British Media Try To Make Sense of U.S. Election

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Britain's media Thursday tried to make sense of what many consider a flawed U.S. presidential election, with many writers wondering whether it was time for a drastic reform of the electoral system.

A number of commentators argued that if some of the more curious developments witnessed on Tuesday had happened during elections in some Third World country, observers from the international community would likely have questioned the legitimacy of the ballot.

U.S. television networks' handling of exit polls also came under fire, while some papers sought a message for British politicians.

A selection of the published views follows:

"Welcome to the federal super-mess, its leadership of the free world buried amid a paper mountain of used Florida ballot papers ... Any other sophisticated country, anywhere else in the world, would be talking animatedly about constitutional reform in such a bind. But don't hold your breath. This is America." (Peter Preston, writing in the Guardian.)

" ... a very strange advertisement for democracy." (reader's letter to the Daily Telegraph.)

"The outside world ... should not be too alarmed by the unresolved choice ... whether [Bush's] "compassionate conservatism" or Mr. Gore's "steady-as-she-goes" approach carries the day, America will probably be in safe-enough hands for the next four years." (leader writer, The Independent.)

"In an era of low turn-outs and general voter apathy, when cynics complain that politics is too scientific and predictable, this was glorious proof of the power of electoral politics not just to intrigue and surprise us, but to take our breath away." (Mark Steyn, writing in the Daily Telegraph.)

"If nothing else of worth emerges from this multibillion-dollar pantomime of a poll, then it should be a consensus that dramatic action is needed. The Electoral College is the swollen appendix of the American body politic. It needs to be removed before it can do more harm to the patient. It will always present an unacceptable risk to the functioning of democracy in America." (Tim Hames, writing in The Times.)

"Let us hope that whoever turns out to be the loser shows the same grace as Nixon did [in 1960, after losing narrowly to President Kennedy] in opting to maintain the stability of the American system by not questioning the validity of the result." (leader writer, Daily Telegraph.)

"The deadlock in America has given Tony Blair and [finance minister] Gordon Brown a real scare. Even eight years of economic boom was not an automatic guarantee of re-election for the Democrats ... America's near deadheat shows Blair that no politician can ever take the people for granted." (leader writer, the Sun.)

"Nobody cares who came second for the presidency, any more than they care who lost the Olympic 400 meters by a hundredth of a second ... A winner is a winner, and he takes the only palm: all the baubles and power. It's not surprising that no precinct [in Florida] is being left unexamined to decide who really won, even if the scrutiny takes a few days more." (Hugo Young, writing in the Guardian.)

"Why [Americans] cannot wait for the simple process of counting the votes without relying on inaccurate exit polls I do not know. I am obviously aware that people need and want to know the results as soon as possible but this present television-generated mess is completely unacceptable." (letter to the Daily Telegraph.)

"That's the thing about America: it never lets you down ... As if an impeachment saga - centering on a girl, a dress and the leader of the free world - were not drama enough, the country has produced a cliffhanger to keep the entire planet on edge. If waiting for the OJ Simpson verdict made you tense, get a load of this year's presidential election." (Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian.)

"Was U.S. television coverage of the elections irresponsible?" Yes 91.92 percent. No 8.07 percent. (online reader poll, Electronic Telegraph.)

"Americans learnt a lot more about their next president from a six-hour period when both men had to think on their feet than they gleaned from months of campaigning and three presidential debates ... on the evidence of yesterday's performance, Mr. Bush appears effortlessly presidential ... [by questioning the Florida exit polls] he encouraged his campaign team and stopped the Republican turn-out from collapsing on the West Coast. By contrast, Al Gore fluffed his first great post-election test. Believing that the pollsters and the American television networks could never tell a lie, he followed his staffers' advice, conceded too early, then had to retract. Not very presidential; not very smart." (Stephen Robinson, writing in the Daily Telegraph.)

"The simplest thing might be for President Clinton to be asked to stay on for another four years. But the way things are in the States at the moment, the letter asking him to do that would probably get lost in the post." (the Daily Mirror.)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow