At times, it can feel as if British and American politics are on converging paths. After all, both the United States and the United Kingdom experienced seismic votes in 2016. The outcomes of both—the decision to leave the European Union in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S.—have been attributed, at least in part, to a growing polarization and division within their respective societies. Both countries are led by men who are seen as encapsulating these divisions.
And now, both are headed for elections.
But that is where the similarities stop. For while the two votes will revisit the issues that have embroiled both countries since 2016—in the U.S., Trump is up for reelection amid an inquiry into whether he should be impeached; in the U.K., the issue of Brexit remains at the fore—they also reveal fundamental differences between these two democracies.
This isn’t to say parallels don’t exist. In fact, a number of U.S.-style electoral practices have made their way across the pond in recent years—including, perhaps most notably, the televised debate. Though they have been a ubiquitous part of American presidential races since the late ’50s, the format wasn’t introduced in Britain until the 2010 general election. At the time, the inaugural three-way debate between the leaders of the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties was regarded by some as the “presidentialising of British politics.” Televised debates have since become a more common part of the country’s electoral system. This year’s election campaign has already featured several of them.