The 2024 Planetary Electoral Conjunction

This year, a mere numerical coincidence in the electoral calendar has been blown out of proportion by the media to mythic dimensions, reinterpreted as if it were an astral omen, all under a shroud of alarmist sensationalism.

Welcome to the Greatest Electoral Year in History.

 

Since last November, a news story has been rolling around, capturing the attention of newspapers and news broadcasts around the world: 2024 is the year with the highest number of elections in the history of modern democracy. The numbers are, without a doubt, staggering: 70 countries, home to four and a half billion people, are holding a total of 82 elections this year. The media coverage has been extensive, highlighting this phenomenon as an unprecedented event and branding 2024 as the “bumper election year,” a slogan that is now copied and repeated ad nauseam.

That the media have given such significance to this event is unusual: although elections are always in the news, the coverage is usually about a particular contest, with analyses focusing on what will happen if candidate X beats candidate Y in the country in question. However, the news now focuses on a widespread phenomenon, an event that concerns elections across the globe as a collective whole.

In this blog, I have written about the elections precisely from this perspective, not focusing on specific instances but on their general characteristics. I was then pleased to see that the mainstream media addressed this topic from a novel angle. But just because the angle is novel does not mean that its development has been appropriate.

The first thing has to do with the context of those numbers. Throwing absolute figures at the public has become a favorite maneuver of the media and politicians, and in this case, the same thing happens again. Among all those notes proclaiming the avalanche of elections in 2024, none took the trouble to compare this year’s numbers with those of previous years – an absolutely trivial but necessary exercise.

“If this year is so special for having 80 elections, maybe in a normal year there are about… 20?” – my sister speculated during a conversation about this news a few days ago. A perfectly reasonable inference from the grandiloquent tone accompanying the journalistic notes.

However, a quick internet search reveals that, over the last decade, the worldwide average of elections has been 72 per year, reaching 78 last year. This average is expected to remain at similar levels in the coming years.

With this context, the number of elections in 2024 loses its novelty aura, revealing itself more as a slight variation within the normal fluctuation of electoral calendars. Nevertheless, the media, either out of laziness or in search of sensationalism, again omit to present all the relevant information, leading the public to think that this year they might be witnessing a genuinely extraordinary event.

The fascination with setting records is innate in us, but it is crucial to recognize that not all records are equal. In this case, reaching the “record” of elections is not the result of a conscious effort, like improving a time in a 100-meter race, nor does it mark a significant milestone in a relevant process, as was the case in 2023 when it became the hottest year on record. The high number of elections in 2024 is, rather, a coincidence.

Alright: we live in a world where the relentless search for clicks dominates the media landscape, and omitting context is just a minor slip. Let’s then embrace the spectacle of this electoral year. But what approach do newsrooms choose to develop this news? Unfortunately, the media’s choice has been to opt for a superficial and uninspired treatment.

After reviewing the coverage of this issue in numerous media outlets, what stands out is a tendency to cover the cluster of quasi-simultaneous elections as if it were an astrological portent. And so, just as astrologers claim that the conjunction of Mars, Venus, and Mercury influences the romantic destinies of earthly Capricorns, today’s journalists seem to insinuate that if Iran, Togo, and Panama decide to hold their elections in the same year, perhaps, just perhaps, we are on the verge of some sort of cosmic cataclysm on our modest planet.

Deutsche Welle, usually known for its balanced reporting, perfectly exemplifies the alarmist tone also adopted by other news outlets. Their half-hour video titled “The Biggest Election Year in History: Will Democracy Survive 2024?” starts by insinuating that the simultaneity of so many elections represents a challenge to democracy, one that could even break the system. Instead of delivering on their promise and explaining why our favorite mechanism for organizing our societies could end up collapsing them, they present us with a catalog of upcoming elections, with no more depth than a tourist brochure: Taiwan, India, South Africa, Mexico, the European Union, and the United States.

No news analysis escapes this simplistic approach; all of them limit themselves to selecting a half dozen countries and then superficially describing the contenders, labeling which is from the far left and which is from the far right. The few sources attempting to offer a broader view just pile up the clichés of our time under one umbrella: “fake news,” artificial intelligence, and the rise of authoritarianism as universal threats.

What a missed opportunity! Instead of resorting to the obvious, this was the ideal moment to foster debates on the positive and negative aspects of the entire set of elections, beyond specific cases. What was truly crucial was to recognize the wide spectrum of practices and effects of these elections. With such a diverse sample, it should be clearer than ever that some elections are superior to others, and that, as a whole, they are proving to be increasingly less effective in achieving what they promise.

In 2018, I wrote a note on the elections in Mexico and was surprised to discover that the country used a single-round system, where the winner is simply whoever gets the most votes. Accustomed to the two-round system in Colombia, I was shocked that a serious country would adopt a procedure that was clearly inferior. The mere fact of comparing two systems so different was revealing and prompted me to critically question these processes. With the coverage of the 2024 elections, this year presented itself as a perfect opportunity to carry out that comparative analysis on a larger scale and reach a wider audience.

News cycles are fleeting, and something tells me that, in a few months, the fervor for “the biggest election year in history” will be just a memory, one of those filler news pieces with which newspapers kicked off 2024. The only elections that really generate uncertainty and will have a global impact are those in the United States on November 4th. The elections immediately preceding in Mozambique, Uruguay, and Georgia (the country) stand no chance of stealing a paragraph from what’s happening in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia (the state). I wouldn’t bet that the elections in Palau, scheduled just a week after the American ones, will grab the international headlines’ spotlight.

The title of Deutsche Welle’s video isn’t entirely wrong; it’s just that the poison elections carry is infiltrating very slowly. Something resembling democracy will continue to exist in many parts of the world at the end of this year and this decade. But that “something” will become increasingly fractured and imperfect, further and further away from truly democratic ideals. We need to free ourselves from the dopamine rush that scandalous headlines give us to observe more calmly why the elections, as a whole, continue to succumb to the weight of the societies we have decided to build upon them.

1 Comment

  • Posted March 21, 2024
    by Rodrigo

    El arte de la “programática”… propio de los fake News… lo que es rentable con un titular escandaloso y llamativo (en el mejor de los casos, superficial e impreciso y no falso como en otros) lo que busca es el mayor número de lectores, tiempo en el portal y clicks para monetizar el contenido! Saludos desde Colombia!

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