The US elections: Size matters

For those of us following the US elections on this side of the pond, it's good to remember that the US is not the same as the UK

Published 06 November 2012  |  
Tonight, political junkies around Westminster will stay up late and watch the US election results roll in. One thing which will help the “post game analysis” however is remembering that size and culture matter and that the US is not the same as the UK.

It might seem obvious but as political loyalties go, we often get sidetracked by comparing the generic left/right divide in almost equivalent terms in the US to here, at least in our gut. The left is for centralised spending. Redistribution is an important part of the social safety net. The right wants to balance the books, lower taxes and generally let people get on with their lives. But the comparison doesn't really take into consideration the varying size between the United States (the tip's in the name) and the United Kingdom.

Let me elaborate. While you might be a redistributes in the United Kingdom, it should not necessarily follow that you would like the US federal Government to be inclined towards the same redistributes principles as you might in the UK. You might be for the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that the right sort of decisions should be made by the right sort of government (or even church or family) at the right sort of level.

While the population of the US is smaller than that of the EU 27 member states, it is much larger than the population of the United Kingdom. Moreover, while there are cultural differences between the north and the south of the UK, say for example in how direct northerners can be in comparison with southerners, that difference is nowhere near as pronounced as it is between Alabama (indirect) and Michigan (direct), or culturally as different as a Californian optimist and a New York Jew. Culture matters and so does size.

Differences in culture might mean that different people want different things from their State's legislators. That is why I think state and gubernatorial elections in the US are more important and sadly less glamorised in comparison with the Presidential race. In my experience, and it is limited though I lived in the US for four years and am married to an American, people tend to be more aware of the Presidential policies around the elections (inasmuch as they can or want to be informed) than they would be with the work of their local representative at State level. This is a little sad.

After all, Mayoral elections, or school board elections can be just as important, if not more so for the day to day life of your family and the families around you, as might be who becomes, as the parlance goes the next leader of the free world.

And as much as Federal Governments might like to be able to influence education or job creation through centralised spending and Government programmes, they are not always the best place to make decisions about how to spend money or what to spend money on in order to do the things that we would like them to do. That sort of decision making takes local intelligence and active public servants. Get a good Mayor and your town might be the next hub of art meeting tech-development. Get a bad one and the best he might try to do is get a little extra cash to spend on a pet project rather than lead a city in all that entails.
While your gut might tell you that you would vote for Obama because of your support for the same principles that broadly underlay the Labour party. Remember that the population of the UK is as big as that of Texas and California.

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