Today, the citizens of the world’s most powerful state will go the polls to vote for the next President of the United States; here’s everything you’ll need to know.

The Basics

Despite the existence of other parties and candidates, the US election system is essentially a two-party system: the the Democratic Party, led by Barack Obama; and the Republican party, led by Mitt Romney, who with both be sparing off for the White House. Both parties are situated on the centre-right of the political spectrum. These presidential candidates were chosen earlier this year via state primaries or causes, which is where each parties’ state supports choses its respective candidate; the only constitutional requirements being that the person is 35 years old, a natural-born US citizen as well as a resident for 14 years. The election will occur on the 6th November with the winning candidate officially elected on December 17th and inaugurated on January 20th 2013.

How It Works

The US presidential election works using a system called the Electoral College. Essentially, this where each state is given a set number of Electoral College votes (or electors) which is largely proportional to its respective population size; states such such as California and Texas, get a lot of votes – 55 and 36 respectively – whilst smaller states, such as Rhode Island, get a small amount with each state having a minimum of three electors. In almost all states, apart from Maine and Nebraska, there is a winner-takes-all-system. This means, for example, that if the majority of districts in California vote for Obama in November (which is very likely), all 55 Electoral College votes will go to him. Overall, the vote is carried out by a total of 538 electors, meaning a candidate has to achieve a majority – over 270 Electoral College votes – in order to win the presidency.

The Swing States

In the US election, it is common to hear of blue states and red states. These are states that tend to traditionally vote for a certain party during presidential elections. For example, California is considered a blue state (typically Democratic) whereas Alabama is considered a red state (typically Republican). As a rule, the democratic strongholds are coastal and urban populous states whilst the red states are the more rural states in the mid-west and south. All in all, the Democrats are guaranteed 186 votes through this with the Republicans ahead on 191.

This means that only a few of the 200 million eligible voters will actually decide the election result, as only 161 votes are on offer. These are the unpredictable swing states, which have no pattern for voting a certain way. Ohio is a key example – having voted with the Republicans in 2000 and 2004, but then with the Democrats in 2008. These purple states electoral votes really matters, as winning them can swing the election in a candidate’s favour and, thus, is where the states where most campaigning is based.

An example of how important swing states can be was seen in 2000, where the final result of the election in which George W. Bush won – beating Al Gore – came down to a mere 540 votes in Florida.

It’s The Economy, Stupid!

Taxes, healthcare, foreign affairs, energy security, immigration; there are a variety of issues that will make an appearance during the US election. However, there is one issue that will dominant; the economy. Over 80% of potential voters have rated it the most important matter for the parties’ campaigns; even more so this year with the economy recovery still limping, a stagnant housing market, growing federal debt and 28% of people still worried about unemployment.

Congress + Deadlock

It’s not just the presidential position being contested this November, but also all the seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate seats. These elections, which will both be using the first-past-the-post system, are on a district and state level respectively. For the House, they are voting a Congressman to represent their district for two years – they can either be re-elected or lose their seat in two years at the midterm elections. There is also another chamber in Congress called the Senate, with two Senators per state. Senators have a longer fixed term of six years, so every two years a third of the Senate comes up for re-election.

Despite little attention, these elections could be crucial to the President. The US political system is one built on checks and balances to ensure no one part of the state becomes too powerful; so without control of the House and Senate, policy-making can reach an impasse. Currently, this has been an issue with a Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate, meaning few bills were passed; known as a “do-nothing Congress”

The US Presidential Election will be held on Tuesday 6th November. TODAY!

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