Opinion writer Philipa Ako discusses why more interest is invested in the US election
The 2010 General Election was meant to be the first big social media election, but it never quite got there. Why has the US election attracted so much more attention?
It would be naive to say that the US election has nothing to do with us here in the UK. The President of the United States is often described as ‘the leader of the free world’, he has a duty to be involved in important summits such as the G8, and we cannot forget our ‘special relationship’ with the US. It is definitely in our interest that our American cousins choose somebody who is actually competent, and it is refreshing to see public discussion about politics.
What has been interesting, and maybe even a cause for concern for British politics, is the amount of opinion and attention this election has gotten in comparison to our last General Election. Twitter and Facebook was full of US election buzz, opinion, and a great deal of fact flinging. Even Gair Rhydd ran articles about the candidates (strictly informative of course). What is it about the US elections that got the nation gripped? Is this marking a shift in the way that we view politics? Has this generation finally become socially conscious and ready to become responsible for our world leaders? Are we finally adults?
Maybe, maybe not.
The US elections are like the fair coming into town: It’s ostentatious, loud and very hard to miss. Politics in the US is just so much more in your face than anything we have here, so it’s pretty hard not to get sucked in. There are so many speeches and public appearances that you find yourself knowing the candidates and some their views passively. We found the same thing happening with the introduction of the television debates in 2010.
You cannot deny that the US is so much more glamorous than the UK in almost every aspect, and their candidates are no exception. Barack Obama oozes cool so effortlessly; he can sing, he can dance, and appears to be friends with Jay Z. It is so much easier to root for a candidate who is actually likeable; I can tell you for free that the Conservatives would probably run away with the next election if they let Boris Johnson become party leader. The US has just got more appealing candidates and this has captured our attention. While democracy should have nothing to do with popularity, at this age, it just does. You only have to look at Cardiff University’s very own Student Officer Elections to notice this.
A big factor is that the UK has a massive obsession with anything and everything that goes on across the pond. Television, music, film… you name it, if it has anything to do with popular culture, we are studying it and making it as good as our own. We are a generation that takes the lead from our favourite icons, and if Sabrina the Teenage Witch is supporting Mitt Romney, we are going to Google why. During election time, having a sound idea about both of the candidates’ views is a must for everybody, including the stars and of course, we want in. This election has been drenched with idols from our favourite films and bands pledging their allegiance to a particular party, though this is nothing new. Since 2004, leading figures in Hip-Hop have been major advocates of ‘Rock The Vote’, a massive campaign to get teens to become acquainted with the issues and use their vote wisely. The inclusion of a mixed race candidate in 2008 and 2012 has only made their efforts stronger, and we in the UK have been influenced by this. We have become massive fans of Obama, whether it is because our political allegiances here are similar to his party’s stance, or because he has become a major popular culture icon. Regardless, I doubt the next election will gather the same amount of interest (Unless of course, Hilary Clinton decides to put herself forward…)
Should we really be taking tips from the US though? Perhaps. The election may have seemed like a glitzy popularity contest at times, but it did create a buzz that everybody wanted to be a part of. Nobody wanted to be left out of the debate, and took it upon themselves to educate themselves on the facts. Reforms such as Obamacare led to many of us thanking our lucky stars for the NHS and becoming opposed to any detrimental changes to it. More importantly, social media was alive with real debate, not just inane memes or banal conversation. People acted like they cared. Hopefully this has sparked a streak in all of us, and when the next General Election rolls around, we’ll be more inclined to vote as knowledgeable citizens.