Individual Participation in American Politics and Democracy

Introduction

The year 2016 was a historic one for US politics. It will go down in history books as an election period characterized by public fury, emotional drain, and an exceptional focus on the personalities of candidates in regards to policy issues. It continued to show how deeply divided American society in terms of politics is. Right from primary campaigns to post-election marches, the period was quite eventful. The happenings during the year and even at the beginning of 2017 clearly demonstrated how American politics underwent significant changes over time. With seventeen major presidential contenders for the Republican presidential ticket and six for Democrats, the 2016 US election could signify the further remaking of the country’s politics. This paper examines how the changes in American politics over time took place, shaping the political landscape of the country.

Primary Campaigns and Elections

The primary campaigns, in particular for Republican presidential race, were different from previous ones. With a historic number of seventeen major candidates seeking the party’s presidential ticket, the primary campaigns promised to be captivating. Despite such a big number, many of them withdrew before and after the primaries, leaving only three candidates until May 3, 2016: Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and John Kasich. What made the 2016 primary campaigns and elections different from previous ones was the lack of experience of top candidates. Despite being among the favorites, Trump and Ben Carson had no previous experience in any elective office. This is greatly contrasted by the favorites in previous campaigns for Republican candidates. In 2000, the Republican poll leader was George Bush. In 2008, the poll leaders for the party were Mike Huckabee and John McCain. In 2012, the poll leaders were Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. These candidates were traditional politicians. As such, the 2016 primary campaigns and elections differed from the previous ones because of candidates who did not have prior political experience. The changes are attributed to shifting attitudes of Republicans towards their own party. Trump’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate marked a new beginning as he was the only candidate that was against free trade (Lind n.p.).

For the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton emerged as the contenders for the presidential candidate after the withdrawal of four others. While Clinton was initially the overwhelming favorite, a series of questionable record-keeping activities reduced her credibility, making the race a tight one. Clinton eventually became presumed nominee on June 6th, making history by becoming the first woman of any major political party to so in the process. In 2008 primaries, she was a front-runner for the party’s presidential candidate, but Barack Obama emerged as the presumptive nominee. Therefore, a major change in the politics of America and, in particular, of the Democratic Party was the emergence of the first woman to become a party presidential nominee.

Political Party Conventions

Major changes have also occurred in the events that mark political party conventions. According to Holbert et al. (389), conventions have a unique place in the country’s political system, as they are a pivot point for two major events: primary and general elections. The significance of conventions is heightened by the fact that the majority of electorates decide how they will vote after the event (Ansolabehere and Iyengar 156). A few decades ago, political party conventions were typically marked by big-money donors, power brokers, and delegates aiming to pick and nominate both presidential and vice-presidential candidates. However, about three decades ago, the events characterizing political party conventions have changed (Lind n.p.). The main agenda of conventions in today’s American politics is to sell rather than select a party’s presidential nominees. However, in the case no candidate has secured a majority of delegates during the primaries, the nominee is determined during the convention. As mentioned earlier, such incidents do not characterize the country’s modern politics.

A major change that has symbolized conventions over time relates to technology. Right from the telegraph to mass communication, technology has been a part of American political party conventions (Troy n.p.). Convention-related communications initially relied predominantly on the telegraph for several decades. Prior to 1924, technology did not allow live broadcast of communication proceedings. However, 1924 marked the first time that conventions were covered live on the radio. The year 1940 marked the start of a new era, as the proceedings were broadcasted live on television. The continued advancement in technology and penetration of television meant that party conventions received more and more attention from viewers. As mentioned earlier, party conventions in today’s era act as an avenue for advertising rather than selecting candidates. Social media are used more and more in party conventions today (Hughes and Palen 253).

General Election and Campaign

The 2016 general election and campaign was a historical one for the country mainly because of two reasons; there was the first female presidential candidate for a major party and a candidate with no prior experience in elective office. Another feature that distinguishes the campaigns and elections in the current age from the past is the use of technology. Campaigns on social media, particularly on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter have also highlighted the tendencies of modern elections. As such, the dawn of the internet has made a significant impact on how occurrences during the election period are communicated. One can say Obama’s campaign was a turning point in terms of the use of the internet to conduct a campaign. Although previous presidential candidates had used the internet to boost their campaigns (e.g., raising campaign funds), Obama’s use of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, aided him in his presidential bid. It is the online campaigning that helped Democrats take majorities in Congress’ both houses during the 2008 elections.

