1) A British Prime Minister can call an election at any time in his 5-year term. In theory, he can use good economic news, for example, to boost his party’s representation in Parliament by calling a snapgeneral election hoping that voters will be swept along by such good news. It is said that Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister in the 1960’s-1970’s used this feel good factor after England won the World Cup in 1966. The US President has no such flexibility. The date of each US national election is set in stone and the President goes into it on the back of whatever news is around at the time – be it good or bad. He cannot call an election – as it has to take place in the first week on November. The next US national election is on the first Tuesday in November 2008 and there is nothing the Republicans or G W Bush can do about this.
2) The US has an election every 4 years – the UK every 5 years maximum.
4) Even if the two countries populations are made into a comparable proportion, the amount of money spent during an American national election dwarfs the money spent during a UK general election. For the UK 2001 general election, political pundits spoke in terms of tens of millions being spent in total by all parties. In the 2004 American election, pundits spoke in terms of hundreds of million of dollars being spent – possibly even a billion dollars.
5) One of the main reasons for the above is the difference in duration of the two campaigns. In the UK, Tony Blair announced on April 5th the date for the 2005 general election – May 5th – leaving just one month for campaigning. In America, the election campaign starts in January in the year of the election with primaries and caucuses, leaving 10 months until the actual election.
6) In America, the national election is between two candidates – a Republican one and a Democrat one. (Other candidates do stand but they have no chance of being elected) Voters vote for a presidential candidate. In the UK there is a totally different approach. There is a vote for all 646 constituencies (2005 figure) and voters will probably vote for a party rather than for a candidate.
7) In America, the opportunity for a protest vote barely exists – unless you deliberately abstain and count this as a protest vote. The Reform Party and Green Party do exist but the Electoral College system means that they have no chance of getting any form of power. In the UK, there are plenty of opportunities to have a protest vote against the standing party/Prime Minister. The election of Michael Bell as an Independent anti-corruption MP in 1997 showed this. In 2001 an Independent candidate won Wyre Forest as the Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern MP – his manifesto was based primarily on keeping open the local hospital whatever the cost. He received the support of the local populace and became that constituency’s MP. The system in America does not allow for this at presidential level – though it does happen at Congressional level, especially in the mid-term elections.
9) The UK’s electoral system is based on the first-past-the-post system. All the winning party needs is a majority of MP’s elected to Westminster to win a general election. For 2005, all the winning party will need is 324 MP’s to have an overall majority in Parliament.
10). In the UK an election manifesto is traditionally considered to be binding. It is not uncommon during Commons Question Time for Opposition MP’s to state: “In your manifesto you said………why hasn’t this happened?" In America, an election platform (the equivalent of a manifesto) is not considered to be binding. It is what would be done given the perfect opportunity to do so.