims went far beyond that of any presidential candidate in the past. Biden’s campaign had a manifesto for American Muslims and a designated outreach person. Biden spoke at Muslim conventions and even quoted from Islamic scripture. He dropped an “inshallah” in the debates. Biden promised to end the so called ‘Muslim-Ban’ on day one and has repeatedly condemned Islamophobia. Biden spoke up for Uyghur Muslims in China and Kashmiris in India and has opposed the annexation of West Bank. He has promised to resume relations with the Palestinians and restore aid to them. Even Imran Khan, the PM of Pakistan, a self-proclaimed champion of Muslims, does not have such an impressive pro-Muslim curriculum vitae, he has repeatedly refused to speak up for the Uyghurs.
While a majority of American Muslims campaigned very aggressively for the Biden-Harris ticket and raised millions of dollars for the Democrats, the exit polls indicate that only 69% of American Muslims voted for them. On the face value that is a huge win, but if you look at in comparison to the past it is troubling. Despite the fact that Biden went far beyond any other candidate in his outreach to Muslims, and the Islamophobia of President Trump is well documented, Biden has garnered the least percentage of votes by a Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections according to exit polls conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations.
A possible explanation for this relatively weak performance is that, for some Muslims his “iron-clad” support for Israel and his willingness to work with pro-Hindutva operatives in the U.S., make his opposition to Islamophobia sound less credible. Words are not enough. If his electoral promises do not actually translate into actual policies, one can expect further decline in Muslim support for Democrats. American Muslims are a rapidly growing and politically engaged community that is over represented in swing states.
A closer reading of the exit polls suggest that things are worse than they seem. The exit polls show that while 17% American Muslims voted for Trump (up from 13% in 2016), 11% declined to reveal who they voted for. It is possible that they lean heavily towards Trump, hence the secrecy. That would mean that in spite of all his Islamophobic rhetoric, Trump may have doubled his support among American Muslims. One Trump supporter told me he voted for Trump because Trump did not invade a single Muslim country in four years unlike Biden who supported the invasion of Iraq.
The recent elections in Bihar has an interesting story to tell. The state is clearly polarizing as most gains have been made by parties on the extremities. Prime minister Modi’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) went from winning 53 wins in the 2015 elections to winning 74 of the 243 seats in 2020. A significant swing in favor of Hindutva ideology. The Communist Party (CPI-ML) gained 9 seats, it had 3 seats in 2015 to 12 seats in 2020. The communist parties combined had a 400% increase, they went from 4 to 16 seats. The parties in decline are the so-called secular centrist parties. The Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) which is the biggest single party in the state lost five seats (80-75) and the Indian National Congress (INC), the grand old party of India, also lost ground (27-19).
Clearly the secular center is shrinking. The biggest surprise of the elections was the performance of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All Indian MajlisIttehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Muslim party, which in the past five years has gone from 0-5 seats. The Majlis won in predominantly Muslim area of Seemanchal and is being accused by commentators of stealing the secular vote away from secular parties. Some are describing Majlis as BJP’s B-Team.
It is interesting that now in Indian politics, the code for Muslim vote is ‘the secular vote’. Indian Muslims are now the last line of defense for the rather rapidly shriveling secular space. The criticism of Owaisi and the Majlis for denting the prospects of secular parties in Bihar is both misplaced and inaccurate. The question that is important is not why Owaisi’s Majlis, a party historically based in Hyderabad (South India) is contesting elections so far in the North of India. The key question is why are Muslims in Bihar voting for Majlis? A party that has no record of governance in their region.
In a speech months before the elections, Owaisi predicted a tectonic shift in Seemanchal’s politics and he said that it was coming because of the profound injustices and inequities that plague Muslims of that region. If secular parties that have governed the state for decades had delivered good governance to Muslims, Owaisi would have stayed at home.
Muslims are increasingly disillusioned by secular and left politicians. Islamophobia was on the rise even before Trump became President and 37% of American Muslims, pre-covid pandemic, were found hovering near the poverty line. There is much discontent. I think just as 17-25% American Muslims voted for Trump rejecting the centrist politics of Democrats – many Muslims in Bihar too are frustrated by the failure of secular parties to improve their material condition. The region of Bihar where Owaisi’s party won five seats is the poorest and infrastructurally the least developed area of the state. Voting for secular parties for decades did not help them much. They have been voting without hope. They too are tired of the lip service.
