The President of the U.S.A.

How do the Americans elect their President?

The system of electing a president is a highly complex system that many Americans only vaguely comprehend. Let us take a look at the basic steps in this formidable race for the world's most powerful position.

Checking the Opportunity
Definitely, the very first step a potential candidate will take is to find out how much support he will find for his candidacy. Whether a Republican or a Democrat this is very important! The usual way of doing this is to engage in the debates on national issues. He may attack the policies of the current President (if he is from the opposing party). Lending the ear to and supporting central state and local party-members will also be important. Opinion polls tell the wannabe candidate if the tide goes in his favor, and if so, he may end up by

Declaring his Candidacy
There may be different reasons why politicians do want to do this. Of course, the reason may be as simple as they really want to be the President – and do believe they have a fair chance to succeed. However, some candidates have in mind that they can use their candidacy for other political purposes. Declaring one's candidacy is significant since only official candidates can qualify for federal financial assistance, and only official candidates are entitled to raise money to support their campaigns. The financial ability is crucial to be able to launch expensive television advertising campaigns, etc.

The Primaries (Primary Elections) and the Choice of Delegates
Do remember that the struggle is so far between the candidates from the same party! The declared delegates have to struggle hard within both parties (Democratic/Republican) to become their party's elected presidential candidate. The exception is when a party has the current President in office for his first term, i.e. the Republican Party and George W. Bush in 2004. In such a situation there will usually be no internal opposition to the President, and he will almost automatically be re-elected as his party's candidate. In short, primaries are preliminary elections that narrow the choice of candidates for the final presidential vote. All the 50 states have primary elections (or: caucuses) and each of the states have a certain number of delegates according to the size of the population. Delegates are everyday citizens associated with political parties. Candidates who win from state to state earn a certain number of delegates, who are then required to vote for that particular candidate at the party convention where the final presidential nominee is chosen. The number of delegates to be awarded the winning candidate in each party depends on the regulations of each state. Some states use the winner-take-all method where the losing primary candidate receives no delegates even if he lost the race in that state by one percentage point. Other states use a proportional system awarded on the percentage of votes each candidate earned. Traditionally, the New Hampshire primary has been very important. It is one of the first primaries and it gives an early indication of which candidate can muster the most support. When the primary elections are done, the next step in the process will be

The National Conventions
will decide which candidate will have the right to represent the party in the presidential election. Officially, delegates assemble at the convention to cast their votes. For the first vote, most delegates will vote for whom they represent, according to the pledge they took. Usually, after the first vote, the one candidate overwhelmingly chosen in the public vote is also chosen in the delegate vote and becomes the official presidential nominee (like John Kerry at the '04 Convention). However, there may also be a bitter fight among the delegates in which many ballots are needed before one candidate is declared the winner. The delegates also choose the candidate for Vice-President, and they write the party platform, which is a statement of the party's stand on major issues. As previously mentioned a President running for re-election usually receives the automatic support of his party. After the national conventions each of the two parties have nominated their presidential candidates, and they are ready start

The Campaign
The election campaign lasts from mid-summer, after the conventions, until Election Day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. After the presidential candidates for each party have been selected at the two party conventions, campaigning begins in earnest. Now the fight is between parties rather than within them. The candidates travel all over the country explaining details of their platform and trying to convince voters to elect them as President. It is extremely important for the candidates to do what they can to secure victory in the swing states, i.e. states which nobody knows who will win according to former elections and present polls. A real high point of the campaign is the series of face-to-face television debates where the candidates must argue their positions on major issues. Eventually, the candidates will have to sit down and await the final result of the

Election Day
is on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. All US-citizens aged eighteen and over are eligible to vote. However, the voting system is a bit complicated. Every state has a certain number of electoral votes, or representatives to the Electoral College who are pledged to support the candidate preferred by the majority of voters. The number of electoral votes varies from state to state according to the size of the population. This makes it really important to win the majority of votes in the most populated states, and it is a first-past-the-post system which means that the candidate with a simple majority gets all the electoral votes of the state. This makes it possible for a candidate to win the election without having won a majority of the votes. This was the case in the 2000-election when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush even if Mr. Gore had almost half a million more votes.

Finally – Inauguration Day
On January 20 the new President is sworn into office, and the preparations for the next presidential race are about to begin...

A Primary Election vs a Caucus
A caucus is a primary that is limited to registered party members only. Members vote for delegates to the county and state conventions at small party meetings across the state. Those delegates then select representatives to go to the national party convention. The delegates who go to the national convention cast the actual votes for the candidates they want to run for office.
Only 14 states hold presidential caucuses instead of primaries. Some states have recently moved to a caucus system from a primary system to save money, as fewer voters take part in caucuses.

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