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Posted on October 10th, 2012, by

Historically, elections played an important role in the life of democratic societies. At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that elections have been conducted since ancient times, when first elements of democracy were introduced. In this respect, it is possible to refer to ancient Greece and Rome, where elections were an important part of social and political life of society. Today, elections play even more important role than they used to do in the past because elections are the major democratic tool by means of which society controls the political power and grants political leaders with the power to administer society. In actuality, the principle of people sovereignty is one of the fundamental principles of modern democratic societies and elections allow people realize their power and define political, economic and social development of their country.

On the other hand, it is important to understand that elections have always been influenced by multiple factors, which, to a significant extent, defined their outcomes. In this respect, electoral campaigns and voting were and still are particularly significant. It proves beyond a doubt that an effective electoral campaign can provide a political party or candidate with a possibility to win elections, while the poorly prepared and ineffective campaign inevitably leads to the failure of a political party or candidate, who loses the elections. In fact, voting is not less significant than the entire electoral campaigns since the participation of voters in elections is crucial for the victory in elections, while the system of voting can also influence participation of voters and outcomes of voting. In actuality, elections still remain to be the main element of modern democracy, which though heavily relies on voting and electoral campaigns which are closely intertwined and they define outcomes of elections.

Elections and democracy

Today, elections are an essential element of the normal functioning of a democratic state. In actuality, the concept of elections is consistently extended compared to the past epochs when elections were referred to rather exceptional procedures than to procedures involving the entire society. For instance, even a century ago, there were consistent limitations on the participation of people in elections.

Instead, today, all people are formally allowed to take part in elections. They can be elected and they can vote as well. At the same time, the remarkable feature of modern elections is the scale at which elections are spread in the modern society (Habermas, 1994). To put it more precisely, elections take place at all levels of the political power from the local level, where community elects its legislative and executive bodies of power, to the national level, where the population of the entire country elects legislative and executive bodies of the power.

In such a way, people get democratic tools to influence the policy at all levels. In other words, people can define the policy within their own community through the system of election as well as they can define the policy of their country because their votes are crucial for politicians, who need to gain the support of the population to take the power (Mailman, 2002). Naturally, to get the public support, politicians need to fulfill their political programs which meet the needs of the majority of voters who support them.

In this respect, it is important to understand that, today, elections fulfill several functions in the life of the modern society. Firstly, they perform the representative function as people elect their representatives in the legislative and executive power. Secondly, elections perform the function of control of people over their political leaders and political power at large since a political force cannot get power without the support of the majority of population in a democratic country. Finally, elections perform an important social function since they are supposed to eliminate social and cultural barriers between people since all people are allowed to participate in elections.

However, elections do not always perform all of the aforementioned functions even in the most democratic societies. What is meant here is the fact that elections can still have certain limitations concerning the access to voting and participation of people in political life of the country. Nevertheless, elections are an essential element of a truly democratic society since it is the only way in which people can control the political power and influence authorities (Ansolabehere, 1994). At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that elections define the level of democracy of society because the more restrictive the electoral legislation is the less democratic is the society since restrictions concerning elections limit the possibility of people to realize their natural right and simply exclude them from political life of the country they live in.

Political participation and representation

Obviously, it is by means of elections people can participate in the political life of the country and be represented at all levels of political power. What is meant here is the fact that people vote for political forces which they expect to be able to protect their interests or which political program meet interests and expectations of voters. As a result, elections become an important point in the political participation of people since in such a way they express their support of certain political forces, according to their political preferences and expectations.

At the same time, political forces, in their turn, are responsible for the implementation of their political programs. In other words, they get votes and support of the electorate and, in response they should conduct policies which people voting for them expect. In actuality, elections may be viewed in terms of the concept of social contract since both parties, political forces and voters, have their own obligations and their own demands and expectations and either party is supposed to fulfill its duties and political forces should meet expectations of voters, while voters should vote for political forces (Van Bergen, 2004). As long as political forces and people fulfill their obligations and meet their expectations, the policy, which meets interests and expectations of the majority is conduced.

