Do campaign seasons get this polarized in other countries?

I’m looking at all the threads in all the forums about the current US presidential campaign, and I’m wondering if, in other countries, people get as testy and polarized over the candidates as we do in the States?

Do people in other countries examine every interview, poll jump, slip of the tongue, etc?

I guess what I’m getting at is: Do people in other countries get so obsessed with national elections like we are in the US? If so, what are some examples?

The election season in the UK lasts for less than a month, isn’t on a fixed schedule (a General Election can be called at any time by the PM) and is subject to strict rules on the advertising that is allowed and the money that can be spent. It’s safe to say that it is typically a lot less everything than the US General Election.

I am startled sometimes at the polarisation in political discussions on this board. It seems that any thread which even touches on “conservative” vs. “liberal” issues rapidly breaks down into a vitriolic partisan slanging match. Nobody is willing to give even a fraction of an inch to the other side.
I mean, we have only slightly less of a two party system here, with entrenched positions on either side, but the two sides don’t seem to have quite that knee-jerk antagonistic approach to each other. There is a vaguely plausible third party here, perhaps that’s the difference.

It’s probably because of the 24-hour news networks, and their constant bombardment of non-news about what the candidates are eating for breakfast. We’re constantly fed information and so we’re constantly forced to interpret it, and we end up getting way more caught up in the process than is really necessary. I mean of course people should follow the election and make an informed decision, but most of the stuff that makes the news waves is irrelevant.

I think most Americans view the election process like football season. They’re rooting for their guy, and regardless of what their guy says and does, he’s there to win. Each time there’s a poll bounce it’s like their team scored a goal. After the playoffs and their guy gets the trophy, then it’s back to life as usual until next season 4 years later.

One big difference between Canada and the US is that the US primary system forces people to declare a political affiliation (if they want to vote in the primaries). In Canada, we don’t have primaries, and the nomination process is in the sole control of the individual parties. It’s only the most partisan supporters who are involved in the nomination process. For most Canadians, we only vote at the general election, which doesn’t require any partisan declaration. I’ve voted in every election I’ve been eligible to vote in since I’ve turned 18, but that doesn’t produce any information about my personal political leanings - which wouldn’t be the case with an American voter who votes in the primaries. So the US system forces people to make public declarations of their political views, which isn’t the case up here.

Another thing is that our electoral districts are drawn by non-political boundaries commissions, not by the elected officials, and they have a reputation for drawing reasonably neutral boundaries. That means that the parties have to compete for the middle of the road voters. That’s quite different from the US system in recent years, where the state legislators have been drawing boundaries for political reasons, which tend to reward the most entrenched political views.

Also, as in the UK, our elections only last for a bit over a month, and then they’re done. We also have more parties to choose from, so there aren’t as many really committed supporters of a particular party.

Finally, we don’t elect judges on a partisan basis. Our judges are required to cut any partisan ties they might have on their appointment. We don’t think of judges as belonging to any particular political party, and don’t assume that their decisions are coloured by partisan considerations.

From a German perspective, the level of acrimony definitely looks much higher. Some thoughts on differences:

  • The culture wars. This may be a large influence. Of course in Germany there are conservative and liberal social milieus too but it is my impression that in the US they actually feel threatened by each other

  • emotive issues that are generally considered not being settled (in contrast, abortion and gay legal partnerships have both been subject to legislative compromises in Germany in during the 1990s that both camps don’t much care to revisit in a fundamental way, and frown on their fringes when they rock the boat)

  • a two-way election contest obviously serves more to polarize than what’s effectively a five-way contest in Germany, with coalitions to be forged after the election (and you cannot afford too much acrimony with a party that you just might need the votes of after the election)

  • the front men being a bigger deal in the US, and part of them having a short record in the nation’s public consciousness (Obama, Palin) so any misstatement being a bigger deal (a German politician aspiring to the top jobs will of course have a long record of misstatements and embarassing things. German chancellor Angela Merkel was Propaganda Secretary of the Communist Youth organisation at her institute when she was a young scientist - such things tend to be taken with a shrug).

I don’t know where other countries fall in voter turnout, but with somewhere around 40% of eligible US voters actually casting a vote (and that’s for presidential elections, other votes are much smaller), I don’t know that obsessed is the correct word. Bombarded might be better.

Most US citizens can’t name more than the Repub/Dem nominees and a long-shot 3rd party candidate. Too many don’t even seem to realize there are other parties vying for their vote. When you’re obsessed with something, you tend to go overboard learning about it. Frankly, most US voters tend to be happy when the whole mess is over, so they can hear about something else on the news.

