- Politics and Social Issues
Political Participation: An Analysis of Germany vs. United States
Political Participation: An Analysis of Germany vs. United States
One of the main features of a Democracy is the ability to vote. It could be said that voting, itself, is what makes all other political rights significant. Thus, it is important to know why the level of participation across democracies around the world differs by large margins. To answer this question an examination of the United States, with one of the lowest levels of political participation, and Germany who has some of the highest levels of political participation. An analysis of past elections, political party systems, and the electoral/voting systems of each country should give more insight on discovering the reasons behind the different levels in political participation.
The 2002 federal election of the Federal Republic of Germany held on 22 September 2002 was unique in several aspects. This was the first federal election to be held in Berlin. This was the first of 15 postwar federal elections that had two major parties gain exactly the same result, even down to the decimal point. The SPD and CDU/CSU, both major parties, each polled exactly 38.5 percent of the valid second vote.
This election also was the first to stage a live television debate (two in total) between the chancellor candidates of the two main parties, Schroder and Stoiber. Another unique aspect was a third chancellor candidate (Guido Westerwelle, the FDP leader) was put forward, although he was not allowed to appear on television with the other candidates, despite challenge of the decision being put forth at the Federal Constitutional Court. Also during this election the new, reduced number of constituencies occurred from 328 to 299 as a result of an increase of territory which reduced the overall total of Bundestag deputies to 598.
The influential role of the German electoral system was strongly felt at the 2002 poll. The big topic leading up to the election was what would happen to the PDS. There was confirmation by political experts in Germany that if the post-communist party was in Bundestag, 5 party systems, and a coalition government would require 48 percent of the vote, but that would be reduced to 46 percent without it. So there was tension around whether the PDS would enter the federal parliament or not.
The problem facing PDS occurred due to boundary changes that were made to accommodate the reduction in the number of constituencies from 328 to 299. The constituencies of Friedrichshain, a stronghold of PDS in East Berlin, and Kreuzberg in West Berlin were now part of the newly formed Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg/Prenzlauer Berg-Ost constituency. Since only 1 of 5 major polling places were predicting a result of PDS meeting the 5 percent threshold, the new boundaries presented a problem for PDS's ability to win constituency seats via the first vote. PDS was only able to win two constituencies while pulling in only 4 percent of the valid second vote which meant PDS had failed to meet either requirement. Also, the new constituency was won by the veteran Green politician Hans-Christian Strobele while the PDS placed in third.
United States Election: 1992
The United States 1992 presidential election presented a few abnormalities compare to other elections. First, the effect that independent candidate Texan billionaire Ross Perot had on the election has almost been unparalleled by other past third candidates. Secondly, the shift of balance of power for presidency had shifted even though Democratic candidate Bill Clinton received close to record lows in popular vote percentage.
Ross Perot may have been the victor in the 1992 election if it were not for his most pivotal decision. Perot, in June, led the national public opinion polls with 39% of the voters support (versus 31% for Bush and 25% for eventually president Clinton). He decided to drop out of the presidential contention in July. This severely effective his cadency as he would later receive only 19% of the popular vote in the election as he eventually did decide to re-enter the race. His problems were compounded as he claimed, without evidence that his withdrawal was due to Republican operatives attempting to disrupt his daughter’s wedding (United States).
At approximately the same time as Perot’s dropping out of the election, Governor Clinton has his acceptance speech on July 17, 1992. He promised to bring a “new covenant” to American and to help heal the gap that had developed between the rich and poor during the Reagan/Bush years (United States). The convention “bounce” of 25 percent that Clinton received was the biggest in history as he went from being in third to garnering 55 percent of the popular vote compare to Bush’s 31 percent during this time.
Ross Perot’s presence was felt again once he re-entered the election. Candidate Clinton’s campaign maintains its lead despite Bush’s acceptance as re-nomination to run as the Republican candidate. The campaign remained lopsided until September. This is when Ross Perot re-entered the election which was a welcoming sign for the Bush campaign. It was expected that Perot’s re-entrance into the election would negatively affect Clinton much more than Bush. Perot’s initial numbers stayed low until he was given an opportunity to unprecedented three-man debates. After these debates starter Perot numbers significantly increased as Clinton’s numbers declined, while Bush’s numbers remained more or less the same from earlier in the race. Perot effect was felt more on Clinton as both he and Bush began to hammer Clinton’s on character issues.