Muslims of Bihar are fortunate that they have an alternative in Majlis and they are able to reject both Indian secularists and Hindu nationalists unlike some American Muslims who feel that they are stuck between Republicans who are Islamophobic and Democrats who promise much but deliver little. The minority of Muslims who appear to be voting counter intuitively, seemingly against their own interests, either for Donald Trump in the U.S. or the Majlis in Bihar, are clearly sending a signal to secular politicians – do not take our vote for granted, you need to earn our vote.
The center-left may be a natural ally of Muslims, but if it does not deliver for Muslims, they may lose their vote in ever increasing numbers.
Which Coronavirus Policies Succeed, And Which Fail: N.Y. Times Analysis Confirms Mine
According to an analysis by and in the New York Times on November 18th, which is headlined “States That Imposed Few Restrictions Now Have the Worst Outbreaks”, “Coronavirus cases are rising in almost every U.S. state. But the surge is worst now in places where leaders neglected to keep up forceful virus containment efforts or failed to implement basic measures like mask mandates in the first place, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the University of Oxford.”
At Strategic Culture, on May 21, I had published my own analysis, which was based upon tracking the data globally and within countries, and within the various states of the United States, which analysis concluded that countries (and states) which apply the least-stringent regulations in order to keep as low as possible the spread of the virus are failing the most to contain or limit that spread. I labelled those the “libertarian” countries, and I noted that what I called the “socialist” countries — the nations which were the most strictly imposing scientifically confirmed regulations in order to keep those numbers down — were having the best success at limiting the spread of this virus. My study was global, and its headline was “Ideology and Coronavirus”. Unlike the Times article, I was forthright about the ideological implications of the coronavirus data — because those implications are vastly important. (The handling of this pandemic is providing reams of data that test the effectiveness of the various locales’ predominant ideology at dealing with a global life-or-death years-long public-health emergency in regions throughout the world. This is like a global laboratory experiment testing the two opposite ideologies: libertarianism, which is against government regulation, versus socialism, which applies government regulation. No government is purely one or the other, but those are the two poles.)
The analysis in the Times article shows a chart, and represents on it almost all of the states, as dots that indicate both the amount of regulation which has been applied, and the lowness of the infection-rate which has resulted; and, at the upper left corner on it, are the two Dakotas, as “Weak recent containment measures and many cases,” while at the bottom rightmost corner is Hawaii as “Strict measures and fewer cases.”
The Times chart is showing, only locally within the United States, during just the past few weeks, what my analyses had shown, regarding not only the international and longer-term data, but also within the United States itself and recently, not only longer-term and internationally. One of my articles, on November 1st and titled “The Highest Covid-Infection-Rate States”, showed the infection-rate for all 50 states, and noted that, “In 2016, the top 17 [the states with the highest rates of this infection in 2020] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump, but from numbers 25 to 45, there was a political mixture. The highest infection-rate state, North Dakota, has a Covid-19 infection-rate that is 14.6 times higher than the lowest Covid-19 infection-rate state, Vermont.” Of course, the Republican Party (Trump’s Party) is the more libertarian Party, and the Democratic Party (Clinton’s Party) is the more socialist (though actually just as totalitarian) of the two Parties. (Both Parties represent only their billionaires, who also own and control the media; and this is the way that America’s aristocracy controls the Government. For example, the very pro-Democratic-Party website PoliticalWire quoted from and linked to the NYT’s article, but always fails to include any of mine, because I am critical against both Parties. Truly independent news-media are almost non-existent in the United States.)