Of course, the Dem/Repub pundits and supporters tend to be obsessed, and usually a bit too polarized. I like that, it’s a lot of fun annoying both sides. There were a lot of seriously depressed, nearly suicidal Dems after the 2004 elections, a lot of riled, angry Dems after the 2000 elections, and panicked Repubs when Clinton took and held office. So it does seem some folks are taking all this more personally than in the past, but frankly, they tend to be a little unbalanced to begin with. :slight_smile:

I tend to view it more like I view American Idol and similar shows. Some people don’t care, others care too much, and most realize how rigged it is but they’ll watch it with a certain degree of amusement. You don’t really get much option, election coverage tends to be 24/7, whether you like it or not. With only two parties given serious chances by the media, there’s no way it can avoid being polarizing, at least on a superficial level. You’re given a choice of A or B, a vote for C is a throw away vote, if there is even a C vote you happen to like. So A choosers are really worried about B getting elected and vice versa, while C choosers get “polarized” because they have to do crazy things to draw even a minute percentage of attention and votes.

Still, in the end, a solid majority of people, even those who vote and pick a party, aren’t polarized, the media is, and assuming the 80/20 rule, that 20 percent of folks who do care are venomously polarized. As such, they make the most noise and do the most stuff. A little like the “violence” in the US, to foreigners this all looks pretty crazy (especially to Canadians, their government seems to have an interest in making the US look scary and insane), while the reality is much more mundane. Mundane doesn’t work on TV, though.

Of course, some countries’ elections are far more polarized, just not though mass media outlets. You don’t typically see riots and gunfights after a US election, but that might be because they’re held in November. :slight_smile:

And personally, no partisan folks have shown up at the door yet this year, there’s only one sign in someone’s front yard for the 2 mile stretch of road I drive to the freeway, and nothing around the other places I go. Based on these details, this election is kind of looking like a bust so far, especially compared to 2004. Perhaps it’ll change in the coming weeks. Considering the choices, I’m not holding my breath.

Australia is like this too and our collective sanity is eternally grateful for it.

This is incorrect. You are talking about a closed Primary election system, where voters must be registered members of a political party. Only a minority of US States use this system.

As has been said, the UK gets it all over with much quicker and cheaper.

I think the US is this way because:

  • the process takes so long (so there’s not enough actual news)
  • there’s a lot of money involved (so people can be paid to spot slips of the tongue, past statements etc)
  • there are only two major parties (It’s incredibly expensive to run on your own)
  • the voters seem to be swayed by short TV ads (sadly most voters everywhere are like this)
  • it’s so important (the US President has a real effect on the rest of the World)

Would it be correct to summarise that the US spends a huge amount of money and time on national elections, yet the issues are never discussed in depth and many voters have entrenched positions anyway?

Just heading into the New Zealand elections. It’s shorter, we don’t have the whole “elect the main candidate” opening act.

The present (for 9 years/3 terms) government introduced limits on promotional spending that are so complex, no-one’s really sure what the rules are. Some parties are still embroiled in paying back their overspent budgets from the last election. The general population is thankful for the huge reduction in the number of billboards and letter-box fillers.

There was a televised debate a few years back, where a minor party representative said the country as a whole would benefit from (paraphrasing) ‘a bit of common sense’. His party went from ‘margin of error’ status to five members of Parliment. Which shows that people were paying attention and considering their votes. AFAIR, it’s the last time that particular bloke got any positive press. He seems to feel he’s done his bit for bringing the country on track.

There’s a fair amount of muck flinging from all parties, but it seems to be reported as more of a game than anything else. Cutting through the policy BS and leaked information from both camps - you’d be fairly close to the mark if you decided that we’re (probably) having a change of government because Labour’s been in so long, it’s time National had another go. Mind you, National’s been in this spot before and shot itself in the foot.

Add to that trinket that most of us don’t give a crap. Each side is as bad as the other so we don’t care who wins (well I don’t anyway). I am always stunned by the amount of viciousness that appears hen a US Presidential Election is on. Surely you don’t care that much. It will be a different day, but will be the same shit.

I was studying in Israel when they had an election in 1999 (Bibi Netanyahu lost, Ehud Barak won). People went APESHIT. I have never, ever, ever seen anything like it in the US. I saw people have screaming fights about the election on the bus. (Caveat: Israelis have screaming fights on the bus about pretty much everything. They are not a calm people.) People would stand on streetcorners holding banners for their candidates all day. The whole freaking country was practically covered in bumper stickers - I remember seeing a car (a bunch of times, actually, I have a picture of it somewhere) so totally covered in Netanyahu stickers that the owner of the car actually attached a cardboard box to the top of the car with duct tape so that he could have more surface area to decorate with bumper stickers.

It was, as they say, whack. (But also pretty cool.)