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TRADITION AND CHANGE September 30, 2007

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Social Environment, US Politics.
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John Quiggin raises an interesting, and to me intriguing question in relation to why do the Americans persist with voting on Tuesday now the original political reasons have ceased to be relevant. Internet sources then to agree that Tuesday voting was introduced by a 1845 presidential proclamation, as distinct congressional decision as for example was the voting in November. The population of the United States was less than the 23 million of 1850 which was the after the admission of Texas, the Oregon territory, and land and people acquired as a consequence of the war with Mexico. The number of voters was less with the exclusion of women and slaves.

Of course, the US was a more agrarian society and the proportion of farmers perhaps did not decline precipitously until the 20th Century. However, it is interesting to observe if this graph can be believed that the introduction of this measure did not have an immediate or noticeable impact on the proportion of people voting, which it has to be observed appeared higher in the 19th Century than more latterly.

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Source: Wikipedia – American Election Campaigns in the Nineteenth Century.

If this measure increased the turnout at presidential elections, its effect was not immediate, but it may have had an influence on subsequent elections, and perhaps there was a sufficiently strong sectional interest to keep the measure in place.

Somethings just go under the radar in any political system. There is a widespread, unquestioning of the givens, however incongruous they might be, and they persist even when the obvious is pointed out. Political systems do change through time. Who would have believed that the principle of habeas corpus would be challenged and sidelined by supposedly conservative governments in the United States and Australia?

It seems to me the study of change in political systems is the difference between politics and political science. One of the missed opportunities of the Republican Referendum was the chance to build into the constitutional framework a procedure for review and change that was bottom-up rather than top-down. Without such mechanisms, the political system whether in the US or Australia inevitably reflects the imposition of change rather than the expression of change.

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