The notion that America is the greatest democracy in the world is something that is believed by many people. U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, for example. While “greatest” is an abstract term open to interpretation, it implies that America would be the most complete and secure democracy in the world. But is this supposed champion of democracy really the greatest of them all?
To cut straight to the chase, America isn’t the greatest. It is actually the 20th greatest democracy in the world according to Democracy Index 2015 (by The Economist Intelligence Unit). Norway is, in reality, the greatest. The Economist base the index on five categories, which are: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. Judging by those factors, America isn’t viewed as the greatest, and those seem like pretty important and relevant factors to me.
If you won’t take The Economist Intelligence Unit’s word for it, here is another democracy index that doesn’t award the U.S. the prestigious number one position either. Although the U.S. is higher on the list, placing 16th; sadly, it had a higher score 3 years ago when it was 15th on the list. Democracy Ranking isn’t as broadly used or as well respected as the Economist one, but it strengthens the idea that the U.S. is not, in fact, when you look at the facts, the greatest democracy in the world.
One of the biggest reasons that the US can’t claim to be the greatest democracy in the world is because voter participation is so low. Only about a half of the people who are eligible to vote do so, and presidents are usually only supported by about half of them. Subsequently, only 25% of the people vote, and that is certainly not a lot.
The low voter turnout isn’t because Americans are lazy or just have a low interest in elections, no, there are people in powerful positions actively working to weaken American democracy by suppressing voter turnout. Unfortunately, they have been successful and, consequently, voting has been made harder in a large number or states. This is often done by limiting polling places, enforcing stricter voter ID laws and closing down polling places earlier so as to make it as difficult as possible for people to vote. This can be seen in the Republican-controlled state of North Carolina where all the three before mentioned strategies were used to try and suppress voter turnout.
Politicians who twist and bend democracy to fit their own agenda don’t deserve anyone’s respect.
This isn’t just a case of general voter suppression but targeted voter suppression by Republicans seeking to secure their power. Republicans in N.C. didn’t just suppress voter turnout in general, their efforts focused on African American voters, presumably since African Americans tend to vote for the Democratic party. The Atlantic reported that “By the last day of early voting on Saturday, black voters had only reached only 75 percent of 2012 turnout levels.” Even if it’s hard to directly connect the voter suppression efforts and the lagging turn out, the facts remain: Republicans in North Carolina actively tried to make it harder to vote. This is corrupt and undemocratic, no matter what N.C. Republicans say.
North Carolina has attempted to pass laws in the past that “…targeted African-Americans ‘with almost surgical precision” some of them have fortunately been overturned. However, there are still other incredibly similar laws that are affecting voter turnout among African Americans, and they need to be overturned as well.
All laws in all states that make it harder for anybody to vote need to be overturned.
Another thing that makes it harder to vote is the fact that elections are held on Tuesdays. People need to go to work on Tuesdays and since the lines to polling places can be hours-long and because some polls close as early as 6 p.m., some people can’t make it to the polling places in time. They can’t even vote early in a lot of cases, since some states don’t even offer that or they have incredibly strict rules as to who can vote early that most people don’t qualify for. A lot of people simply can’t find time to vote, and that shouldn’t be the case in America.
Because of the electoral college, a lot of Americans feel like their votes don’t matter, and they don’t actually get to choose the next president. And they’re not wrong. Most states have a ‘winner takes it all’ system where the party that gets the most votes gets all the state’s electors, so if you live in a state dominated by the party that you don’t vote for, your vote won’t have an impact on the election.
American politics are even more dysfunctional than that. It continues all the way to Washington D.C., where Congress is essentially just a bunch of adults sitting around rolling their thumbs and blaming each other for the fact that the current Congress is the least efficient one in history. They refuse to work together to make America and the world a better place simply because their party isn’t in power. While an ineffective government isn’t an uniquely American phenomenon, America in a unique country with a far-reaching international influence. So it is critical that the government doesn’t just shut down for two weeks because Congress can’t agree on a bill.
Furthermore, other countries have stopped looking up to America like they used to. There isn’t a lot to admire in a system that discourages people from voting and where the political debate is more focused on insults and character attacks than actual policy proposals and financial plans.
American democracy isn’t protected the way it should be and politicians who spread the lie that America is the greatest democracy in the world fail to acknowledge this. “Greatest” is a good-looking word that sounds amazing, but it doesn’t really mean anything. Politicians just hide behind that word so that they don’t have to deal with the problems that the American democracy is facing. As long as American democracy is “the greatest,” they don’t have to do anything, because how could you possibly make something better than “the greatest”?
Politicians have to stop living in a fantasy world where the state of American democracy is great. It isn’t.