Lessons Learned From The US Election Compare to Malaysia?


 ov 13 ― Before I came to the States, I had hoped that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would call the election before August 2012. This would enable me to observe and compare the two elections in Malaysia and in America, which is fixed on a Tuesday in the month of November every four years.
I had no luck in being part of the former. I had much better fortune in observing the latter. I arrived at the right time and the right place: the most intense period of the campaign and the most hotly contested state in the campaign.
Being at Ohio, I experienced the campaigns on the ground by the Democrats and Republicans. I am picking up their politics faster than I am making friends. Insofar as I know, this is what I learned by observation and from my American friends and the American press about their election:
Demographic shifts affect political campaigns
Both Obama and Romney gained half of the popular votes. Given that voters turnout is usually 50-60 per cent, Obama was actually elected by only 25 per cent of eligible voters. If we take into account millions of unregistered/ineligible Americans, that number is much less. What this means to political strategists is that you need not convince the entire nation to be elected. Your campaign can be “hyper-targetted” to specific groups which can assure your victory.
For Obama, his coalition consists of liberals, college students, women, minority groups and big city folks. Romney’s base is mainly conservative, whites, and rural voters. Romney’s share of the white votes is more than Obama’s, but America does not belong to just the whites. Obama won more than 70 per cent of the votes from Latino Americans, Asian Americans and African Americans. Given that Romney has only a slight advantage of the white votes, that was enough to offset Romney’s advantage in several critical counties.
What does this mean to America? Joe Klein aptly wrote, “It is no longer possible for a rural, regional, racially monochromatic political party to win the presidency.” According to a report in Washington Post, white voters accounted for 72 per cent of the electoral votes, down from 87 per cent in 1992. Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans are increasingly influential as they get bigger and politicians can no longer ignore them. In the future, political parties cannot afford to appeal to just one race as the growing number of other groups can be decisive if most of them swing to one side while the whites are somewhat equally split.
But this is not true in Malaysia.
We are moving in the opposite direction compared to the US demographic shift. While the growth of minority groups in US assured that extreme radicals won’t get enough support to rule, minority groups in Malaysia are declining. In a report released by the Department of Statistics in July 2011, Bumiputeras accounted for 67.4 per cent of the population, Chinese 24.6 per cent, Indians 7.3 per cent and others 0.7 per cent.

An official from that department, Zarinah Mahari, presented a paper which shows that “for the period of 1970 to 2010, Bumiputeras was the main ethnic that contributed on the average of 58.2 per cent of the total population. This is followed by the Chinese and Indians who contributing about 27.7 and 7.8 per cent respectively.” This demographic shift is mainly due to higher fertility rates among Bumiputeras and the emigration of non-Bumputeras, which make up a large portion of the brain drain diaspora.
Lessons for the Election Commission
I am tempted to appeal to the EC because I am impressed with how smooth the US election went. There was no public holiday even though it’s the general election. Voting centres open from early morning till 7pm. They can also vote early. Election day is actually the last day to vote. Conservative Republicans tried to restrict early voting due to the fear of alleged fraud by minority groups, which tends to favour the liberal Democrats. But their case was struck down by the Supreme Court.
There is no need for biometric or indelible ink system. American’s election process is transparent and systematic enough that there is generally no widespread election fraud or phantom voters. Since a voter is already registered in the system, you can just take any identification document, including utility bills, to vote. Postal voting, early voting, absentee voting, no problem. However, there were a few instances where the voting machines were allegedly compromised.
I am also impressed by the way Americans vehemently disagreed with each other. Democrats and Republicans may totally dislike one another but there is no violent clash between their supporters. Secret Service and police are present but they just watched. Throughout the campaigns, there were very few incidents where the supporters jeered, scuffled and hustled. Democrats don’t disturb Republican rallies and vice versa. The situation is always under control. No one throws rocks at the speakers.
There is little and negligible perception that their election commission and process is biased. Although there are groups which do not have faith in the two-party system (as it exists today), most Americans generally do not doubt that the government officials, civil servants and election commission would cheat and manipulate the result to side with a particular group. I feel this is mainly because the power has always switched hands and no party dominates the government.
Our Election Commission has a lot to learn from their counterpart in America. The excuse that the EC is relatively young compared to the ones in other countries is no justification. It is akin to saying we need to wait another 200 years to be as old as the US and then only have proper democracy. The flaws in our system must be fixed immediately.
Mistakes, money and the new Situation Room
One or two mistakes can destroy months of campaign work. Obama nearly lost the election because he delivered a lethargic and uninspiring performance during the first debate. But it is Rommey who made two fatal errors. He was recorded saying “My job is not to worry about 47 per cent of the people who think that government has a responsibility to care for them” in a private fundraising dinner. That cost him a lot of supporters in the middle and low-income groups.
His past mistake in 2010 also came back to haunt him. He had said that the government shouldn’t bail out the auto-industry, but the Obama administration did and saved thousands of jobs involved in that industry. Industrial workers were turned against Romney for that reason, and this is probably why Romney lost in crucial states like Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Romney’s colleagues did not help him much at all. Certain Republicans’ remarks that pregnancy from rape is God-intended further alienated women voters and other thinking groups. Our politicians should watch their mouths too. They might destroy their party’s years of campaign efforts. That’s how lethal a mouth is.
Politics is getting more expensive than ever. This election set a new record, nearly US$2 billion. I have written about this previously so I will not go into it again. But I just want to say that if you are supporting one party in the upcoming election, you need to donate to your party. Money is indispensable for political campaigns.
Another thing which struck me is the role of data crunchers. Months ago, both teams knew that they needed to concentrate all their resources on swing states. Political campaigns are warfare and one does not simply charge into the battlefield. Data and poll numbers revealed that only nine states were contestable while 41 other states are forgone conclusions. To make campaigns more effective, backroom data crunchers were hired to analyze patterns behind monstrous volume of data and are able to predict voters’ behaviour, voters’ turnout and voters’ persuadability. As a result, campaigns were “hyper-targetted” at specific groups for specific effects.
For example, I visited Obama’s website in August. In the following three months, Obama-related ads appeared in my Facebook and many websites that I visited on my computer. I found out later that they implanted trackers on me. Not one, but 19! I also visited Romney’s website, which implanted 15. However, I received very few ads about him. Why? They knew that I am not “persuadable”. They knew that I frequented the liberal The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and CNN.
Another example is how Obama’s team raised money. Data crunchers knew that the most likely way to persuade people who unsubscribed from their 2008 list is for the President to send a personal message, and that many people are more likely to donate if there is open contest and opportunity to dine with the President or George Clooney.
Those are interesting lessons from their election. There is one more amusing thing I can’t get out of my head. Some Republicans are trying to make a scapegoat out of Romney after their defeat. They claimed that he is not conservative enough or else they would have won the White House. The irony of it is that Romney the Conservative was way behind the poll numbers and it was until Romney the Moderate appeared in the first Presidential debate that Republicans experienced a surge in support. Centrist positions attracted people to them. Without moderation, they could have been much worse. This situation sounds familiar back home.
After experiencing this election, I feel that campaigns in Malaysia are more meriah (lively) than the ones in the US. We are a bunch of colourful and laid back people. Our unique ceramah  is good entertainment, like a soap opera. It felt surreal to see Obama in person when he visited my campus, but I wasn’t fired up or anything when listening to him. I hope to return and make a difference in the place where my heart belongs.
* Ooi Kok Hin studies at The Ohio State University.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider. < Via http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/lessons-learned-from-the-us-election-ooi-kok-hin/ >

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