Despite the decline in votes towards Clinton after Perot’s re-entry into the election, Clinton did go on to become victorious on November 3 as he collected 43 percent of the popular vote and won the U. S. Electoral College by a wide margin. This was the first time since 1968 that a candidate won the presidential election while receiving fewer than 50 percent of the popular vote. In fact, only the District of Columbia and Clinton’s home state of Arkansas gave any candidate the majority of their votes in the entire country; rest was won by pluralities of the vote. Clinton win in the election ended an era in which the Republican Party had controlled the White House for 12 consecutive years and 20 of 24 years previously. Also, this was the first time since the last Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, that the Democrats held full control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, which included both houses of U.S. Congress (United States). Although this was lost by 1994, Clinton did manage to get re-elected in 1996 election.
In the final results, former President Bush finished with 37.4% of the vote. This was the lowest percentage total for a president seeking re-election since William Howard Taft in 1912. In that election Taft won 23.2% of the final vote while going up again Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Bush’s 37.4% was also the lowest percentage for a major-party candidate since George McGovern received 37.5% in 1972. Even worst, no Republican candidate had received a percentage this low since Alf Landon’s 36.5% back in 1936. Thus, this was one of the worst performances in history for a Republican candidate, let alone someone running for a second consecutive term in the White House.
.Alfred "Alf" Mossman Landon was an American Republican politician, who served as the 26th Governor of Kansas from 1933–1937. He was best known for being the Republican Party's nominee for President of the United States, defeated in a landslide by Franklin D...
This election might have been even more significant historically if Ross Perot did not decide to drop out when he did, while seemingly ahead in the polls. Perot finished with 18.9 percent of the vote for President. He became the only third-party candidate to ever be allowed into the nationally televised presidential debates with both major party candidates. His 19 percent of the popular vote made him the most successful third-party candidate, in terms of popular vote, since Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election. The 19 percent was also the highest popular vote ever received for a candidate that did not win any electoral votes. Lastly, before he dropped out of the election he had been ahead in the polls for almost two months, a feat that had not been accomplished in 100 years by an independent party candidate. Thus, Perot candidacy was one of the most successful ever for a third-party candidate and may have been even more remarkable if he never decided to drop out of the election at any point.
United States Election: 2000
The 2000 election between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore is a memorable election. During this election a few abnormalities stood out. First, the month of recounting needed to be done due to Florida’s inadequacy in counting votes leading to Supreme Court rulings. Secondly, this was the closest election in the United States with George W. Bush, the winner, receiving less of the popularity vote then running up Al Gore. Lastly, this election exhibits the flaws in the immediate reporting of winners in elections among other things.
Late election night there were 3 states that were still undecided; New Mexico (5), Oregon (7), and Florida (25). At this time Gore had 255 electoral votes to Bush’s 246 and the winner would need 270 electoral votes. Since Florida (25) electoral votes were enough to win the election for either candidate, the results of New Mexico (5) electoral votes and Oregon (7) electoral votes eventually being won by Gore to give him 267 electoral votes was meaningless. Unfortunately, due to the small margins between the candidates votes won in Florida, Florida state law dictated an automatic recount of votes to be held. The final (and disputed) official Florida count would eventually give the victory to Bush by 537 votes, meaning he won Florida by the difference of just .009% of the vote.
The Democratic Party requested that disputed ballots would be recounted, by hand, in three heavily-Democratic counties. For this process the Bush and Gore campaigns would hire people to oversee the process. Within the court room numerous hearings went both ways; some ordered recounts because of the close voting and others declared that a selective manual recount in a few heavily Democratic counties would be unfair (2000). In a fight to win over more rulings the Gore campaign appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered the recounting process to proceed as planned. Then, the Bush campaign subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The case would be taken up as Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board on December 1. In order to clarify the reasons for certain aspects of the decision, on December 4 the SCOTUS returned the matter to the Florida Supreme Court for further clarification. As the US Supreme Court deliberated Bush v. Gore, the Florida Supreme Court clarified their ruling leading to a combining of the two cases. SCOTUS approved by 6-3 the Florida Supreme Court’s actions in the original cased based on the further clarification they provided (2000).
