US Poll Predictions and Presidential Politics in the American Polity

By Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
SINGAPORE, Sep 7 2020 (IPS)

The US residential polls are akin to a drama that is staged
every four years in which the American are actors on stage and the
rest of the world is the audience. With one major difference,
however. While in a usual theatrical performance the viewers are
there mostly for amusement, though some may be enlightened and
enriched by the experience, in the case of the US elections, unlike
in others, their fates are inextricably linked to the outcome of
the play. This is not predetermined by any playwright, though it
can often be predicted. It is not implausible therefore for some
on-lookers to want to intervene in what’s happening onstage. It
must be done discreetly, and with great circumspection. Take for
instance, the Russians in the American elections in 2016. The
Russians and President Donald Trump hotly dispute allegations of
any such interference.

Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

Unsurprisingly, there is a great deal of intellectual resources
devoted to model-building in order to be able to predict election
outcome. The purpose is to develop a methodology superior to mere
crystal -ball gazing. So many caveats are often entered into the
exercise that robs it of major value. In the US, elections are
ultimately decided according to votes cast by the electoral college
of 538, comprised of representatives from the States. So, the magic
number for victory is 270. Each State chooses its own electors, and
these members of the electoral college vote on a ‘winner take all
basis’. In other words, if a majority of the voters from a State
vote for one candidate, all electoral college votes from that State
are meant to be cast in favour of that candidate. Electoral college
vote results may not, therefore, as they have not in some cases in
the past, reflect the winner in terms of national popular votes.

For the purposes of prediction, the prestigious British journal
‘The Economist’ has developed a somewhat complex model
indicating Mr Joe Biden of the Democratic Party as the winner. At
writing, it is giving 91.7% chance of electoral victory and 98%
chance of popular majority to Mr Biden. The Financial Time’s
tally for Biden stood at 298. Professor Allan Lichtman of the
American University and author of “The keys to the White
house”, who has accurately predicted every Presidential electoral
outcome correctly since 1984 using “13 key factors”, has
predicted Mr Biden will win. In the ancient times, Greek and Roman
drama-writers used a concept called “deus ex machina’,
literally god out of a machine, in their scripts. This is an
unexpected power originating from the gods, is introduced which
alters the course of the narration.

It seemed for a while that nothing short of a divine
intervention, a remote likelihood for Mr Trump in the view of his
detractors, could save him from certain defeat. But then the race
began to tighten, partly caused by apprehensions in some quarters
with regard to the social unrest currently sweeping America, and Mr
Trump’s repeated reassertion of Jeremiads against violence .Given
the dichotomized and divided nature of the American electoral ,
both sides have loyal bases who will vote in accordance with their
a priori views, come what may. So, the contest is basically for the
minds and hearts of 8 to 9 % who are still undecided. These are the
potential Biblical ‘Sauls on the Road to Damascus’ of the
electorate, the potential converts to the other side. That is also
the percentage point of Mr Biden’s current lead. So even if Mr
Trump should win over most of the undecided numbers, which in
itself is a stretch, Mr Biden would still have an edge.

This has encouraged Mr Trump to fight back. Unlike in the UK
where the system of governance usually follows a culture of
“good- chap model”, whereby political actors conform to a code
of conduct perceived to be virtuous, no such tradition appears to
shape American political behaviour. The absence of European-style
feudalism that helped inspire such norms in the ‘old world’
might have impeded the development of such values in the immigrant
political milieu of the ‘new world’. Mr Trump has provided a
supreme example of this phenomenon almost all through his entire
first term in office. He capped it at the Republican National
Convention by using the White House, always seen as an apolitical
institution (a ‘Peoples’ House’) as the venue for his speech
accepting Party nomination for his second term of the presidency.
Past occupants of the official residence of the president of the
United states have abstained, indeed recoiled from politicizing
what is largely accepted as a national symbol of unity Because of
these reasons, the framers of the US Constitution had thought it
wise to put down in writing the details of how the polity should be
governed. They were wary of putting their trust entirely trust
entirely on intrinsic human morality. Their faith in God did not
extend to the faith in their own ilk. They were uncertain if their
fellow-Americans would be able to rule democratically within a
framework of established tradition of good governance unless a
written Constitution set-out the guidelines. They were wise, but
apparently not comprehensive enough. They left sufficient gaps and
loopholes for the system to be gamed by politicians of lesser
virtuous pedigree.

