In 2008, 130 million Americans went to the polls to elect a president. President Barack Obama received over 69 million votes or almost 53% of the total, making history as our first African-American president. The number of voters participating in our quadrennial presidential election seems impressive to the casual observer—as does Obama’s nine and a half million vote victory margin.
Shockingly, however, only 61.6% of all eligible Americans actually voted for their leader, their president and commander-in-chief. So, in fact, less than one-third of all eligible American voters actually selected the person who is also the leader of the free world. To put that in perspective: with the total population on the planet — now 7 billion human beings — only 1% of the world’s total population actually determines the leader of the world’s lone remaining military Superpower (since the breakup of the Soviet Union) and de facto leader of the Free World!
Now we are engaged in another — regularly scheduled — exercise in representative democracy, where the outcome remains uncertain as polls are closing across the nation and votes are counted. Tens of millions of average Americans will be watching intently as the verdict takes shape, perhaps before midnight or perhaps not. Hopefully it will be a clear-cut victory and one which will not lead to protracted counting, recounting or litigation.
What most Americans lose sight of — as we watch the returns and pull for our favored candidate — is the fact that perhaps hundreds of millions of foreign citizens in nearly every nation on every continent are also watching intently. Less intently than Americans — to be sure — but with avid interest nevertheless. As reported by one of Great Britain’s leading publications, The Guardian, people all over the world pay attention to what we do in America, opining on the leaders we elect to shape not just our American domestic agenda, but also to make economic, environmental and military decisions that will ultimately shape their lives and future generations.
Many — if not most — of these people have little understanding of our uniquely American democratic process and, indeed, many of our own people don’t fully understand the arcane workings of our electoral process. Like why we elect a president through electors to an Electoral College rather than by simple, nationwide popular vote. If many Americans can’t comprehend the concept and the institution, you can imagine how bewildering it must be to those who have little—if any—real experience in voting for their national leaders…or even their local leaders.
Nevertheless, those in the wealthier industrialized nations, like those in Europe where democratic institutions are more common, are following along – just as most Americans are. On their televisions, listening to their reporters and pundits, or through Internet sites like bbc.co.uk, as one state after another is called either for the President or Mitt Romney. Many of these people have a preference (largely for Obama, in recent polls), while others have none or are simply ambivalent…but all remain fascinated nonetheless.
While we in America have taken our democratic heritage for granted, in election after election, with as many as 90-million eligible Americans likely to not even participate (even more in non-presidential years), billions of other human beings on our small, fragile planet anxiously await the outcome.
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