The Struc­ture of the Ame­ri­can Politi­cal Sys­tem in Regard to Elec­tions

In the Ger­man Basic Law there is the 5% hurdle which a party has to reach before it can enter into the Bun­des­tag.  A main rea­son for this was the com­po­si­tion of par­lia­ments of the Wei­mar Repu­blic which were splin­te­red into mul­ti­ple tiny par­ties.

In the Ame­ri­can sys­tem it is as if the hurdle for entry to Con­gress has been rai­sed to 51%.  The Foun­ding Fathers may have deli­be­ra­tely set up the sys­tem in this way to restrict power to their social class.

In any case, the Ame­ri­can sys­tem has no for­mal requi­re­ment for a mini­mum per­cen­tage of the vote for a party to enter into Con­gress.  That is because mem­bers of Congress—the House of Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves and the Senate—are elec­ted as indi­vi­du­als.   There are no party lists such as in Ger­many.

Theo­re­ti­cally, there could be 535 dif­fe­rent par­ties in the Ame­ri­can Con­gress. In fact, there are only two parties—with a few inde­pen­dent repre­sen­ta­ti­ves not ali­gned with a party.   How is this so?

The Ame­ri­can sys­tem is based on “win­ner takes all”.   Take as a fic­tio­nal exam­ple a Con­gres­sio­nal district repre­sen­ting Ber­ke­ley, Cali­for­nia.  In the simp­lest case, Can­di­date A recei­ves 51% of the vote and Can­di­date B recei­ves 49% of the vote.  Can­di­date A and the party s/he repres­ents receive a seat in Con­gress, Can­di­date B and his/her party receive not­hing.  The­re­fore, 49% of the elec­to­rate in this district has abso­lu­tely no repre­sen­ta­tion in Con­gress, no one to espouse and vote in favor of their inte­rests.

On a natio­nal scale then, Con­gress could be made up of only one party repre­sen­ting only half the popu­la­tion.

In real life, the Con­gress is split bet­ween the Repu­bli­cans and Demo­crats, gene­rally evenly.  Why are there no other par­ties?

Let us say in the Ber­ke­ley Con­gres­sio­nal district there are can­di­da­tes repre­sen­ting the Greens, the Peace and Free­dom Party, the Liber­ta­rian Party and the Ame­ri­can Inde­pen­dent Party.  These are all real, exis­ting par­ties in the U.S.

When the elec­tion takes place only the can­di­date who recei­ves the most votes gets elec­ted.  There is no run-off elec­tion where the can­di­date must achieve 51% of the vote.  The elec­tion results could be as fol­lows:

Party of Can­di­date:

Repu­bli­can: 28%
Greens: 26%
Peace & Free­dom: 25%
Demo­crat: 12%
Liber­ta­rian: 5%
AIP: 4%

Alt­hough Ber­ke­ley is a libe­ral city, the only win­ner in the elec­tion would be the con­ser­va­tive Repu­bli­can can­di­date who would then be the only repre­sen­ta­tive for Ber­ke­ley.  Alt­hough the Greens and the Peace & Free­dom par­ties repre­sent 51% of the vote they would receive abso­lu­tely no repre­sen­ta­tion and they can­not form a coali­tion to come into office.

In Ame­rica, other than the Office of Pre­si­dent, there is no party or cam­paign finan­cing by the govern­ment.  There are no free adver­ti­se­ments on tele­vi­sion or radio or in news­pa­pers.  Ever­y­thing must be purcha­sed.  All can­di­da­tes and all par­ties must pri­va­tely self-finance through dona­ti­ons.  Enor­mous amounts of money are requi­red for elec­tion cam­pai­gns.  Each Con­gres­sio­nal district has 710.767 people.  Leip­zig and Halle toge­ther have 785.000 resi­dents. Under the Ame­ri­can sys­tem there would be just one repre­sen­ta­tive. Under the Ger­man sys­tem, Halle alone has three repre­sen­ta­ti­ves.

Dona­ti­ons to politi­cal cam­pai­gns are allo­wed for both indi­vi­du­als and cor­po­ra­ti­ons.  In Ame­rica non-pro­fit cor­po­ra­ti­ons are set-up and they can cont­ri­bute unli­mi­ted amounts to cam­pai­gns.  In turn, cor­po­ra­ti­ons in Ame­rica have been gran­ted ever more rights as “per­sons” under various court rulings.  The most egre­gious court deci­sion was the 2010 Supreme Court deci­sion (Citi­zens United v. Federal Elec­tion Com­mis­sion) which gran­ted cor­po­ra­ti­ons unli­mi­ted rights to donate to cam­pai­gns.  Quite sim­ply, now in Ame­rica all elec­tions can sim­ply be bought by cor­po­ra­ti­ons.  (note: of course this is a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the com­pli­ca­ted legal rules for cam­pai­gns in the U.S.)

