US Elections: An Overview

By Ciaran Hanvey. 21 Apr 2016

January 2017 will mark a new era for American Politics. On the other hand, it will mark the end of the historic Obama Administration which began in January 2008. When the US picks a president, it is not only choosing a head of state but also a head of government and the commander-in-chief of the largest military on the planet.

Who Can Be President?

To run for President, you have to be a natural born US citizen, at least 35 years old and been a resident within the US for 14 years. You might be thinking well that’s simple, so anyone can be president. Well you are wrong. In the modern world it takes millions of dollars and the backing of political party to wage a successful campaign. Since 1933, every president, has been a governor, senator, or five-star military general prior to taking up office, so it is unlikely that any Tom, Dick or Harry will become President.

Who gets the presidential nomination for each party?

American politics is dominated by Two Parties, the Republicans and The Democrats. The Republicans are often regarded as more conservative whereas The Democrats are regarded as traditionally being more liberal. A series of elections take place in every US State, the first ones normally take place in February. These elections determine who becomes each party’s official presidential candidate. The winner of each election collects a number of ‘delegates’; the more state elections a candidate wins the more delegates will be pledged to support them. To become the republican candidate 1,237 delegates are needed whereas the Democratic contender must secure 2,383. By the end of this month, most states will have voted and there will be a clear leader in the conquest for presidential candidacy for both parties. Candidates are normally made official in the summer, around July time. If a majority is not achieved by this point there will be a lot of interparty politics to sort out the candidate. The final event before voting day is usually three separate televised Presidential Debates, 6 weeks before votes are cast on 8th November. During these Debates the two candidates reaffirm their potential policies and plans of action for when they potentially become president.

How does voting work?

The candidate with the most votes in each state becomes the candidate which that state supports for president. Each state has a certain number of electors, based on their population in the most recent census. When citizens vote for their presidential candidate they’re actually voting for the electors which are pledged to either candidate. If you ask me, American politics is way more complicated than British politics so I’ll stop acting like I actually have the foggiest idea about what really goes on in the USA. How does a US election compare to a UK one? The first major difference is that the UK is a parliamentary democracy rather than a presidential one, meaning that the prime minister is the head of government but not the head of state. As part of the process within the UK the prime minister must visit the Queen (who is head of state) to inform her that parliament has been dissolved. Election campaigns in the USA are vastly superior in length, lasting nearly a year. In contrast, the formal election campaign within the UK is just over five weeks long. A major difference between the two nations is that a Prime Minister can serve as long as their party keeps winning elections whereas American presidents can only serve two terms.

To me as an outsider, American politics seems way more complex than British politics yet it seems to possess more characters. Let’s be honest, he might be morally inept and the last person who should be considered for candidacy, but Donald Trump has spiced up this 2016 election campaign and I can’t wait to see the final result in November, even if the outcome doesn’t affect me.