Whereas the Times’s chart of “Avg. new cases per 100,000” failed to include Vermont, Vermont is the state that has, for the longest time, been among the best three on not only cases per million but also deaths per million, from this virus, and substantially better even than Hawaii, and both states are among the two or three that in recent decades have been the strongest for Democratic candidates, and the weakest for Republican candidates. However, Vermont especially is politically independent, and, so, it has a Republican Governor, Phil Scott, whose record on containing this virus has been the best in the nation; and he was just re-elected in a landslide, 69% of the votes (largely because of this terrific record). Right now, however, the number of daily new cases has shot up suddenly about fivefold in just the past week; so, Phil Scott’s record is in jeopardy. If that surge quickly ends, then he could become the strongest Republican to run against Kamala Harris or Joe Biden in 2024. He would not only receive almost all Republican votes (since that’s his Party), but also at least a third of Democratic votes, and almost all independent votes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be the likeliest to win the Republican nomination, because (just as is true about the Democratic Party) that Party’s billionaires will be making that choice. (It was blatantly true also with regard to Biden and Harris.) This epidemic will be a major political challenge both in 2022 and in 2024. Anyone who wants to see Governor Scott’s press conferences regarding this crisis, so as to know precisely what his coronavirus-policies have been, can see them here. His November 20th press conference is here. He and his governing team receive and answer there many intelligent questions, so that the policies which have led to the best results in America are amply explained there.
On November 16th in South Dakota (and then repeated nationally on National Public Radio on November 20th), reporter Seth Tupper headlined “Two States, Different Paths: Vermont Keeps Virus Low While Rivaling SD’s Economy” and provided a thorough report, including graphs of infection-rates over time, comparing two states, South Dakota, which has the nation’s second-highest infection-rate (after only North Dakota’s 9%) of 7.8%, versus Vermont, which has the nation’s lowest infection-rate, of only 0.5% — one-fifteenth as high. Tupper explained the different policies that the Governors of those two states had applied, and how those policies produced vastly different results for the infection-rates and the death-rates in their states’ populations, but only moderately higher increase in unemployment in Vermont than in South Dakota, which at the peak in April had reached 16% unemployment in Vermont, versus only 10% peak in South Dakota; and, by the time of August, both states had nearly identical low unemployment-rates. Whereas the death-rates from the disease soared around a thousand fold, between April and November, in South Dakota, the death-rate remained virtually flat, almost no increase, in Vermont, throughout that entire period. However, both states were now experiencing soaring infection-rates during the current, second, wave of the epidemic.
Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture
Trump’s Election Shenanigans Pale Before The Threats From Melting Polar Glaciers
Despite Joe Biden exceeding the magic number of 270 that guarantees a majority in the electoral college, President Donald Trump has not conceded. Does he have a plan to overturn the wishes of the electorate?
According to Trump he did not lose, he was cheated out of a legitimate win by voter fraud and ballot stuffing. Accordingly, he has filed lawsuits in those critical states with narrow margins of victory for Biden — so far without tangible success — to block certification of the vote and persuade Republican legislatures to overturn the state vote as fraudulent and award the electoral votes to him.
Trump’s window of action is narrowing. A major target state was Michigan with 20 electoral votes. However, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has now certified Biden’s victory meaning he should get its electoral votes.
While Trump’s shenanigans continue, the world faces a real danger of melting ice sheets and glaciers. A long term denier of global warming, Mr. Trump now accepts it but believes the earth will right itself without any effort by humans.
Scientists meanwhile are particularly concerned with the Florida-sized Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic. Its collapse they fear could destabilize surrounding glaciers eventually causing catastrophic global sea level rises measured not in inches but feet.
The glacier rises 60 to 75 feet above water across its 75 mile face. Remembering that 90 percent of it is under gives some notion of the quantity of ice. The Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel is conducting a survey this winter for the first time as part of a five-year international research program to learn just how fast the glacier is melting and how much it might be adding to rising seas.
The problem is the shape of the glacier under the water and the warming waters eating away that core while the ice on top gets thicker and thicker as the glacier retreats inland. At some point the glacier is likely to collapse of its own weight into the ocean. Scientists who have modeled the scenario fear the process is unstoppable once it starts. Worse it puts much of the West Antarctic ice sheet at risk of following it into the sea. Any wonder then that Thwaites is also known as the Doomsday glacier.
At the other pole the Greenland ice sheet had a record-breaking 2019, shedding the most ice since 1948 — an estimated 532 billion tons. It of course increases coastal flooding along the eastern seaboard particularly the Carolinas and Florida. Fortunately for the residents, the 2020 melt from Greenland, while well above the 1981 to 2010 average, was lower than recent years particularly 2019.
Donald Trump does not believe he lost the election and he does not believe in global warming. Christmas is just around the corner and it’s reassuring to know he believes in Santa Claus . . . and the tooth fairy.
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