In the early afternoon of December 12, with a nearly straight party association vote in the Republican-dominated Florida House of Representatives, there was certification of the state’s electors for Bush. This would become moot around 10pm on December 12 as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling of 5-4 vote in favor of Bush. This effectively ended the election in Bush’s favor as no new recount with uniform standards could be conducted. Also, in citing their reasons, seven of the nice justices cited the differing vote-counting standards from county to county with the lack of a single judicial officer to oversee the process of the recount, by their rule, as violating the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. Thus, by a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to end the recount on grounds that having differing standards in different counties constituted an equal protection violation (2000).
The table below was reported by media during the week after November 12 2001. It was conducted by the Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, sponsored by major U.S. news organizations (2000). The table shows what would have been the results if different recounts would have been used:
Candidate Outcomes Based on Potential Recounts in Florida Presidential Election 2000
(outcome of one particular study; not representative of all studies)
Review of All Ballots Statewide (never undertaken)
Standard as set by each county Canvassing Board during their survey
Gore by 171
Fully punched chads and limited marks on optical ballots
Gore by 115
Any dimples or optical mark
Gore by 107
One corner of chad detached or optical mark
Gore by 60
Review of Limited Sets of Ballots (initiated but not completed)
Gore request for recounts of all ballots in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Volusia counties
Bush by 225
Florida Supreme Court of all undervotes statewide
Bush by 430
Florida Supreme Court as being implemented by the counties, some of whom refused and some counted overvotes as well as undervotes
Bush by 493
Certified Result (official final count)
Recounts included from Volusia and Broward only
Bush by 537
One interesting thing is that both Gore and Bush could have won the election depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court Case. In fact in November 2001, a year after the election, an unofficial recount of the Florida ballots happened, and the results can be seen in the above table. News outlets, conducting the recount, discovered that if all the legally cast votes would have counted, regardless of the standard used evaluating chards then Gore won. But when the legal votes were recounted, based on the standard laws at the time of the election Bush won.
After the U.S. Supreme Court rulings the final votes could be calculated and results released. The results showed the election being one of the closest in the United States history. The victor, George W. Bush, had won the election with 271 electoral votes to Al Gore’s 266 electoral votes (One elector submitted a blank ballot which was not counted as a vote towards any candidate.). Thus, the results of Florida decided the controversial election. A more surprising result was that Al Gore with 48.38% of the popular vote had more votes, in total, for him then Bush’s 47.87%. This happens rarely in elections and shows a flaw in the United States electoral system as the candidate with majority vote did not win the election due to the Electoral College system the United States uses.
Another troublesome problem that flagged this election was that there were announcements of each candidate having won the election. This would not be a problem if it had occurred after all ballots had been processed but this was not the case. Al Gore was announced as the likely winner before all ballots finished which could of dissuade voters from coming out to vote in the last few states for Al Gore as they believed Al Gore had already won the election. With the mess in Florida, this could have swayed the final count towards Bush’s favor.
German Political Party System
The German political party system is a party system characterized by a "dynamic stability" at three levels: micro-institutional, party systemic, and intra party whether it was on purpose or by accident (Allen 22). Even though there is clearly turmoil in the German party system, some similar to other party systems, there is also clearly more institutional continuity, or dynamics of change, in Germany than either sclerosis or disintegration.
The Macro Level:
The German Basic Law gives parties an institutional presence and legitimacy at a fundamental political level (Allen 22). Instead of choosing an executive-based institution as did the Americans and French, Germany sought another path where the role of political parties would not be under-cut.