In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the policy, conducted by political forces which win elections, meet interests and expectations of the majority because it is majority that wins elections. At this point, the problem of representation of certain social groups naturally arises. To put it more precisely, some social groups may be underrepresented in the political life of the country because of their inability to take the majority of seats in a parliament, for instance. This problem is particularly widely spread in multicultural societies, where representatives of different cultural or ethnic groups are in conflict with the dominant ethnic group and, even if they create their own political party, it cannot win national elections because the majority always has more votes than minorities (Michaels, 2002). In fact, this problem refers not only to ethnic minorities. For instance, in many societies women are still underrepresented in the political life of their countries. The lack of political representation means that representatives of minorities do not support political forces which take the political power in the country.

Obviously, the lack of political representation leads to the unwillingness or even inability of certain social groups to participate in the political life of the country. Hence, they are excluded from the political life that means that they are unable to influence policies conducted by the authorities. However, it is worth mentioning the fact that, in democratic countries, such underrepresented social groups create public organizations, take an active part in the political life of their communities, attempt to draw attention of the public to their problems and, in such a way, they attempt to get the representation in the political life of the country. On the other hand, specialists (Habermas, 1994) argue that there are underrepresented groups even in the most democratic countries of the world and their exclusion is often determined not only by political but also economic factors. Underrepresented groups feel their inability to change their economic status and they grow disenchanted in the political life. Moreover, they distance from the political life and focus on their own community solely or on their problems. As a result, their alienation from the political life grows even stronger that leads to the exclusion of large groups from the political life of many countries. For instance, it is possible to refer to the exclusion of communities living in the inner city in such developed countries as the USA, France and others (Lewis, 2003). These communities feel excluded and they are simply unwilling to participate in political life and their interests remain not represented, especially at the national level. Eventually, such a situation leads to the marginalization of underrepresented groups that provokes social conflicts which may outgrow in, growing crime rates, riots and social disobedience. Hence, the involvement of all people in elections becomes the opportunity to solve these problems because through voting for certain political forces people get their representatives in the political power.

Media and public opinion

The problem of the lack of political participation and underrepresentation is closely intertwined with the dominant political culture, traditions, public opinion and media. Remarkably, mass media can influence, if not to say, shape culture, traditions and, above all, public opinion. Consequently, mass media become strategically important for political parties in their electoral campaigns since they can influence the public opinion that means that they can influence voting outcomes.

At the same time, it should be said that mass media influence the public opinion and shape views of people. As a result, mass media can shape certain stereotypes and beliefs which can influence political views and preferences of people that may lead to exclusion of certain social groups form the political life of society. For instance, if some groups are ignored by mass media or depicted from the negative point of view, these groups naturally get excluded from the political life since their representatives cannot gain the support of voters sufficient to take a seat in a parliament or take an office (Castoriadis, 1991). Representatives of such groups also feel excluded and they do become outcasts in the political life under the impact of media because they do not trust politicians and, what is more important, they grow disenchanted with the entire political system, including elections and their voting. In such a way, they simply disbelief politicians and their promises to change their life for better.

Furthermore, mass media can be used by political forces to get advantage during electoral campaigns. In democratic countries, political parties or forces cannot directly influence the position of mass media. Instead, political forces should create news issues or organize their electoral campaign in such a way that mass media draw the attention of the audience to the specific political force which attempts to promote itself through media. In fact, all political forces use mass media today since it is the most effective way to influence the consciousness of people and define their choice. In this respect, political forces of undemocratic countries amply use mass media as means of propaganda. In such a situation, electoral campaigns and elections become absolutely useless since they do not really mirror the current needs and interests of people. Instead, elections become the tool to get the legal power in a country, since, being under the influence of propaganda, people cannot make conscious choices.

In actuality, mass media may have a similar effect on the electorate in democratic countries as well, but mass media in democratic countries are characterized by pluralism of political views and a variety of political forces can have access to media (Chomsky, 1993). On the other hand, it is important to understand that the electoral campaigns need considerable financial resources, especially if political forces use mass media in abundance. In such a context, the funding of electoral campaigns becomes crucial for the overall success of campaigns because the effective funding enlarges possibility of political forces to organize promotional campaigns and use mass media.

Funding of campaigns

The funding of electoral campaigns is very important because votes are important but not a single political force can get sufficient amount of votes to get access to the political power, if it is not funded properly. In other words, to get political power or, at least, representation in political power, political forces need money. At this point, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the funding of campaigns, sources of funding and spending of funds by political forces is crucial for the organization of fair and democratic elections.