This huge amount of cor­po­rate money flows to the can­di­date most likely to win—whether they be Demo­crat or Repu­bli­can.  In fact, dona­ti­ons by cor­po­ra­ti­ons are often evenly dis­tri­buted bet­ween these two par­ties.  No cor­po­ra­tion is going to finance or donate to the Greens or Peace & Free­dom Party—or, indeed, the Liber­ta­rian Party.   With scant resour­ces, these par­ties must struggle to main­tain their exis­tence year in and year out—with little hope of ever actually com­ing into office.

In Con­gress its­elf, there are no coali­ti­ons, no party agree­ments.  If the Pre­si­dent is a Demo­crat and Demo­crats vote against a bill he sup­ports the govern­ment does not col­lapse.  Each repre­sen­ta­tive or sena­tor can vote the way they want.  Party disci­pline is enforced through Con­gres­sio­nal com­mit­tee assi­gn­ments.  If a repre­sen­ta­tive wants to pro­gress up the lad­der of his/her party, then, most of the time s/he will do the bid­ding of party lea­ders.

In con­tem­porary Ame­rica this is all aca­de­mic as both par­ties are vir­tually inter­ch­an­ge­able.  Once upon a time the Demo­crats repre­sen­ted workers and uni­ons and Repu­bli­cans busi­ness.  Howe­ver, ever since the 1950s uni­ons have been in decline as first jobs were shif­ted to the non-union South and then—especially the last 20 years—overseas.

The Demo­crats lost their elec­to­ral base and are now finan­ced by the same cor­po­rate inte­rests as the Repu­bli­cans.  “FIRE” is the acro­nym for Finance, Insurance and Real Estate.  These are joi­ned by the Mili­tary-Indus­trial-Sci­en­ti­fic Com­plex.  This mas­sive con­cen­tra­tion of eco­no­mic and social power main­ta­ins its con­trol over the politi­cal pro­cess because Money-Is-Ever­y­thing in Ame­ri­can politics and they have the money….and ever more of it.

The indi­vi­dual citi­zen and voter has no influ­ence. 

The scale of spen­ding in Ame­ri­can politics would shock a Ger­man if they knew.   There is a non-pro­fit group which tracks the influ­ence of money in Con­gress. In June the U.S. Con­gress voted on a bill named Trade Pro­mo­tion Aut­ho­rity (TPA), which gave the Exe­cu­tive Branch the aut­ho­rity to nego­tiate trea­ties with restric­tions on Congress’s ability to change the trea­ties.  It is a usur­pa­tion and sur­ren­der of Congress’s con­sti­tu­tio­nal duty.

Just for this one vote nearly $200.000.000 were dona­ted to Con­gress to influ­ence the out­come.   Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves recei­ved hund­reds of thou­sands into the mil­li­ons of dollars—all for a sin­gle vote!

Mother Jones maga­zine pre­pa­red color­ful charts of Con­gress sho­w­ing gra­phi­cally the influ­ence of money in Ame­ri­can politics.

Top reci­pi­ents of money in the House of Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves recei­ved from $6.000.000 to $17.000.000 for their cam­pai­gns.  Remem­ber:  in the U.S. Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves in the House must run for elec­tion every TWO years!  Most of their time is spent at fund-rai­sing events.   Top Sena­tors in the money race recei­ved $16.000.000 to $75.000.000.

81% of Ame­ri­cans disap­prove of Con­gress.  No won­der!  They know per­fectly well that they are not repre­sen­ted.   And voting for ano­ther can­di­date only brings the same result as the cor­po­rate money flows to the win­ners and once they are sea­ted in Con­gress the Lob­by­ists are at the door and the cor­po­rate dona­ti­ons necessary for reelec­tion flow in.

95% of all Con­gres­sio­nal repre­sen­ta­ti­ves are reelec­ted.  No out­s­ide party of per­son has much of a chance.

And any can­di­date who remo­tely chal­len­ges the sys­tem is blo­cked or threa­te­ned.  Ralph Nader is America’s most well-known con­su­mer advo­cate.  He ran more than once for Pre­si­dent.   Lawy­ers for the Demo­crats fought to keep his name off the bal­lot in every state.  Nader had to spend mil­li­ons just to keep his name on the bal­lot.