Strangely the driving force behind the establishment of a place for political parties was the "unlikely" duo of Konrad Aenauerm founder of the CDU and later the first Chancellor, and Kurt Schumacher the leader of the SPD. They argued that parties play a crucial role for the development of the Democracy of Germany, as institutions. They argued that democracy was dependent upon a reasoned discourse between opposing views which should be encompassed within coherent organizations, parties. Schumacher went on to argue, "The chaotic clash of opinions and feelings," would remain the same without having parties (Allen 23). Parties would give a structured presentation of platforms and programs allowing for the interests of members and voters to be heard and a place which policy could be based on. Schumacher also lobbied for establishing an opposition party as without one democracy could not really function.
The result of the lobbying of these two rivals, Article 21 of the Basic Law established the constitutionality of political parties as the major institutions through which democratic participation and representation would take place (Allen 23). The Federal Republic of Germany founders reinforced this idea by the Supreme Court, creating a "Democratic Party State" in which the vehicles for political expression were the parties themselves. This allowed for political parties to have an institutional presence and permanence which has been rarely duplicated.
The Party System:
The level of the party system has proportional representation, particularly with the 5 percent electoral threshold for representation in Germany, which has proven to be essential to the dynamically stable political party system. The party system of German, though, had its opponents as American and Britain authorities tried to persuade them to stay away from the pure proportional representation system that was in force under the Weimar Republic. This system under Weinmar Republic collapsed to the Nazis in only 15 fifteen years. Although Germany did concede to some of the demands by the Occupation authorities, they also kept the essence of a more broadly representative proportional representation system.
Germany's decision led to a hybrid party system that incorporates the British and American traditional single legislator representing one district, and the proportional representation which is more common in Europe. The traditional European proportional representation method is when a group of party members represent a given region dependent on the percentage of vote a particular party won in the region. Germany did this because they wanted to insure that all major parties and not just two, like in America, would be represented.
The Intra-Party Level:
The parties in Germany are treated differently than in most other countries. In Germany political parties are treated as functioning organizations with members participating in party life and debate. This may be the reason why membership in political parties in Germany remains relatively high compare to other countries. This is still true, today, despite a drop in all parties' membership within the last decade.
The continuance of strong membership among parties has produced several benefits in terms of institutional stability (Allen 26). These include: dues that help finance parties, a base of party workers that can mobilize for electoral campaigns and active groups who generate and reinforce the “institutional memory” of the parties (Allen 26).
United States Party System
The United States has primarily been a two-party system through its lifetime, even though the system has been dynamic, going through periods of fundamental changes.
The United States recently has been dominated by the two major parties, Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are generally more conservative on economic issues. They are also consider the party of "modern" values and more liberal on racial issues. The Democrats are more progressive on economic issues. They are considered the party of more "traditional" values and are more conservative on racial issues, even if only due to the white supremacist faction.
Democratic umbrella which has covered a multi-factional system: the party regulars, including labor, the big city organizations, and a working class electoral base; the more middle class reformers; and the more rural, southern, and generally conservative faction (Paulson). The first two factions listed are relatively liberal, and there was little to choose between them until they held the Presidency and had emerged as a majority with in the Democratic Party during the New Deal. Since this time the party regulators have prioritized economic issues while the reformers focused on the causes of emerging social movements.
The power within the Democratic Party originally was more centralized in the south which was the factional home of the white supremacy in American politics. The southern conservatives held power in the Democratic Party through their seniority in Congress which landed them committee chairs while the Democrats were the majority. Also, a two-thirds rule gave the south an effective veto power over nominations at the Democratic National Conventions. This two-thirds rule was eventually replaced by majority rule at the 1936 convention, as FDR's re-nomination was uncontested (Paulson).
During a 1948 roll call there was endorsement of a liberal plank on civil rights with in the Democratic Party. This choice led to the Dixiecrats to bolt and form their own third party. As a result of this move the power within the Democratic Party moved away from its southern and rural conservatives toward the more northern and urban liberal factions.
The south was once, of course, the factional home of white supremacy in American politics. Southern conservatives held their power within the Democratic Party through seniority in Congress that landed them committee chairs when the Democrats were in the majority, and the two-thirds rule that gave the south an effective veto power over nominations at Democratic National Conventions (Paulson). The two-thirds rule was finally replaced by majority rule at the 1936 convention, as FDR's re-nomination was uncontested.
