I continue to be amazed that we in the west live in democracies and yet we don’t experience much democracy. And I thought it might be useful to go through a number of videos by the great CGP Grey that deal with these issues. He has a great way of explaining the problems with these system. And one thing I like about him is that he isn’t clearly partisan. I assume he is a liberal, but that doesn’t come from his videos. He seems to be a liberal because: (1) he is interested in facts; and (2) he believes in democracy. Those are two things that conservatives — in American anyway — are against.
We will eventually get to the United Kingdom, but let’s start with the United States. There are lots of antidemocratic aspects of our system. There is money in politics and there is gerrymandering. But we also have it cooked into our system in the form of the US Senate. The people who live in Wyoming get 66 times as much representation in the Senate as I do in California. That isn’t just a quirk; that’s thoroughly antidemocratic. There is no way that one can justify it, except for the lame, “It was the only way the Constitution got ratified!” That’s an explanation, not a justification.
Of course, we also have presidents elected via the electoral college, which is potentially deeply antidemocratic. Think about the 2000 election. In that case, it is clear that if a recount had been allowed, and the Supreme Court had not found that the Constitution contained some equal protection clause that only applied to George W Bush, Al Gore would have won the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Gore won over a half million more votes but still lost 266-271. But luckily, Bush governed in a humble manner. (Note: sarcasm!)
But it’s worse than that. As CGP Grey notes in the following video, it is possible for someone to win the presidency by getting less than 22% of the vote. This is totally unacceptable:
He also points out that three people who won the popular vote lost the electoral college vote. That’s a 5% error rate. Would we accept this kind of thing in any other place in our lives? As it is, Republicans go around saying we must have voter ID laws based upon a tiny faction of that. But they don’t care about the electoral college because at least right now, they think it is to their advantage. It turns out it is currently to the advantage of the Democrats. But as I am fond of saying: I believe in democracy. I want it changed.
Another great CGP Grey video is, The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained. It is about another aspect of our system: winner take all elections. We really should be past this. During George W Bush’s term, we heard a lot from Karl Rove about “50% plus 1 vote.” The idea was that it didn’t matter that one represent everyone; just get the bare minimum you need to win the election, and then lower taxes on the rich and start pointless wars. Well, there are better systems as explained here:
There are a number of other videos that he mentions in that one, and they are well worth checking out. But I want to move onto another video, which focuses on the recent UK election, Why the UK Election Results are the Worst in History. The situation is screwed up. I wrote about it at the time. The Conservative Party managed to win 51% of the seats in Parliament — a straight majority, so no coalition government — but they only got 37% of the vote. That’s unacceptable, yet there was almost no one writing about it. It was just a given that this is the way it ought to be. I was glad to see CGP Grey as outraged as I have been:
Our problem is that the people managed to get democracy and to expand it. The power elite never liked that. So over time, they’ve managed to make democracy anti-democratic. And they’ve tricked most us into accepting it. But it isn’t right. And if we have any hope for the future, we must change it.