Before returning to the states for Wake the Vote travel and volunteering, I spent the first half of my summer traveling through Europe, studying abroad through Wake Forest. I enjoyed sights in Prague, Budapest, Mathausen, and Vienna – the city I spent most of my time in. Though this trip was filled with amazing travel opportunities and new friends; the most memorable part was actually the experiences in the classroom. I participated in a course with Dr. Katy Harriger while at the Flow House, a course focused on comparing constitutions and the constitution making process in countries around the world. We focused not only on constitutions, but also other aspects of the government like courts and the level of involvement various types of governments have in the daily lives of their constituents. Throughout our six weeks together, I had the chance to think deeply about the state of affairs in the United States, and how our particular type of government affects elections and governing officials.
While in Austria, we were in the midst of a highly competitive presidential election, not too different from the one currently happening in the states. This added a lot of interesting discussion to the course, but it also served as an impetus to discuss our political system and how it is both unique yet not nearly exceptional as many Americans think it is. We explored how the United States election system is a plurality, a first-past-the-post, winner takes all government. This is not necessarily ensured or even determined by our Constitution, but the lack of specificity is actually what tends to breed pluralities. In the day and age of Donald Trump representing the Republican Party, this is more important than ever.
A plurality system ensures that whoever receives the majority of votes, no matter how small, wins the election. So if a presidential candidate received 51% of American votes, they are still awarded an office that represents 100% of Americans. As a Democrat watching Trump rise in politics, to the level of being the Republican nominee for president, this is troubling, to say the least. It calls into question the usefulness of this system, and its’ clear downfalls. One major shortfall of the plurality is that it often leaves many constituents feeling unrepresented in a way that parliaments or proportional representation does not. The latter two systems offer spaces for multiple parties, parties that are smaller due to their specificity but also make space for constituents to identify with leaders they align with. In the states, our system inevitably means two parties are most likely to form. The larger the party, the more issues they take stances on, and the more likely they are to appeal to large amounts of voters. As I watch Trump and Clinton rise in their respective parties, I cannot help but think about the amount of people, all over the political spectrum, who don’t identify with or willingly support either candidate. This election has identified the major issue with two party systems in a plurality, and how those underwhelmed individuals would benefit from multiple parties to choose from. I wonder if this is ever a direction the United States would take, and whether the lack of options will influence this year’s Presidential election.