Coming to the US I always assumed that I knew how the american political system worked. I knew how the French Republic (constitution 1791) and the United States of America (constitution of 1788) shared the same ideological roots (Age of Enlightenment) and even political figures ( Benjamin Franklin, Marquis de Lafayette). Over centuries we shared the same struggle on how to set up a fair election process and who should be eligible to vote. I studied constitutional history in college, I knew the theory and being here for the upcoming mid-term election (November 6) I have a chance to experience the practice of american democracy and see how our nations took a different path on their journey to the ballot.
Number of voting and elected officials
This is the most surprising part for me… in america most offices that would be filled by civil servants in France are elected official (e.g. Sheriff / Head of Police or even Coroner).
Below is a summary I created of the different elected offices in both country.
Source: for US Elections; for France Elections
The logic in France is that civil servants are less likely to abuse their function for their private benefice. They have to fit a minimum qualification requirements and pass a admission test to best serve the national interest vs. individuals and partisan interests. American are more wary of government and believe in the power of people to make the right decision while casting their ballot assuming that citizens have the knowledge to recognize a corrupt or incompetent official and takes it’s power away in election. Both approach have their plus and minus and sadly according to the world corruption perception index there is still corruption in both country even though it is better than most countries.
I found the major difference in the way politician will try to sway voters. While the equal time rule for political debate applies in both countries, french political communication is way more regulated and cost-saving. The 2017 election cost a total of 84 Million$ (around 1,20$ per inhabitant) . For instance a french candidate for office is not allowed to use paid advertisement on Facebook, TV or else for their campaign. They have the right to send one brochure to every registered voters home in the same envelope as all its competitors brochure and the ballot papers. On top of it they create one Poster that will be glued by militants all over the country on official boards outside of public schools and every empty wall where they can legally stick them.
To make up for the lost opportunities to campaign they rely heavily on rallies, attending event (e.g. the Agriculture Fair), strategies to make buzz and go on the news, grassroots militants going door to door, etc. Presidential candidates systematically release a book containing their vision for the country and autobiography. I personally never read a single one of them but apparently since 1990 it is the cheapest and most efficient way to make buzz, control the narrative
On the contrary political advertising is a huge market in America where candidate chances are not only influenced by their program and their campaign strategy but also by their ability to find wealthy supporter to funds their lavish rally and other electoral endeavor. The 2016 US elections cost a total of 6.5 Billion $ (20 per inhabitant). Paid Adds are literally everywhere from TV to social media. No matter how political one is, you cannot miss the strong partisan feelings all around you.
The purpose of this blog-post is purely informative and therefore I will not go into the content of political messages or engage in a debate in the role of media in political opinion. For my foreign readers who want to get an idea of the level and issues for discussions I have put a picture below of the mail we received (only the mail received in the last two days) regarding the upcoming vote. If reading this article you wondered how a coroner candidate would advertised for his candidacy you can watch this video on Youtube from New Orleans.
I hope you enjoyed this post. While I am not a US citizen and won’t vote in the US elections, I can only encourage you to go perform your civic duty wherever it might be. Make use of this privilege that a large portion of humanity is still deprived of.
Abstention does not mean that you won’t have to live with the consequence of the vote. The best example being the recent Brexit vote with only a 72% turnout with major abstention from the younger voter who would have the maximum year to live with that decision.