Presidential elections

Presidential Elections

  • The US Presidential Election takes place every four years on the first Tuesday in November.
  • Candidates are selected through a process called primaries and caucuses, which vary by state and by party.
  • The result of the primary and caucus races is determined at party conventions where the presidential nominee is typically announced.

The Electoral College

  • The President is not elected by a direct popular vote but by an Electoral College.
  • There are 538 electors in total, corresponding to the 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors from the District of Columbia.
  • To win, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes.
  • All states, except Maine and Nebraska, operate a ‘winner-takes-all’ system where the candidate with the highest number of votes in the state takes all the Electoral College votes.

The Primaries and the Caucuses

  • Primaries and caucuses are intra-party elections, where voters registered with a political party select that party’s candidate for the general election.
  • Primaries are direct, state-wide votes, while caucuses are local gatherings where votes are often public and not secret.
  • Primaries are either open (voters do not need to be party members) or closed (only party members can vote).
  • These processes tend to start in smaller states like Iowa and New Hampshire before moving onto larger, more diverse states.

The Great Mentioner, Invisible Primary and “the Field”

  • A lot of the initial stages of campaigning involve candidates trying to work out if they have enough support to run. This is sometimes called the Great Mentioner and Invisible Primary.
  • The field refers to the initial larger group of potential candidates, which gradually whittles down to the most serious contenders as the primaries and caucuses begin.

The National Conventions

  • Once the primaries and caucuses are over, each party hosts a national convention.
  • At this event, the delegate votes are counted and the candidate with the most votes becomes the party’s official nominee.
  • The party’s vice presidential nominee, party platform (ideological stance and policy proposals), and other party business are also decided at the convention.

The General Election

  • Following the conventions, the general election campaign begins in earnest with the nominees of each party campaigning across the country.
  • In the general election, citizens vote for their preferred president, but technically they’re voting for electors, who pledge to vote for a particular candidate in the Electoral College.
  • The candidate who wins a majority of votes in the Electoral College is declared the President.

Swing States and Safe States

  • Swing states, or battleground states, are those where either major political party has a good chance of winning. Candidates tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources in these states.
  • Safe states are those that consistently vote for the same party in presidential elections.

The Role of Third Parties

  • Third parties have occasionally impacted electoral outcomes, but have never won a presidential election.
  • The two-party system is entrenched due to the ‘winner-takes-all’ system of the Electoral College, which makes it difficult for third-party candidates to gain traction.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

  • The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an agreement among several US states and the District of Columbia to award all their respective electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote.
  • As of now, the NPVIC has not yet taken effect as it does not have the requisite number of states (those accounting for at least 270 electoral votes) to initiate the compact.