The Republicans umbrella was more of a bi-factional system. There was the relatively-moderate-to-liberal Wall Street faction that had its cosmopolitan, internationalist big business interests, and the Main Street faction which was more conservative, small business, nationalists or isolationist interests. The majority of Republicans in Congress have come from Main Street while the Wall Street faction has delivered presidential nominations for a generation after 1940 (Paulson).
The United States is comprised of two major parties, Republicans and Democrats, which have won every federal presidential election since both parties have been around. Most people know these parties and try to obtain the identity of one or the other but despite this minor parties have played a small role that sometimes has a major impact on even federal elections.
Minor parties usually do not get votes by citizens of the United States because citizens feel their vote will not matter if they vote for a party candidate that has no chance in winning. People who would have voted for a minor party decide to vote for the major party which they favor more.
An example of this happened back in 1948 according to Anthony Downs (Fisher and Martinus 18). Downs claims that some voters that preferred Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace decided to vote for the Democratic candidate. They did this because they did not believe Wallace had a chance to win and that the more people who voted for him th
then the less people who would vote for the Democrat. Thus, if the people who were going to vote for Wallace vote for the Democratic candidate then the least desirable group, Republicans, will not win the election over the Democrats. It is hard for the minor parties to defend against the idea that a vote for their party is throwing away a vote.
There are various obstacles that negative effect the ability of minor parties to function within the political system which helps make a vote for them seem obsolete. The obstacles start down at the local levels with in each of the 50 states. States made it extremely difficult to place a candidate on a ballot; requirements of winning a certain number of votes in a previous election to qualify for ballot space, or having a party collect a certain amount of signatures as an alternate way of getting on the ballot (Fisher and Martinus 16).
Another obstacle for minor parties is that interest groups and religious groups do not form minor parties most of the time. Interest groups such as trade unions and farm societies feel their interests will be heard and best met if they expressed their aims through major parties and lobbying activists. Also, since church and state are separate in the United States there are not religious parties that some other countries have which have a chance to unite people together for a cause. Majority of people, around 75 percent, identify with either the Republicans or Democrats and even Independents have been known to be swayed to one side or another. This makes it extremely difficult for minor parties in the United States to gain the support needed to supply a voice that will be heard over the voice of the two major parties.
Financial support has also been a major concern for minor parties. Most of the major contributors of money are lamented to the two major parties. Only a few courageous or committed enough actually contribute heavily to minor parties (Fisher and Martinus 18). Thus, minor parties must rely on dues and small contributions from devoted party members and even some have had to sell off campaign material. This lacking of funding severely limits the ability of minor parties to even become a threat to major parties during any elections.
Despite the limited role that minor parties play in the United States, they have had an ability to affect elections in the past. John Hicks claims that "in possibly half a dozen instances, the third-party vote has snatched victory from one major party ticket andgiven it to another," (Fisher and Martinus 30). A frequently cited example of this is the presidential election in 1844 when James Birney, the Free Soil candidate, received enough votes in New York that it gave James K. Polk a plurality over Henry Clay resulting in Polk winning the election.
The ability of a minor party to have an effect is based on two factors: the nature of major-party competition and the distribution of minor-party votes (Fisher and Martinus 30). The more balance between the two major parties and the more geographically centered the minor party vote is, then the greater chance of the minor party having an influence on the outcome of an election.
German Electoral System
In 1990 West and East Germany became united as the Federal Republic of Germany. This brought change to the political landscape of Germany but the electoral process is still the one which was fundamentally used in West Germany from 1949-1990. One change that directly involved the electoral process is the German federal parliament (Bundestag) is now located in the Reichstag building in Berlin. There were also increases in number of seats and constituencies as expected after the reuniting of West and East Germany.
The Federal Republic of Germany has 328 constituencies and an enlarged Bundestag with 656 members and plus any mandates (Uberhangmandate). The number of constituencies remains constant except for the 2002 federal election in which it became 299 to effectively reduce the number of parliamentarians in the federal parliament.
