Who cares who wins, just don't be a sore loser

Public apathy
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The Independent US

There is a reason cricket never took root in the sports-mad United States. Matches just take too long. They don't mind if contests are close - the best basketball games here are rarely decided until the last moment - but most Americans do like to have a clear winner before bedtime.

There is a reason cricket never took root in the sports-mad United States. Matches just take too long. They don't mind if contests are close - the best basketball games here are rarely decided until the last moment - but most Americans do like to have a clear winner before bedtime.

It is a little puzzling, therefore, that the country has shown such forbearance with events since election day on 7 November. Signs of impatience are now beginning to surface, but only barely.

There are reasons. When you have a campaign that lasts the best part of a year, what do another few weeks matter? And in this respect at least, the founding fathers seem to have been thoroughly helpful. Such is the length of transition built in between polling day and inauguration on 20 January, it is not as if the country is without a government. Bill Clinton is still in charge.

The contrast with the British system is obvious. It is not just that we are used to short campaigns and an instant winner. We also expect the moving vans to be in and out of Downing Street the next day.

It has hardly rung true, therefore, when the Bush camp has tried to depict a country on the brink of crisis. On Tuesday, James Baker, the former Republican Secretary of State, looked daft when he cited turmoil in the markets as a reason to rush to some conclusion. Viewers only had to look at their screens to see that, on that particular day, the Dow Jones had risen very nicely.

Polls last week showed Americans evenly divided between the Bush view that votes already counted in Florida (plus the foreign absentee ballots) should decide who is the winner and the Gore position that more time was needed to allow the courts to decide the status of manual recounts. That makes sense too. It just reflects how precisely divided voters were between the candidates in the first place.

But the balance will not last for ever, which has to be Mr Gore's greatest concern. And it is not just that people will start to get bored. Americans also don't like sore losers and if the perception starts to take hold that the Vice-President is merely putting off eventual defeat, many will not forgive him.

And there are signs that he is beginning to lose the argument. An ABC/ Washington Post poll on Friday showed 57 per cent of adults concluding that it had become more important to find a quick way to end the deadlock than to allow a lengthy review. At the same time, nearly half of those questioned admitted that they didn't really expect a fair result to emerge from Florida anyway.

At least there was this for Mr Gore: 56 per cent in the poll said the results of recounts by hand should be included in the final results for Florida. But at the same time, 51 per cent said they disapproved of the way the Democrats were handling the crisis, while 48 per cent said the same of the Republicans.

One thing is for sure: when Americans carve their Thanksgiving turkeys this Thursday, the last people they want to see on their televisions are Warren Christopher and Mr Baker.

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