In 1992 Ross Perot, a bil­lio­naire, ran for Pre­si­dent using his own money to finance his cam­paign.  He spoke out vehe­mently against the NAFTA treaty, the North Ame­ri­can Free Trade Asso­cia­tion, say­ing that it would lead to mas­sive job loss via out­sour­cing to Mexico.  He and his daugh­ter were threa­te­ned with assas­si­na­tion, he with­drew from the race but later chan­ged his mind and recei­ved about one-third of the vote.

What’s iro­nic is that Con­gress has become vir­tually irrele­vant as each Pre­si­dent since Pre­si­dent Nixon (1968−1974) has clai­med ever more “Exe­cu­tive Pri­vi­lege” – mea­ning they claim the right to act uni­la­te­r­ally in for­eign and dome­stic policy without the pas­sage of enab­ling legis­la­tion.  This has reached its lowest point under Pre­si­dent Obama who signed an Exe­cu­tive Order clai­ming he had the right to assas­si­nate Ame­ri­can Citi­zens.  Obama is con­duc­ting ille­gal wars in seven—or is it eight—countries, all without con­gres­sio­nal appro­val or a decla­ra­tion of war (or any legal basis at all).

Con­gress is sup­po­sed to pass laws which govern Ame­rica.  Ever since the 1930s ever more of this power has moved into the hands of federal govern­ment agen­cies which insti­tute their own “regu­la­ti­ons”, regu­la­ti­ons which in ear­lier times were known as “laws” and had to be deba­ted and pas­sed in Con­gress.   Just as the unelec­ted EU Com­mis­sion is the true power and con­trol­ler of Euro­pean lives, the vast federal bureau­cracy is the real “law of the land” in con­tem­porary Ame­rica.

This sad state of affairs was recently con­fir­med by an aca­de­mic study by Pro­fes­sor Mar­tin Gilens at Prin­ce­ton Uni­ver­sity and Pro­fes­sor Ben­ja­min Page of Nor­thwes­tern Uni­ver­sity.  As Dr. Paul Craig Roberts wri­tes:

Sie haben die Regie­rungs­ar­beit in Ame­rika unter­sucht und sind zu dem Schluss gelangt, dass die USA eine Olig­ar­chie sind, die von mäch­ti­gen rei­chen Inter­es­sen­grup­pen beherrscht wird, und dass die US-Regie­rung nur sehr ober­fläch­lich demo­kra­ti­sche Züge trägt. Ihre Ana­lyse wer­den sie in dem Maga­zin Per­spec­tive on Politics vor­stel­len.

Ihre Schluss­fol­ge­run­gen sind sehr ein­deu­tig:

»Als zen­tra­ler Punkt schält sich aus unse­rer For­schung her­aus, dass wirt­schaft­li­che Eli­ten und orga­ni­sierte wirt­schaft­li­che Inter­es­sens­ver­tre­tun­gen beträcht­li­chen unab­hän­gi­gen Ein­fluss auf die ame­ri­ka­ni­sche Regie­rungs­po­li­tik haben. Auf Inter­es­sen der Mas­sen beru­hende Grup­pen und durch­schnitt­li­che Bür­ger haben dage­gen wenig oder gar kei­nen Ein­fluss.«

»Wenn eine Mehr­heit der Bür­ger ande­rer Mei­nung als die wirt­schaft­li­chen Eli­ten und/oder orga­ni­sier­ten Inter­es­sen ist, ver­liert sie in der Regel.«

»Unse­ren Erkennt­nis­sen nach regiert in den Ver­ei­nig­ten Staa­ten keine Mehr­heit – zumin­dest nicht im kau­sa­len Sinne, dass sie tat­säch­lich die Poli­tik bestimmt.«

»Die Prä­fe­ren­zen des durch­schnitt­li­chen Ame­ri­ka­ners schei­nen nur win­zi­gen, knapp über Null lie­gen­den und sta­tis­ti­sch irrele­van­ten Ein­fluss auf die öffent­li­che Poli­tik zu haben.«

Dr. Roberts sum­ma­ri­zes as fol­lows:

Schaut man sorg­fäl­tig hin­ter den Nebel­schleier aus Wor­ten, stellt man fest, dass Demo­kra­tie in Ame­rika nicht mehr zu fin­den ist. Seit Jah­ren schreibe ich, dass die US-Regie­rung weder gegen­über dem Gesetz noch gegen­über dem Volk Rechen­schaft ablegt. Die Ver­fas­sung bleibt links lie­gen, die Exe­ku­tive ver­fällt dem Cäsa­ris­mus.

