Your Guide to the US Presidential Elections 2016 – Top ten things to understand

Are you the kind of person who hears about ‘Super Tuesday’ and ‘primaries’ and groans internally? We understand your pain! First off, you can’t make sense of all this blinding political jargon, and secondly, even if you try, you have no idea where to start learning from!

We’re here to resolve your Catch-22. The US Presidential Elections is not a simple process, and even many Americans find it hard to understand themselves. Here are the 10 key things you need to know about the 2016 US presidential election to make sense of what’s happening.

Your Guide to the US Presidential Elections – Top ten things to understand

1. The Big picture

The US Presidential elections involves multiple stages spanning an almost two-year duration, starting with candidates announcing their intentions of contesting, moving on to the nomination of final Presidential candidates by the major parties, followed by the actual election and ending with the swearing in.

The key thing to keep in mind about the US Presidential elections is that it is an indirect election. This ‘indirect’ nature is observed in both the major stages – nomination as well as election.

Besides, it may help to know in brief the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. The Republican thought process is usually more conservative, or right wing, and favours lesser expense on welfare, banning abortion and gun ownership for all. Contrarily, the Democratic ideology is more accommodative of new ideas, being supportive of a welfare or socialist leaning policy, pro abortion, and anti-guns. Obviously, the differences between the parties are more nuanced many other subtle differences exist even in the ideologies of the same party. However, this broad picture is a good introduction to American politics.

2. What exactly is the ‘nomination’ process?

Prior to nomination, any candidate who meets the basic eligibility requirements is an acceptable candidate for US President (also known as POTUS). Nomination is a process of clearing the field of candidates by choosing specific candidates to represent their corresponding parties. In today’s 2016 US Presidential election, we see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both contesting as members of the Democratic party. Nomination is the process by which one of these two will be chosen as the ‘Presidential candidate of the Democratic party’.

3. What are caucuses and primaries?

Rules regarding nomination have been developed by political parties and State governments over time in the interests of fairness – hence, these rules are not in the American Constitution. The process of nomination is itself an indirect process. This means that the vote of the people goes to a various delegates of a party, who then decide their choice of the Presidential candidate for that party. Thus, the popular choice becomes the Presidential candidate instead of the choice of senior party leaders or other such influential figures.

Primary elections, or primaries, have their origins in the progressive movement to shift the power of candidate nomination from party leaders to the people. They are organised by the State Governments in certain states, and involve citizens coming and directly voting for the delegate of their choice.

A caucus is a somewhat more informal discussion, which is organised by the political party. It involves registered members of a party from a particular locality coming together to discuss whom the vote of their delegate should go to for candidacy.

Different areas may have primaries or caucuses depending on the local laws. In fact, the laws regarding primaries and caucuses are decided by the party or the State government, and are not in the Constitution. So, some of the rules are somewhat arbitrary. For example, Democratic and Republican contesters require different numbers of delegates to win candidacy (3267 vs 1762). Similarly, the number of delegates needed to win is also decided based on various party or State-specific laws and conventions.

4. What’s so special about Super Tuesday?

Super Tuesday is a crucial day in the nomination process. It’s the informal term for the day when majority of US states conduct their primaries or caucuses to nominate their candidates. While a few states are almost always left to vote later, the results of Super Tuesday nominations are often thought to largely colour the picture for the rest of the elections.

As part of the process, any candidate typically needs to win set number of primaries or caucuses in order to win candidacy for that party. Each of these wins secures the candidate a ‘delegate’ who is likely to, but not bound to, vote for him or her. For example, the Democratic candidate needs to win 2383 delegates to win Presidential candidacy for the party. After Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton has 1066 while Bernie Sanders has 432.

Note – If no single candidate has secured a majority of delegates during the first vote, then a “brokered convention” results. All pledged delegates are then “released” and are able to switch their allegiance to a different candidate. Thereafter, the nomination is decided through additional rounds of re-votes.