The funding of electoral campaign is strictly regulated in democratic countries and political forces cannot use illegal funds in their campaign because the violation of legal norms implies not only legal responsibility of political forces, but it also undermines their public image. It proves beyond a doubt that people will not support the political force which is cheating with funding of its electoral campaign. On the other hand, today, it is very difficult to trace the funding of political campaigns and political forces attempt to maximize their funding and use all possible means to fund their campaigns (Castoriadis, 1991). In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that Presidential campaigns in the USA grew more and more expensive and every new campaign within the last couple of decades was more expensive than the previous one (Lewis, 2003). This means that political campaigns become expensive that implies that political forces need more funds to finance campaigns because without funding they cannot win. At this point, it is possible to speak about a kind of vicious circle since, on the one hand, political campaigns need more funding and they become a serious burden for the entire society because directly or indirectly practically all people are involved in funding of electoral campaigns. On the other hand, the funding of campaigns is essential for the overall win of political forces.

At first glance, there is nothing wrong with growing funds of electoral campaigns. But it is important to understand that the higher costs of campaigns increase the risk of corruption and inadequate representation of interests by political forces. To put it more precisely, today, high costs of political campaigns make political forces dependent on those groups or individuals who sponsor electoral campaigns.

Obviously, the rich have more opportunities to fund electoral campaigns since they have more financial resources. Even though the funding of electoral campaigns is strictly regulated and, as a rule, there are limitation on funding by individuals and organizations, but specialists (Van Bergen, 2004) argue that these limitations can be overcome. As a result, the rich get more political influence, while the poor remain underrepresented because political forces feel their responsibility in regard to those who fund their electoral campaigns. In such a situation, interests of sponsors and voters can come into clashes and political forces may face a dilemma which interests to represent (Michaels, 2002). The support and representation of interests of voters would be logical, but the increased role of mass media allows political forces to use them to manipulate with public opinion and the main tool which enhances such manipulations is money. Hence, the uncontrollable funding of electoral campaigns can undermine fundamental democratic principles of elections and sharpen the antagonism between different groups in society.

Technological innovations

At the same time, mass media and funding are not the only factors that can influence electoral campaigns and voting and, thus, elections at large. In the modern world, the role of technologies has increased substantially and technologies play more and more important role in elections today. In this respect, it is possible to dwell upon modern electoral campaigns which have already gone beyond traditional mass media. Due to the development of information technologies and telecommunications, electoral campaigns have entered successfully Internet which is a relatively new medium. In actuality, Internet is very prospective for political campaigns and elections because it allows offering voters new philosophy of electoral campaigns. For instance, today, many political forces offer the possibility to trace electoral campaign online 24/7 (Stewart, 2004). As a result, voters feel that they are not only observers but they are practically participants of electoral campaigns. In addition, they get more opportunities to get information on different candidates and political parties, which they could not get via conventional media. Moreover, new technologies allow communication between political forces and electorate.

In addition, Internet can be used in the process of voting. In fact, developed countries tend to introduce online voting along with conventional voting. In such a way, electronic voting becomes more and more popular, especially among the youth, which traditionally remained passive in relation to elections. On the other hand, electronic voting is highly controversial and it has both advantages and disadvantages. Hence, electronic voting is still not always applied en mass and, as a rule, voters have a choice between conventional or electronic voting.

In fact, electronic voting simplifies the procedure of voting. People can vote online, even if they are abroad. Moreover, electronic voting speeds up calculations of votes and outcomes of elections can be known sooner compared to conventional voting. However, some voters, especially the elderly population, are not accustomed to electronic voting. They are unwilling to change their habits and, what is more, they may have technical difficulties with electronic voting that increases the risk of error in the process of voting. The latter may influence outcomes of voting. Nevertheless, electronic voting is likely to replace gradually conventional voting and the system will be reliable enough to minimize the risk of error or any external interference that may influence outcomes of voting and, therefore, elections.

Conclusion

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that elections remain the milestone of modern democracy. People participate in elections that allow them to get political representation. In such a way, people can influence and define the political development of their country as well as their community since elections are hold at different levels from local to national. However, some groups of voters may remain underrepresented in political life and their participation in elections becomes the main possibility to represent their interests in the political power. Finally, it should be said that new technologies, mass media and funding play extremely important role in modern elections and they influence substantially not only electoral campaigns but also the process of voting.

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