Through the outcome of the EU referendum and US presidential elections, 2016 has proven to be a year that introduced significant changes to international politics. These outcomes are both the result of public votes. Yet, do the results really reflect what the people want? The concept of democracy was founded on the principle of the ‘rule of the commoners’. This conceptualises a system of government comprising of elected representatives. This concept was based off the Greeks, and some modern democratic systems still to this day employ methods that are past their prime.
Following the results of the US presidential elections, where Donald Trump emerged victorious after a fierce battle with the Democrats, thousands of people took to the streets in protest. Throughout his campaign, Trump brought up many controversial issues, highlighting his views against Muslims, Mexicans, and offering promises of mass deportation. Many alleged hate crimes against minority groups have been reported, with the alleged attached professing their support for the president-elect. Some protests have also broke into riots. This occurred in Oregon, where 26 arrests were eventually made. The series of events that occurred in wake of the election brings us to a question: Is this outcome truly what the American citizens intended for their nation, or is it merely a product of the Electoral College?
The operation of the Electoral College gives votes to the states (or the electors) and not to individual citizens. While this allows for better representation of the smaller states, this system also means that the vote of an individual in one state is not equal to the vote of another individual in a different state. As a result, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who garnered over 2 million popular votes more than Donald Trump, still lost to the President-elect due to the implementation of the Electoral College. This system, like any other political system, has both its strengths and weaknesses. However, the flaw of the Electoral College appears to undermine democracy, where individuals do not seem to be provided with an equal platform to vote.
Referendums are not legally binding within the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. Therefore, parliament would have to decide and vote on whether or not to take action on the result of the referendum. Since referendums are purely persuasive, the government could, theoretically, ignore these results. However, it would be highly problematic and undemocratic for parliament to ignore a direct and decisive expression of the public’s opinion.
The UK voted to leave the EU by a narrow margin of 52% to 48% in the referendum. However, the British Election Study showed that while 1% of remain-voters regret their choice in the referendum, 6% of leave-voters regretted and expressed stronger feelings of remorse. A further 4% of leave-voters were uncertain if they made the right decision. These numbers would have been enough to change the result of the referendum for the UK to remain in the EU.
With such a slim victory by the Leave Campaign, a small percentage of the population could have been sufficient to sway the results. The national voter turnout in the EU referendum was 72.2%, thus leaving out 27.8% of the voting population who did not vote. It has been argued that if voting was compulsory in the UK, perhaps the numbers would have been sufficient to change the outcome of Brexit. The issue of voter turnout appears to be a recurring problem in both the EU referendum and the US presidential elections. Implementing a policy of compulsory voting would increase the number of ballots and would better represent the nation as a whole.
However, many argue that forcing an individual to vote would not lead to that individual becoming more inclined to political engagement and discussion. Yet, while there is no guarantee that a person will feel obliged to be politically aware, it can be argued that when given a nudge in the right direction, people will actively seek political discourse. Another criticism against compulsory voting is that it is at its very core, undemocratic. If an individual has the right to vote, then he or she should also have the right to not vote.
A democracy serves as a system that revolves around the people. With the resulting unhappiness and voiced regrets held by many after the political events of 2016, it can be inferred that our democracy is not as representative as it should be. Yet, there are no systems of government that are perfect. There are flaws in every system, and perhaps occasionally, change is necessary for a democratic nation to take a step forward in representing its people.