It’s 2016, which means President Barack Obama’s second term as President of the United States is coming to a close. You may have read headlines in your social media streams about the candidates running in hopes of taking the reins as the 45th president, or perhaps even heard a few healthy family debates over the holidays. There’s certainly a lot to take in, but don’t worry. We’re here to gear you up with some of the key terms that’ll guide you through the election year.
Let’s start with the basics.
Who is eligible to become president of the United States?
Anyone can, despite race or gender, as long as they are a natural-born citizen of the United States, have lived in the country for at least 14 years and are 35 years old or older.
Based on a candidate’s social beliefs and philosophy on how the country should be run, he or she registers for a political party. Since the United States has a two-party system, Democrats and Republicans share the nation’s political power. To determine just how much power each party has, and to makes sure the balance of power shifts according to the needs of citizens, elections for seats in the House of Representatives and Senate occur every two years, and every four years for the presidency.
Primaries and Caucuses
The next step is to hold caucuses and primaries. Caucuses are organized local gatherings where voters openly express support for a candidate or party, and decide upon delegates to proceed to each respective party’s National Convention. A primary is a state election to help determine which candidates will ultimately run from each party in the general presidential election. In primaries, Democrats run against one another and Republicans run against one another. The more votes a candidate gets, the more delegates are awarded to represent them at their party’s National Convention.
An open primary allows registered voters to cast their ballot for any candidate in any party, while a closed primary only allows voters to vote for candidates in the party they’re registered with.
You may have heard the term “Super Tuesday” as being important during this early stage of the election. It’s held on the first Tuesday in March–this year March 1. It’s a big day because 12 different states hold their primaries, and results can be an indicator of which candidates will end up with the most delegates leading up to The Convention.
You can learn more about primaries and caucuses in the video below:
Once the primaries and caucuses have concluded across the country, and results are weighed, each political party holds a National Convention to select their candidate to run for the presidency. The chosen nominee then typically chooses a running mate to be the Vice Presidential nominee. The convention’s also a time for each party to discuss and align themselves on various issues including foreign policy, immigration and education.
When the National Conventions have concluded and each party has chosen their nominee, the campaign for the general election begins. The general election is held every four years in the beginning of November. Voters across the country cast secret ballots to choose a president of the United States. Typically, the majority of voters support either a Democratic or Republican candidates, although independent or smaller party candidates may be on the ballot.
During the general election campaign, there are a few terms you’ll hear frequently. “Polls” is one of them. Naturally, political parties and media outlets try and assess public opinion before the election. Polls ask people about the issues, political parties and which candidates they’re planning to vote for. When you hear the phrase “going to the polls,” however, it’s referring to the place where voters cast their ballots in the election.
As candidates fundraise and inundate airwaves and digital channels with their ads, you’ll also hear references to super PACs, the result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. A super PAC (political action committee) is not permitted to donate directly to a presidential candidate’s campaign but can raise limitless amounts of money from undisclosed individuals, unions and corporations in support of—but not in coordination with—a specific presidential candidate. Many view super PACs as a campaign finance loophole around laws that restrict amounts that can be donated directly to campaigns.
Another term used often as the general election draws near is “swing state.” A swing state is one where there’s no clear indication as campaigns unfold as to which candidate or party will be elected. In other words, it’s a state that could lean either way on Election Day. Similarly, swing voters are citizens who are eligible to vote, but aren’t particularly loyal to a specific party or set of issues. They may vote Republican one year and Democratic the next, making it tricky to predict outcomes.
When the general election day arrives, the key word is Electoral College. The Electoral College is the system used to elect the President and Vice President of the United States. Each state and The District of Columbia gets as many electoral votes as they have members in Congress (which includes two senators and at least one member of the House of Representatives). The larger a state’s population, the more representatives in Congress they have, and thus more electors for that state (California has the highest number at 55.)
On Election Day, the winner of the popular vote in each individual state receives all of the electors for that state. As each state’s results come in, the electoral votes add up, but the national popular vote (the number of citizen votes for each candidate) doesn’t have any bearing. A candidate must have total of 270 electoral votes to win the national election.
Any hunches on who it will be?