The equivalent of the US President in Britain is, not the Queen,
but the Prime minister. Across the Atlantic the Prime Minister is
the ‘primus inter pares” or first among equals who governs with
the aid and joint responsibility of a Cabinet of colleagues. In the
US the Secretaries, often termed Cabinet-officers rather than
Cabinet–members, are, though appointees of the President, are
approved by the Senate. As heads departments they are loosely
equated with British Ministers. But they are not colleagues of the
President in a political sense and become a part of their
department whose role is apolitical. For instance, the top diplomat
in Washington the Secretary of State does not while performing
duties at home and abroad, associate his office with domestic
politics. Recently, the current incumbent, Mike Pompeo, blatantly
broke that rule, by politically using a trip to Jerusalem to
advance the President’s political aspiration publicly.

According to British public service culture, as also in many
democracies, officials shun active politics. In the US such
behaviour was written into law. The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits
employees of the federal government, except for the President and
Vice President, in engaging in some form of political activities.
But nowadays some allege that it is being honoured more in the
breach than the observance. Many elements of democracy, such as
voting rights for all, came later in the US than is often realized.
The author and historian Michael Beschloss worries that unless
these are protected they may also erode quickly. The incredibly sad
consequence would be what the Fathers of the Republic wanted to
avoid foremost, a descent into tyranny. Any law has content and
spirit. The spirit is often equally important.

Take the question of leaving office. In Britain, should a Prime
Minister lose the elections, or be defeated in a vote of
no-confidence in the House of commons, he or she would proceed to
the Palace, either kiss the Queen’s hands or offer her a curtsy
and resign office. For this politician, it would not mean a
withdrawal from politics, and thereby would be less painful. Office
is seen as merely a privilege to serve the community. In America on
the other hand for the President calling quits is forever, hence
there is a burgeoning view that given Trump’s disinclination to
conform to ‘good chap ‘ behaviour , he may drag his feet at
leaving office , particularly if the results are close , alleging
electoral fraudulence. The Biden crowd is suggesting if that be the
case, the military would, or should, march Trump out of office. The
US military has experience of marching several foreign Presidents
out of office, but never one of its own. That would indeed be a
unique experience!

While the component States of the American Union is largely
governed by the Governors, foreign policy is the President’s
domain. Given the military and economic clout of the US, their
politics often become central to our concerns. Hence the need for
the world beyond the US to understand, assess and evaluate them.
For instance, a re-election of Mr Trump would mean a further
retreat of the US into “Fortress America” and a greater
disengagement from the world. On the other hand, a Biden
Administration would mean a greater engagement, with other nations,
multilateral institutions and issues such as Climate Change and
Arms Control. That is why a US Presidential election generates a
degree of interest in say India, Pakistan or Bangladesh as in
Hawaii, Nebraska or North Carolina.

Text-books in Civics and Comparative politics, particularly in
the Anglo-Saxon world, often tend to differentiate the British and
American systems, sometime a tad simplistically, as being
‘Parliamentary’ ‘and ‘Presidential’ forms of governance.
The French, with their own mixed form, never quite played along
with this idea. That was also before China came to salience with
their model of government based on ‘socialism with Chinese
characteristics”, which no one else follows till now, but is
important because China is. The Indian example is too chaotic to be
recognized as a norm.

Writing his classic work ‘The English Constitution’ in 1867,
Walter Bagehot argued a Constitution needed two parts: a
‘dignified’ one, to ‘excite and preserve the reverence of the
population’ and the other , an ‘efficient’ part , ‘to
employ that homage in the work of the government’. In Britain the
two parts were sought to be kept distinct and to date has operated
more or less smoothly. In the US they became, somewhat of a mixed
hodgepodge. Around the mid- nineteenth century, a French political
observer visiting America, de Tocqueville, perceived a discernible
difference between appearance and reality in America. So, while
trying to rid the new world of the tyranny of a King, were the
framers of the US Constitution inadvertently creating an Emperor?
Some may ponder. Confronted with such a question, Mr Trump might
nonchalantly respond, “it is what it is”!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is Principal
Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, National
University of Singapore. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign
Minister) of Bangladesh and President of Cosmos Foundation
Bangladesh. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can
be reached at: isasiac @nus.edu.sg

This story was originally published by Dhaka
Courier
.

The post
US Poll Predictions and Presidential Politics in the American
Polity
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
US Poll Predictions and Presidential Politics in the
American Polity