The Australian media must be the most ignorant in the world. They devote metres of newsprint and months of airtime to covering the US elections, but they have only the vaguest notion of how the US system works. Sometimes, I wonder if they have even the vaguest notion. Then again, even our local "experts" from the press gallery appear to have no knowledge of how our local parliaments work, so it is little wonder that they say the stupidest things about the US elections.
Here is the first lesson in US politics vs Australian politics. In Australia, MPs vote along party lines almost all the time. If someone crosses the floor, or if the leaders give them a conscience vote, then it is big news. We get a bit of horse-trading in the Senate when the lunatics have the balance of power, but otherwise, the Labor, Liberal and National members tend to toe the party line almost all the time.
In the US, things are not like that. Take the recent bail-out bill. Many appeared not to notice it, but 1/3 of the Republicans voted for it and something like 2/3 of the Democrats voted for it, but that was not enough for it to pass first time around. What none of our idiot commentariat seemed to notice is that 1/3 of the Democrat members and 1/3 of the Republican members defied their party and crossed the floor one way or the other.
One third! That is unheard of in other western democracies like Australian and the UK. This is why around election time, so much emphasis is put on the voting record of US politicians. No one has ever bothered to study the voting record of Malcolm Turnbull, because he would never have thought about crossing the floor and voting with Labor on an issue.
So the first big lesson is that party discipline is very weak in the US. You have Reagan Democrats and RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). You have Democrats who vote to the left on economic policy and to the right on social policy - and the other way around. You have Republicans from states that are nominally Democrat, and they vote like Democrats a lot of the time. Similiary, Democrats from nominally Republican areas seem to be much further to the right than Democrats from socialist enclaves.
It doesn't always mean much when one party ends up with more seats in Congress than the other, because they may find that a lot of their members vote the other way on certain issues. There is a lot of crap being sprouted at the moment about regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Democrats are trying to pin the blame on the Republicans by saying that "they controlled Congress" after the Gingrich revolution. Yes, they had the numbers on paper, but that does not mean that they actually had the numbers to pass legislation. If some Republicans defected (as enough did), then the legislation to tighten up controls on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were defeated. And they were defeated.
It's sometimes said that the UK and the US are two countries separated by a common language. The idea behind that statement is that just because we share the same mother tongue, it doesn't mean that we are alike. Our idiots in the media think that because the Yanks speak English, they are just like us. Yes, in some ways they are - but in a lot of ways, they aren't. You can't just assume that we are alike in all ways.
Take beer for example. People from both countries enjoy a beer, but I would not call most of the mass-market American beverages "beer". It looks like beer, sometimes smells like beer, but it is not beer.
Their parliamentary system is the same. They have a Senate, and we have a Senate (since we copied it from the Yanks). They have a two party system, just like us. But that is where the comparisons end. From that point on, US politics bear as much resemblance to ours as say the politics of Azhabaijan.