In the New Year the U.S will once more begin the long drawn out process of electing a president. The eventual winner will become head of state of one of the world’s most ethnically diverse, largest and richest nations. They will also become commander-in-chief of the U.S Armed Forces; the most formidable military power in world history.
But it’s a long way to the top. Whilst the general election will take place in early November 2012, in reality, candidates are likely to have been trying to drum up support for the last couple of years. The system is quite complicated, but it can be summed up in the following two parts.
Finding a candidate – the Primaries
Each of the two main parties, Democratic and Republican, must select a presidential candidate. Presidential candidates are largely chosen by elections in each state known as ‘Primaries’, but eleven states use a slightly different ‘Caucus’ system. Hopefuls from each party battle it out over the primary season that runs from January to June, travelling up and down the country vying for the support of their party members. The votes from all the states are collected and the winner is picked by party delegates at each party’s national convention in late August or early September.
Over the course of October a series of televised debates take place, something we saw occur in the UK for the first time at the last general election here.
Finding a president – the General Election
With the two candidates in place, on this day voters from each state will vote indirectly for their chosen candidate by voting for so called “electors”, who are part of the 538 representative strong “Electoral College”. These electors will have pledged support to one of the candidates prior to the general election. It is their votes that ultimately count; to become president the candidate must receive support from at least 270 electors. Put simply, the American people effectively choose someone – who supports the same candidate as they do – to vote on their behalf.
The Democratic Party this year has revealed that there will be no challenge to current president Barack Obama. So at this early stage one of the presidential candidates is already known for the 2012 campaign. For the Republican Party, it is a different story. They now have 8 contenders, with the top three most popular, according to the latest polls; Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney. The current favourite Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, an extremely powerful position in U.S politics. He is also a former winner of Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” award and was a key figure in Bill Clinton’s reign as president. His highly publicised affair with a staffer in the U.S House of Representatives in the early 1990s, does not seem to be hindering his popularity. On the contrary, focusing on ‘common sense ideas’, deficit reduction, and job creation seems to have struck a chord with Republican members.
For Obama, a lot has changed since he took up presidency in 2008. His popularity has waned significantly, with recent polls reflecting that 40% of U.S voters strongly disapprove of the way he is performing his role as president. This is in comparison to a figure of 13% in mid 2009. For some, this is indication that the 2012 election may be a very hotly contested affair.
What is clear is that the next eventual president of the United States will face some severe challenges by the time of inauguration on the 20th of January 2013. Perhaps most importantly, they will have to combat unemployment rate of 8.6%, a figure slightly more than in the UK, and a truly enormous national debt of $15 trillion.
Words: Adam Pegler