The citizens of the FRG are given two votes during a federal election. The first vote (Erststimme) is cast by citizens in favor of a constituency candidate that should represent the voter in the area that he or she lives. The winner is chosen similar to the process used by the United States and Great Britain by winning the simple majority. The second vote (Zweitstimme) casted by citizens is for their choice of a political party on a party list that is given for that particular federal state (Landesliste). The second vote influence is not directly related to a candidate as the first vote is though. The voters vote for the parties but the parties select the candidates and decide the very important order the candidates' names will appear on the party list in each federal state (Bundeslander).
The FRG electoral system has another definitive quality that most other countries' electoral systems do not. The FRG electoral system is based on a proportional one, thus, if 40 percent of voters in a particular Land voted for a particular party, then that party is allocated 40 percent of the Bundestag seats available in that Land (James19).
The proportional system ran by FRG also has a minimal cut-off on the second vote in hopes of solving the problems and splintering (Zerspitterung) of the party system; one occasion resulted in 14 parties out of a possible 32 in the 1930 elections entering the Reichstag. There is now a 5 percent cause which means parties must receive 5 percent of the valid second votes in the whole FRG to gain eligibility for parliamentary seats.
There is an alternate, of course, to clearing the 5 percent hurdle. In 1956 it was instituted that if a party won three (first-vote) constituency seats then the party is allocated parliamentary seats proportional to the percentage of second votes it had gained, despite the figure being below 5 percent. The seats in the German parliament have been distributed evenly via the first-vote constituency results and the second-vote party list results since the federal election of 1953.
The FRG systems allows there to be additional mandates. This occurs when a party's allocation seating proportion based on the second vote is succeeded by the number of constituencies won by a party by the first vote. Since constituency seats won by a party must always be retained then additional mandates are added which increases the size of the Bundestag.
An example should help clarify how the additional seats occur. If there are 100 parliamentary seats to be allocated to the Bundestag from a particular state, half (50) are taken directly from elected constituency candidates elected via the first vote. The other 50 seats are allocated based on a parties' share of the second vote. Assuming party A gains 45 percent of the second votes, party B 30 percent and party C 25 percent, then the three parties would be allocated 45, 30 and 25 seats respectively, which is in line with the principle of proportional representation.
Suppose party A had gained 50 constituency seats via the first votes which is five more than it is title to strictly speaking based on its share of the second vote. Suppose party B won only three constituencies and party C one. Since each party is permitted to retain any mandates won through first vote, this creates the need for extra seats. In this example party A would be allocated 50, not 45 seats, party B would be allocated 33, not 30 seats, and party C would be allocated 26, not 26 seats, thus creating a total of 9 additional mandates/seats. The size of parliament is increased from 100 to 109 and the allocation of seats would be part A 50, party B 33 and party C 26.
USA electoral system:
A little known fact in the United States is that when citizens of the United States vote for a President and Vice President, they are actually voting for presidential electors, known collectively as the Electoral College (Avaliktos 103). It is actually these electors whole elect the president although they almost always vote in favor of the candidate that gain the popularity vote with in their state. These electors can be anyone except members of Congress or person holding offices of "Trust or Profit" under the Constitution.
Under this system each state is given a number of electors in the electoral college which is determined, with in the Constitution, by adding the combination total of each states' Senate membership (two for each state) and House of Representation delegation (currently ranging from one to 53, depending on population). Also the District of Columbia is allocated three electors via the 23rd Amendment. Based on 2000 census, the range number of electoral votes per state ranges from three (in seven states and District of Columbia) to 55 for California.
The system employed in the United States is referred to as a winner-take-all, or general ticket, system. The candidate winning the most popular votes in each state is the winner of that particular state. Each voter is allocated a single vote in their state in determining which candidate wins their state's electoral votes. One failing of this system is showed in examples where both candidate's A and B win 51 and 49 percent of the vote respectively in a state only to have candidate A gain all the electoral votes for that state.48 states use this system in the United States along with the District of Columbia.