5. Who are the losers of ‘Super Tuesday’?

The two main parties in the US have seen interesting results after Super Tuesday. Some of the candidates are clear losers, and have completely dropped their aspirations of moving into the White House. This includes people like one time Senator Rick Santorum, one-time Lousiana Governor Indo-American Bobby Jindal, and brother-to-a-President Jeb Bush. Clearly, Super Tuesday has crushed the hopes of these candidates with a grim finality.

Further Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson have been clearly underwhelming performers. As Republican candidates, they’re all trailing far behind Donald Trump. In fact, Ben Carson has publicly acknowledged that there is little future in his candidacy. A fringe case is that of Ted Cruz, who has managed to stay afloat with close to moderate second places in all the Super Tuesday states. Cruz has secured 231 delegates as opposed to Trump’s 329.

Republican-12-Mar-2016 Your Guide to the US Presidential Elections 2016 - Top ten things to understandDemocratic-12-Mar-2016 Your Guide to the US Presidential Elections 2016 - Top ten things to understandThis infographic (taken from a simple Google search), paints a clear picture of how things stand. Clinton is clearly dominating the field so far, although Sanders is expected to still have a chance to change things. Further, the Republican candidacy appears to be strongly in Donald Trump’s favour, with his 329 delegates, although Ted Cruz may just have a chance. Interestingly, there are many Republican reactionaries who are strongly opposed to Trump, and this may play out against his candidacy in the remaining 37 states.

Note – Although citizens vote for the delegates via primaries or caucuses on the basis of whom those delegates are likely to vote for, these delegates aren’t always ‘pledged’ to vote for the candidate they have professed. Contrarily, there are also ‘superdelegates’ who can support any candidate. Yes, it’s confusing. The process of nomination has become extremely complicated due to the non-streamlined nature of its origin.

6. Who’s still in the running?

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – if you had to bet on a name for the next US President, you’d have about a 1 in 3 shot at winning some money with just these three. While Bernie Sanders’ aggressive libertarianism is admittedly less popular than he expected, experts haven’t completely ruled him out yet, although Clinton still appears to be a hot favourite. On the other hand, Trump’s candidacy is almost certain, with most of his critics having no real consensus on the next best Republican alternative.

7. A word on the Underdogs

Independent candidates have had very limited relevance to the outcomes of any general elections in the US in all its history. In fact, Wikipedia’s list of the years in which third-party or independant candidates have taken just 5% or more of the votes is pitifully short.

Political scientists theorise that independent candidates can seriously affect the outcome by dividing votes, but such a strong backing for a candidate with no real affiliation to a party is rarely seen.

Third-party candidates are clearly the underdogs of the US Presidential race.

8. What does the future look like?

The near future is going to decide two important things. Firstly, whether Donald Trump can be challenged as the true Republican representative for US President. And secondly, whether there is sufficient faith in Bernie Sanders’ ‘Future to Believe In’ to choose him over current favourite, Clinton.

Depending on the outcomes of the primaries in the remaining 37 states (note that these outcomes could easily be influenced by Super Tuesday) – we could either have the first woman President of the USA, or perhaps the first billionaire to move in to the White House.

9. How do the final elections work?

As you might remember, the US elections for President are an indirect election. Thus, after nominations, the final elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, which is November 8, 2016.

At this election, people don’t exactly vote directly for the Presidential candidate of their choice. They vote members to an Electoral College (usually already knowing whom the likely choice of that member is). Then, this Electoral College comes together to choose the President.

It’s a strange abstraction of the voting process that is intended to provide a check against ‘first past the post’ voting. This has actually been widely criticised as well as defended by various political theorists.

10. Some interesting trivia in closing

Soon after Super Tuesday, there was a huge spike in internet searches across the USA for the phrase ‘how to move to Canada’.

Another interesting tidbit – the conventional voting day being the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is not in the US Constitution. It was basically meant to allow people to observe the Sabbath, travel to vote, and return home for Wednesday, which was observed as Market Day!

Hopefully, this clears your confusion about the whole voting process. The most powerful man in the world is set to be elected this November, and you can be sure to keep checking our site to see the best, most relevant, and most easy to understand content!

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