Understanding the U.S. Presidential Election

It’s been hard not to notice that the U.S. has a big election coming up: its Presidential Election. You have probably seen the countless articles, tweets, posts, and memes related to this upcoming important election, but if you’re an international student, you might not be familiar with how the US election process works. To help you navigate the next month leading up to the election, we are sharing some basics so that you can better understand current events.

About the U.S. Federal Government

There are three branches of the U.S. government: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Each branch has a different function in society with different types of people to help execute that function. No one branch has more power than the other.

The legislative branch

This branch is made up of the U.S. Congress, which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives elected by the people to represent them in creating the laws. There are two Senators per state, and the number of representatives is based on the population of each state.

The executive branch

This branch is made up of the President, Vice President, and the Cabinet, all of which execute and uphold those laws.

The judicial branch

This branch is made up of the Supreme Court (judges, or Supreme Court Justices) which judges and evaluates the laws.

The President’s Role

The U.S. President takes on the role of the leader of the government. He or she also leads the military forces, and has the power to sign or veto laws presented to him or her by the legislative branch. The president is elected for four years (what is called a “term”) and can be in office for a maximum of two terms.

Political Parties in the U.S.

The U.S. government is primarily a two-party system, of which the dominating parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democratic party tends to be more left-leaning – meaning they tend to support more liberal and progressive policies – and the Republican-party is more right-leaning – meaning they tend to support more conservative policies.

The Presidential Election

The Presidential election is held every four years on the first Tuesday in November. This year the election will be on November 3rd.

There are generally two candidates chosen for this election – one from the Democratic party, and one from the Republican party. These candidates are chosen based on results from Primary elections, in which multiple candidates from each party run to become the singular Presidential candidate for each of the political parties.

The two candidates compete to win the most electoral college votes. There are 538 total electoral college votes, so the winning candidate must receive 270 electoral votes.

The Electoral College and the Popular Vote

This part might be a little confusing, but it will be really helpful as you’re watching the news. U.S. citizens vote on election day to make up what is termed “the popular vote.” However, contrary to what one might think, the popular vote does not directly elect the U.S. President.

Instead, when U.S. citizens cast their vote, they are actually voting for an elector from their state. All of these electors make up the electoral college; they are a group of individuals from each state with the express purpose of electing the President.

There are 538 electors, a number based on the number of representatives in the House of Representatives, and each state has its own criteria for select people to vote as electors. Each elector represents one electoral vote. Electors are not necessarily required to vote based on the popular vote; that depends on the rules of each state. However, the candidate that receives the majority in the popular vote gets awarded with all of the electoral votes, except for in Maine and Nebraska where they split the electoral votes proportionally. The BBC shares a great example of why this “winner-takes-all” approach matters: “For example, if the Republican candidate won 50.1% of the vote in Texas, they would be awarded all of the state’s 38 electoral college votes.

In recent history, you may have heard about Presidential candidates who have won the popular vote but lost the election. That is a result of this electoral college process.

What will happen this year on November 3rd?

This year on November 3rd, U.S. citizens will cast their vote for either current President Donald Trump, running for a second term of office, as the Republican candidate, or for Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, and former Vice President to former President Barack Obama. That popular vote will then be noted by each state’s electors who will then cast their vote for who will be the next President. For more information regarding each Presidential candidate, we recommend looking at the candidates here: https://www.isidewith.com/elections/2020/president