An alternate plan that seeks to remedy the failings of the winner-take-all system is the district system. This system has been adopted by Nebraska and Maine. Under the district system, there are two electors chosen on a statewide, at-large basis, and one is elected in each of the congressional districts. Each person casts a vote for the President and Vice President, but these votes are counted twice: first on a statewide basis, with the two at-large electoral candidates winning a plurality of votes elected, and then again in each district, where the district elector-candidate winning the most votes is elected (Avaliktos 106). The claimed advantage here is that it will more accurately reflect the differences in support in various parts of the state and not necessarily "disenfranchise" voters who picked the losing ticket.
Through analyzing Germany and the United States many difference are founded that may contribute to the difference in their levels of political participation. These differences are apparent in prior presidential elections, electoral/voting systems and political party set-up of each country.
There are vastly different ways in which Germany and the United states conduct their electoral/voting systems. Germany has a 2 vote system; the first vote being cast for a constituency candidate and the second vote for a party. This two vote system appears to have the effect of giving German citizens the feeling that their vote matters. The United States allow for its citizens to cast 1 vote, similar to Germany’s first vote, which hinders citizen’s belief that their vote matters. Since Germany allows for a second vote for political parties, citizens can vote for a party that has similar interests to theirs which lets minor parties win seats to represent the people’s views. In the United States, two party major system dominated by the Republicans and Democrats, no candidate outside these two major parties have won presidential candidacy. Thus, United States citizens feel their vote will only matter if they vote for one of these two candidates which effectively limit voters to choosing, sometimes, the lesser of the two evils instead of the candidate they really want. Thus, Germany’s 2 vote system which leads to citizens feeling their vote matters most likely factors in a large amount to the political participation in the two countries.
Another difference between Germany and the United States electoral systems is that Germany’s is based an adaptation of proportional system while the United States is a majority “winner-take-all” system. In Germany a party gains a proportional number of seats, without including the additions of mandates, to the percentage of second votes it receives. Thus, if a party wins 40 percent of the vote then that party will garner 40 percent of the seats. Also in Germany the 5 percent rule, and the alternative to this rule, also allows for minor parties to gain seats without having to win a majority as candidates must do in the United States. In the United States candidates win office by winning the greatest number of electoral votes which is based on which states each candidate wins. A problem brought up is that this fails to take into account how close voting is between candidates. If a candidate wins California with 49% of the vote and the second place person receives 48% then the first candidate gets all 55 electoral votes from California while the other candidate gets none; although the candidates appear to be fairly equal in gaining votes from the voters of the state.
This effect is even felt in elections, as indicated by the 2000 election, as winner George W. Bush won fewer total votes than runner up Al Gore. Thus, this likely, also, supports why voters from the United States feels their vote does not count while German voters feel their does. In Germany citizens can vote for minor parties and know that they can help even the smallest of parties gain the 5 percent necessary on the second vote to win seats which in turn allows for voice to them. In the United States sometimes even the majority of vote will not lead to a candidate winning office which really seems like a problem in a winner-take-all system. One also could argue a winner-take-all system does not accurately reflect the way the people vote as the example from California showed.
For the political party systems there is one major difference between Germany and United States. In Germany political parties are constitutionalized by, Article 21 of the Basic Law, as platforms for expression of interests and debate. Also, they are consider institutions where citizens can sign up and support parties directly through meetings, etc. This is different than the United States where political parties are not mention in the U.S. Constitution and they are seldom used as institutions where people can join and feel part of a group; to gain a level of solidarity like Germany does. Also, Germany has parties that represent interest of people such as labor or religious parties while these types of parties are seldom of relevance in the United States where there is a separation of church and state. Thus, this may lead to citizens feeling disengaged in political parties in the United States as they really have little say directly to parties along with 2 parties, Republican and Democratic, dominating the political landscape. Contrary in Germany there are many more minor parties which different set of interests which citizens can join via membership and even contribute money directly to help parties gain at least the 5 percent threshold and have seats.
Thus, the main factors contributing to difference in political participation appear to be whether citizens believe their vote matters, the institutionalization of political parties, which leads to solidarity, and the type of electoral system; Germany two vote system, with proportionality, would appear to be more favorable towards political participation then the “winner-take-all” format employed by the United States.
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