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Friday 5 - 4th November 2016

Posted by Amirah Jiwa
04 November, 2016

Your weekly helping of five interesting ideas to take you into the weekend. This week, a twist. As the world eagerly awaits the result of next week’s US presidential election, we’ve been thinking a lot about the election, and the state of democracy more broadly. So this week’s Friday 5 is a democracy special. Normal service will be resumed next week. And if you wish you could vote, but can’t, head on over to our friends at Global Vote (who we’ve featured before) where you can cast a (purely symbolic) vote for your preferred candidate.

(1) Swing States

If you missed the politics class where the US electoral system was explained, this helpful video from the Guardian explains the intricacies of the Electoral College, the importance of swing states, why candidates spend so much time in Florida and Ohio, and why Maine and Nebraska are not like other states. In this system, just as in our very own FPTP electoral system, a candidate can win the popular vote but lose the election (see Al Gore, in 2000). For data junkies and nervous election watchers, FiveThirtyEight’s Election Forecast provides enormous amounts of well laid out data and insights telling you everything you need or want to know about each candidate’s chances of winning each state. But as June 23rd reminded us, polls can only predict so much. As we wait for the results to come in (probably at around 4am on Wednesday morning here in the UK), we’ll be playing Stylist magazine’s rather entertaining Hillary Smash and Dash, and hoping the right woman wins.

(2) Voter Blocks

One candidate has been very vocal about his belief that the election is rigged. We’ll leave it to Hillary to deal with those claims, but a possible candidate to increase transparency and trust in electoral outcomes is blockchain, the layer of technology that underlies cryptocurrency Bitcoin. At its most basic, the blockchain is a permanent, transparent record of every exchange made and an identical copy is held locally by every machine participating in the network. Whenever a new transaction (financial or otherwise) appears on the Bitcoin network, all of its nodes perform an elaborate series of calculations aimed at validating it, and a majority of them must agree its legitimacy before it can be added to the shared record. The innovation that excites fans of networked democracy is that it proves the legitimacy of transactions computationally, instead of relying on the authority of any government or banking institution. Right now blockchain technology is primarily used for financial transactions (e.g. Bitcoin, or a newer Bitcoin alternative called Ethereum) but it’s not hard to see its potential applied to democracy: votes could be verified, counted and allocated without fears of fraud or error—if we can learn to trust computers more than we do the institutions that govern us currently.

(3) Candydate Commentary

The election provides both opportunity and risk for brands, because while making any political statement generates plenty of goodwill from consumers that agree with you, it will also alienate those that do not. In a previous Friday 5, we highlighted the American brands deliberately tapping into the election as a current global focal point by launching campaigns that contribute to the discussion in a playful yet meaningful way. On the flipside, however, are those brands that are unwillingly dragged into the limelight through associations that make them uncomfortable, like Skittles, which was compared to refugees by Donald Trump Jr, or Tic Tac which became linked to Trump Sr’s interactions with women. In both these cases, the brands put out brief statements that distanced themselves from the remarks but were wary of further capitalising on the extra attention: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don't feel it's an appropriate analogy,” and “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behavior completely inappropriate and unacceptable.” It’s probably every brand’s worst nightmare to be dragged into unedifying spectacle, and we’re glad to see Skittles and Tic Tac both standing up for themselves, but we wish they’d taken the opportunity to maximise their moment in the spotlight to do more for their brand and the cause.

(4) The Biggest Ballot

This year, there has been a lot of talk about the difficulties US political parties face in presenting policies and messages that resonate with swathes of the population given its size and socioeconomic diversity. For those that think getting the message right in the US is hard, we’re providing a glimpse into the extraordinary process of having an election in India where politicians need to translate their communications into 447 languages! Two years ago, the world’s largest democracy conducted the world’s largest vote with approximately 815 million people casting a ballot. To put this into perspective, India has 300 million more voters than the next three democracies (the United States, Indonesia and Brazil) combined. Rules stipulate that no one - whether in a crowded city or a remote mountain village - should have to travel more than two kilometers to cast their vote, which results in traditionally high voter participation (66.4% in 2014) but also requires immense logistical coordination. For a sense of the vibrancy and diversity of India’s electorate and their enthusiasm for the democratic process, take a look at this wonderful photo series from the last election.

(5) Not Another Attack Ad

Finally, the culture of personal political attack ads in the US (examples here and here) has been disrupted by a Texas County Commissioner who has taken a wonderfully unexpected approach to soliciting votes in Travis County. Foregoing the typical format of dramatic music over cherry-picked soundbites that paint their opponent in a bad light, Gerald Daugherty instead spends his sixty-second spot earnestly droning on about transportation issues, the commuter rail, jail overcrowding, and tax rates to his wife and friends, all while everyone else tries to go about their daily lives. The ad ends with his wife desperately requesting viewers to “Please re-elect Gerald. Please.” Charming, chock-full of policy, and a human reminder of why public service matters, the ad provides a breath of fresh air in an election-cycle saturated with negativity.

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