You know I’m a curious little cat and living very far away from the United States (both culturally and physically) and “watching” the campaigning for president just gets stranger and stranger to me.

So I thought I’d do a little research and see what I could see, sort of a self-educating little “tour” and well, you’re welcome to join me 😉

Probably the most familiar democracy to Americans is that in Britain, which makes sense due to the common linguistic and historical cultural ties.  I’m sure most of you know Britain is known as a “constitutional monarchy”, which long story short means a monarch (now the queen) who roughly has no power and does nothing and a parliament which is the real government.

The particular system Britain uses is called the “Westminster” system, which has its various ups and downs but here’s an odd fact: there are currently 646 Members of Parliament or 1 MP for every 92,000 citizens.



Almost the exact same system, literally (same Queen as UK).  226 Members of Parliament, 150 Representatives and 76 Senators.  Population of about 22 million making it one MP for about every 98,000 citizens.  Hmm.


Again virtually the same as Australia or Britain although some slight difference.  Currently 308 directly-elected MPs (there’s also a Senate with unelected members, not counted in the 308).  Population about 33 million making it 1 MP for every 107,000 people.


Technically quite similar to Britain, in the sense that there’s a monarch with little power and a parliament with a lot, except that due to historical reasons (i.e. Franco v. Juan Carlos) the king is currently a bit more influential.  But essentially all the government comes from a parliament of directly elected members.

Currently 609 members of both houses (Senators and “Deputies”) for a population of about 45 million or roughly 1 representative for every 74,000 people.


Uses a rather “bizarre” form of parliament, “bizarre” in the sense that it is legally based on the constitution that its WW2 enemies imposed on the country and has been virtually unchanged ever sense.

Called the Bundestag and roughly similar to the British system, minus any sort of monarch.  613 MPs for a population of roughly 83 million for approximately 1 MP per every 135,000 citizens.


Quite similar to Germany’s system in basic construction but a little different because there are some “Senators” who are appointed.  630 MPs total (including the Senators).  About 60 million population so 1 MP for every 95,000 people.


Now we’re getting into the other more common model of democracy, which is a separately elected president who has to share power with a parliament composed of directly-elected MPs (called the “semi-presidential system”).  Still quite different than the USA model and click on the link if you’re curious.

Currently 577 MPs for a population of about 65 million making it about 1 MP for every 113,000 people.


Quite similar to the USA system in many respects, having a president and a bicameral legislature but is much more akin to France in the sense that the president’s powers are limited by the parliament.

Total MPs in both houses: 802.  Population about 1.1 billion, meaning one MP for every 1.4 million people.


Sort of a strange system which is hard to describe but for the curious can be learned about here, a bicameral or two houses legislature which then selects a Prime Minister.  Again there is a monarch (Emperor in this case) who has virtually no real power.

Currently 480 MPs directly elected (more or less) and 242 “Councillors”, which are elected indirectly.  For a population of about 127 million that makes it about 1 MP for every 176,000 citizens.


Just for fairness sake I thought I’d pick a stable democracy in Africa as well.  Very similar to the French system (which makes sense, as Mali is a former French colony) it has a parliament composed of 160 members directly elected (including interestingly 13 members elected to represent Malinese citizens who live abroad).

With a population of about 12 million (inside Mali itself) that makes it one MP for every 82,000 people.


And then we’ve got the good old USA with 435 Representatives and 100 Senators to  represent a population of about 306 million making it about one representative for every 572,000 citizens.

Well isn’t that odd?

Actually I’m told my math is quite bad, as in some cases it’s close to 700 thousand people in some districts (and less in others).  It doesn’t take a math major to realize even 572,000 people would compose a rather good sized city and to have just a single representative?

I’m not even the first one to notice this.  Originally the Constitution, you know, written by the Sainted Founding Fathers, proposed a sliding scale system which started out as one Representative (in those days, Senators weren’t directly elected) for every 30,000 people.

Which would make for one hell of a huge Congress 😛  But even assuming we brought it down to one roughly European levels, or 1 representative (Senator or Representative) for every say 125,000 people that would be 2,448 members of Congress.  Whew!

I haven’t seen any “hard” numbers (i.e. from gov’t sources) but there are however over 15,000 people who are paid staff of these 535 politicians, not including an unknown number of interns and volunteers.

What makes the USA even odder is that there truly are just two functioning parties.  At the moment there are a grand total of 1 “independent” Senator (“Fighting” Joe Lieberman) and 1 independent Representative (Bernie Sanders – VT).

All the other countries, including Britain have a whole host of parties who actually win seats.  Most people know the “Tories” (Conservative Party) and the Labour party, which truly do dominate politics, but the Liberal Democrats won 63 seats in the last general election.  

France currently has 15 Communist MPs.  Germany has a quite active Green party.  And so on and so forth.

Another peculiarity to the USA is that it is the only country with primary elections.  This is sort of an election to see who will get elected.  In other countries, the parties themselves nominate (or vote amongst themselves) who will run for any given office or position.

While the USA system is definitely more democratic, it’s also more expensive.  A candidate for the House for example has to fund, run and operate a campaign to win the primary election and the actual election itself.

I don’t have any numbers here on hand to show you but the weird twist between all these primary elections versus the “nominated by the party” system used elsewhere in the world ironically means American politicians have less turnover.  That is to say, year after year, the incumbency rate is higher in the USA than elsewhere.

Roughly boiled down to its core, since each politician represents so many people and since they’ve got to win a primary election “on their own” (with far less party support than in the rest of the world), they’re essentially always campaigning and running for re-election.  To do that, they’ve got to both take uncontroversial political stands (aka “follow the polls”) as well as raise a shitload of money (to finance the infinite re-election campaigning).

Whereas say in Britain your “average” Labour MP knows that his campaign will be largely financed by his party, he will be nominated for his post BY his party and therefore keeps his job as long as his party does well.  

And of course I haven’t even mentioned the many, many oddities of the USA presidential election system but the first and foremost is of course the primary, which leads to a VERY long campaign indeed (Obama declared his candidacy officially on May 2, 2007 or 18 months before the election) and all the financial costs that entails.

Here in Romania (with a more French type system), campaigning is limited to six weeks start to finish.  In Britain’s last full election, it was known that it would be held in 2005 but the official election season last one month, that is outright campaigning.  Exactly 30 days.

Canada’s system is an election campaign of a minimum of 36 days and no maximum length, although the longest one on record was in 1926 which lasted 74 days.

Spain just earlier this year held a general campaign.  Length: 15 days.

Australia: Six weeks.  The last German general election lasted a whopping two and a half months after the Chancellor deliberately staged a political maneuver to lose a vote of no confidence and dissolve the government.

Long story short: just about every democracy on the face of the planet has far more representatives per person, more parties to represent more diverse ideologies and an election system that is far quicker and a hell of a lot cheaper than the USA system.

I don’t really have some grand scheme or plan I’m advocating here, this is mostly just for educational purposes.  Thought you might like to know how things are done “out here” in the wider world.

If you’re truly interested in a very well-educated take on the American system and some of the issues I brought up here, read this lengthy article from 1997.


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