Die Regie­rung boxt die Ziele durch, die ihr dik­tiert wer­den von der Sym­biose aus neo­kon­ser­va­ti­ver Ideo­lo­gie von ame­ri­ka­ni­scher Welt­herr­schaft und den wirt­schaft­li­chen Inter­es­sen mäch­ti­ger pri­va­ter Grup­pie­run­gen, Grup­pen wie der Wall Street, dem mili­tä­ri­sch-nach­rich­ten­dienst­li­chen Kom­plex, der Israel-Lobby, dem Agro­busi­ness und den Roh­stoff­bran­chen (Ener­gie, Berg­bau, Holz). Dol­lar-Impe­ria­lis­mus, Dro­hun­gen, Bestechun­gen und Kriege – auf diese Weise wird die US-Hege­mo­nie aus­ge­wei­tet. Diese Ziele wer­den ohne das Wis­sen oder die Zustim­mung der ame­ri­ka­ni­schen Bevöl­ke­rung und gegen ihren Wider­stand ver­folgt.

In Fall 2008, one month before the pre­si­den­tial elec­tion, the finan­cial cri­sis was at its height.  Con­gress was pre­sen­ted with a bill to give a free gift to the ban­kers of $700.000.000.000.   Every Ame­ri­can was mas­si­vely against this givea­way.  Whe­ther con­ser­va­tive or libe­ral the Con­gres­sio­nal switch­boards were floo­ded with mil­li­ons of tele­phone calls against the bill.

One power­ful Sena­tor from Cali­for­nia, Dianne Fein­stein, told how the phone calls to her office were 99% against the bill.  She recei­ved over a mil­lion phone calls!  She voted to pass the bill.  So much for the influ­ence of the aver­age citi­zen.

Sena­tor Barack Obama was run­ning for Pre­si­dent.  Did he take this oppor­tu­nity to strike back at the ban­kers?  No.  He voted for the bill.  He went fur­ther than that, though.  In Con­gress the Afri­can-Ame­ri­can mem­bers have a group known as the Black Cau­cus.  They were pre­pa­red to vote against the bill and the bill would have lost.  Sena­tor Obama cal­led them into a pri­vate mee­ting and lob­bied them to vote for the bill.  They did. It pas­sed.

Other Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves were taken into pri­vate mee­tings and told that if they didn’t vote for the bill there would be mar­tial law the next day.  They voted for the bill.  Such is demo­cracy and the influ­ence of the aver­age per­son in the United Sta­tes of Ame­rica.

One last note:   In the United Sta­tes there is no Anmel­dungs­amt.  No one knows where you live except through your inter­ac­tion with the sys­tem:  bank accounts, pay­ing taxes, club mem­berships, school regis­tra­tion, credit card accounts.  You are not auto­ma­ti­cally regis­te­red to vote.

To vote in Ame­rica you must regis­ter to vote at the Regis­trar of Voters.  Regis­te­ring is rela­tively easy, you can do it by mail or, often, by visit­ing the local fire sta­tion or a local library.  In addi­tion, people set up infor­ma­tion stands with voter regis­tra­tion cards.  Get­ting people signed up to vote in the U.S. is very import­ant.   If you do not vote for several years you are remo­ved from the voter role.

In 2012  219.000.000 Ame­ri­cans were eli­gi­ble to vote.  146.000.000 were regis­te­red.  126.000.000 voted for Pre­si­dent.  86% of those regis­te­red voted. Over 50.000.000 are not regis­te­red.     As repor­ted by

Today, appro­xi­mately 51 mil­lion eli­gi­ble Ame­ri­cans are still not regis­te­red to vote. This repres­ents almost one in four eli­gi­ble per­sons, dis­pro­por­tio­na­tely low-income voters, people of color, and youn­ger Ame­ri­cans. Among eli­gi­ble voters, some 30 per­cent of Afri­can Ame­ri­cans, 40 per­cent of His­pa­nics, 45 per­cent of Asian Ame­ri­cans, and 41 per­cent of young adults (age 18-24), were not regis­te­red to vote in the his­to­ric 2008 elec­tion.­lion-eli­gi­ble-ame­ri­cans-not-regis­te­red-vote

So, alt­hough citi­zens and voters have almost no influ­ence on their govern­ment, the power­ful politi­cal and eco­no­mic inte­rests want to make sure there isn’t the sligh­test chance of a change—by eli­mi­na­ting those voters they deem most likely to vote against the sys­tem.

