The last few years in politics have been chaotic, to say the least, here at home but also around the world. There is a global movement towards authoritarianism – and Donald Trump did not start this slide. From Viktor Orbán to Brexit to Bolsonaro, populist nationalism has spread, country to country. Candidates internationally have tapped into the stresses that many in the middle have been feeling: left behind by globalization and discounted by elites in power.
But there is hope.
The good news is that the elections of leaders who have emboldened and legitimized extremists — one after another — have also catalyzed a response from progressives on a global scale. After Brexit, young people voted in record numbers in the 2017 Parliamentary elections — a reaction to Brexit but also to American results in 2016. In the EU’s elections this spring, some nationalist parties made gains, but many moderates and pro-Europeans did, too. In South Asia, several countries have elected progressive leaders who are holding back religious extremists and corrupt oligarchs.
Over the past several years, the 270 Strategies team has had the opportunity to be on the frontlines with many progressive leaders around the world, and even in this tumultuous environment, we’re helping them win.
How are they winning?
First and foremost, progressives must stay focused on the issues voters care about and build community by talking to neighbors and friends. In several recent elections, winning progressives across the globe have also focused on restoring trust in electoral institutions that make our societies stronger and more democratic.
While concern about Russian intrusion into US elections persist, people are actually questioning the security of elections everywhere around the world. And concerns about election fraud — some legitimate, some not — can decrease turnout. In South Africa and Ghana, 270 helped opposition parties build parallel vote count systems, a tactic to hold election bodies accountable for getting the results right and increase the integrity of elections. Sharing knowledge across countries, despite the big differences in voting and election systems, is valuable.
We don’t want people to throw up their hands and not vote. By empowering people to hold election officials accountable, we can stop cheating with impunity and increase turnout. And empowering people is a key way to build community.
My favorite recent example of an engaged community was on assignment in a South Asian election. In that country, polling districts are quite small, often serving 200 to 2,000 voters. Polling hours are only from 7am to 2pm on election day — a spectacularly short timeframe for everyone to vote.
Once the polls were closed and TV stations began to announce results, I realized that the entire day was a community celebration. Around the country, citizens would vote and then stick around at the local polling station until counting began in the afternoon. Poll workers would pull out each ballot in front of the assembled neighborhood so everyone gathered could see how their community voted. No one knew who voted for whom, but everyone knew the local result. The celebration of democracy was a delight to watch, and I kept thinking, “With the whole neighborhood watching, it’s pretty hard to cheat! Lots of people know the local tally, and they can check to be sure the officially reported results match.”
At a time where we as a global community feel further and further apart from one another, there are many things that continue to tie us together. The issues that we care about regarding elections here in the United States transcend borders, and we are proud to join in the work being done across the world to make elections safe, fair, and accessible.