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In the 2016 general elections, there was an escalation of the use of social media during the presidential campaigns. Both Clinton and Trump used social media extensively to complement their campaign strategies. One factor that differentiates social media usage in the 2016 presidential election from the previous one is spending. According to Green (n.p.), of the $1 billion media budget, social media were estimated to account for more than half. This clearly shows how important social media are for campaigns in the current age. In addition, given that technology and internet penetration is set to increase in the future, campaigns are bound to utilize social media platforms to succeed. Millennials are the ones that are specifically targeted by the campaigns on social media. The real-time nature of social media platforms is what makes them ideal for political campaigns. During the 2016 elections, Trump was known to speak his mind in tweets. The aggressive nature of his messages received attention not only from social media users but also from news channels. Therefore, campaigns in the current age are increasingly characterized by the use of social media. This substantially contrasts with the past where technology was not that advanced as it is now.

Another aspect of the campaign that has changed over time is traditional spending. In the election campaigns from 2000 to 2012, the presidential spending has been on the increase. However, there was a decline in the campaign spending in 2016. When time value of money is put into consideration, Nixon’s 1972 and both of Obama’s presidential campaigns utilized relatively higher spending as compared to others. Despite this, the general spending by candidates in the election campaigns have increased over time.

Protest Marches

There are some of the general elections in the US history that were marred by protests after the results. The most recent ones happened after Trump was elected as President in the 2016 general elections. The protests can be compared to the Tea Party protests of 2009 and 2010. However, it is clear that the marches after Trump’s election were not as tangible as the Tea Party. In the latter protests, political messages of liberty and personal freedom were unified in the party’s symbolism and imagery. The anti-Trump protests were clearly against one individual, and there was no indication of political change to come. On the other hand, although the Tea Party was against President Obama’s administration, there was the presence of broader political change ambitions (Brown n.p.). Another aspect that differentiates anti-Trump protests from the Tea Party protests is the formation of organizations. The Tea Party protests led to the formation of many new organizations. While some of the parties were closely linked with existing national bodies, others were new. Therefore, unlike the anti-Trump protests, the Tea Party marches were characterized by broader political ambitions.

Issues of Immigration and Healthcare Policy

The policies surrounding healthcare and immigration are among the areas that are closely scrutinized not only by the US citizens but also by other countries around the world. Policies on immigration, in particular, continue to raise considerable debates on both the national and international scenes. Incidences of terrorism have played a big role in the immigration policies of America. In 2012, President Obama, through an executive action, permitted young adults to apply for work permit and deportation relief. This applied to those who had been brought into the country illegally. However, with the election of President Trump in 2016, immigration laws turned stricter.

In regards to healthcare, during his tenure, President Obama introduced Obamacare that sought to provide insurance coverage to more Americans. Numerous benefits were associated with the enactment, including emergency services, laboratory services, maternity and newborn care, and prescription drugs, among others. The election of Trump, however, is bound to hamper the progress made by Obamacare. In fact, there are plans to enact another healthcare policy to replace Obamacare.

Conclusion

American politics and democracy have undergone numerous changes since the country’s independence. The last few years have seen major changes in the country’s political environment. President Trump’s election in 2016 meant that an individual with no prior experience in an elective position could be given the country’s top job. The recent political occurrences clearly show how politics and democracy have changed over time. Technology has played a substantial role in the communication of politics in the country, bringing about noticeable changes in candidates’ campaign techniques.

 

Works Cited

Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Shanto Iyengar. Going Negative: How Political Advertisements Shrink & Polarize the Electorate. Free Press, 1997.

Bernam, Russel. “What Actually Happens at the U.S. Presidential Conventions?” The Atlantic, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/a-laymans-guide-to-the-republican-and-democratic-national-conventions/489560/. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Brown, Heath. “Do Anti-Trump Protests Really Compare to 2009 Tea Party?” The Hill, 2017, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/national-party-news/321064-is-a-liberal-tea-party-really-forming. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Green, R. Kay. “The Game Changer: Social Media and the 2016 Presidential Election.” Huffington Post, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/r-kay-green/the-game-changer-social-m_b_8568432.html. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Holbert, R. Lance, Bruce W. Hardy, and Heather L. LaMarre. “A Normative Assessment of 2016 Political Convention Speech Exposure: Perceived Political Threats and Anticipated General Election Legitimacy.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 61, no. 4, 2017, pp. 379-400.

Hughes, Amanda Lee, and Leysia Palen. “Twitter Adoption and Use in Mass Convergence and Emergency Events.” International Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 6, no. 3-4, 2009, pp. 248-260.

Lind, Michael. “This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like.” Politico, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/05/2016-election-realignment-partisan-political-party-policy-democrats-republicans-politics-213909. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Troy, Tevi. “The Evolution of Party Conventions.” National Affairs, 2016, http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-party-conventions. Accessed 24 October 2020.