Inves­ti­ga­tive repor­ter Greg Palast in his books “The Best Demo­cracy Money Can Buy”, “Vul­tures Pic­nic” and others ( explains in detail how voters are kept from regis­te­ring, and if they do regis­ter, fin­ding a way to purge them from the voter roles, and if they don’t purge them, fin­ding a way that to keep them from voting on elec­tion day.  Many people believe com­pu­ter voting is the main way votes are mani­pu­la­ted in the U.S.   While com­pu­ter mani­pu­la­tion defi­ni­tely exists, the most effec­tive way to con­trol the elec­tion out­come is to make sure those who might vote against you sim­ply don’t get to vote.

This very moment the pur­ging of mil­li­ons of voters is taking place in the U.S.

GOP-led Purge Threat to 3.5 Mil­lion Voters
Mon­day, June 1, 2015
By Greg Palast for Al Jaze­era Ame­rica
Elec­tion offi­ci­als in 27 sta­tes, most of them Repu­bli­cans, have laun­ched a pro­gram that threa­tens a mas­sive purge of voter rolls, espe­cially tar­ge­ting mino­rity voters.

Al Jaze­era Ame­rica has obtai­ned 2.1 mil­lion names from the tar­get lists, kept con­fi­den­tial until now.  Experts review­ing the lists con­clude it is sus­pi­ciously over-weigh­ted with Black, His­pa­nic and Asian-Ame­ri­can voters.

With this in view, look back to the 2000 U.S. Pre­si­den­tial elec­tion where Al Gore won the popu­lar vote, that is, he recei­ved the most indi­vi­dual votes, but lost the Elec­to­ral Col­lege vote.  He won by over 500.000 votes.

He lost the Elec­to­ral Col­lege vote because the Pre­si­dent in the U.S. is not elec­ted directly by voters.  Ins­tead “dele­ga­tes” are selec­ted to the Col­lege by each state on a…you gues­sed it…”winner-take-all” sys­tem!

Al Gore lost the Elec­to­ral Col­lege vote because he lost Flo­rida.  How did he lose Flo­rida?  He lost by a nar­row amount.  From Wiki­pe­dia:

The Flo­rida elec­tion recount of 2000 was a period of vote re-coun­ting that occur­red fol­lo­wing the unclear results of the 2000 United Sta­tes pre­si­den­tial elec­tion bet­ween George W. Bush and Al Gore, spe­ci­fi­cally the Flo­rida results. The Flo­rida vote was ulti­mately sett­led in favor of George W. Bush, by a mar­gin of only 537 votes out of almost 6 mil­lion cast, when the U.S. Supreme Court, with its final ruling on Bush v. Gore, stop­ped a recount that had been pro­po­sed by the Flo­rida Supreme Court. The out­come resul­ted in Bush gai­ning a majo­rity of votes in the Elec­to­ral Col­lege, win­ning the over­all pre­si­den­tial elec­tion.

Over 36.000 newly regis­te­red voters were denied the right to vote.  Others were kept from voting by a demand for more than one piece of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion at the polls. Other voters were tur­ned away because they were declared–almost always incorrectly–“convicted fel­ons.” In several Demo­cra­tic pre­cincts, state offi­ci­als clo­sed the polls early, lea­ving lines of would-be voters stran­ded.  Here is a sum­mary by Michael Par­enti of the sor­did story:

He also descri­bes how the 2004 pre­si­den­tial elec­tion was sto­len.  Greg Palast in his books tells these sto­ries and many others in great detail.

In gene­ral, 60% of Ame­ri­cans don’t vote in elec­tions.  80% of young people and low-income people don’t vote.

The first ques­tion is:  Is the rea­son they do not vote apa­thy and an under­stan­ding that their vote doesn’t matter—or are they kept from voting via voter-roll pur­ging and other methods?

In view of Mar­tin Gilens and Ben­ja­min I. Page’s study “Tes­ting Theo­ries of Ame­ri­can Politics: Eli­tes, Inte­rest Groups, and Aver­age Citi­zens”, the second ques­tion beco­mes:  does it really mat­ter what the rea­son is?

Rod­ney Tho­mas
Foto: Thies Strei­fin­ger 1998 Chi­cago


Kommentar verfassen

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.