Democracy in numbers

Uninterested or unmotivated, at least 21 million American voters don't head for the polling stations.

Although Barack Obama’s accession to the White House was hailed by many as a triumph of grassroots democracy, a defeat of the two main parties’ formidable electoral machines and a breaking of a palingenesis in US politics, it was only partially all these things.

Let’s start with the numbers: In 2008, Obama beat John McCain 53% to 46%; and in 2012, he defeated Mitt Romney 51% to 47%. Neither victory was a triumphant garnering of the popular vote, but they were clear-cut wins in terms of electoral votes, thanks to the country’s unique Electoral College system.

And yet the arrival of a young, dynamic, African-American candidate, not fully immersed in – or entirely alien to – the circles, rites and interest networks in Washington, did not lead the average American to become much more involved in politics. In 2008, voter turnout was 61.6%, slightly higher than in 2004, but it dropped to 58.2% in 2012.

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