Elections and political parties in USA


Presidential candidates are selected by their respective party's national conventions in the summer of each election year. The delegates attending that convention are associated with a particular candidate and are normally chosen either at State conventions of party members (the caucus system) or at State primary elections held in the months preceding presidential elections. In a closed primary only registered party members can vote, while in an open primary any voter can participate (obviously voting in only one party's primary election).

The President is elected on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of a leap year and takes office at noon on January 20.

The President is not elected directly, but by an Electoral College. The electors who actually choose the President are now completely pledged in advance to one person and their names have almost entirely disappeared from the ballot papers to be replaced by the names of the candidates themselves. The candidates who win the most votes within a State receive all its Electoral College votes (equal to the number of senators and representatives from that State), no matter how small the majority.

Each US State is free to determine its own electoral laws, subject to certain limitations imposed by the Constitution, national legislation and the Supreme Court. This has enabled many states, particularly in the South, to prevent blacks and different minorities from voting by such means as poll taxes and literacy tests. After the 1965 Voting Act (giving federal government officials the job of registering voters in States where literacy tests are used) and the abolition of poll taxes (24th Amendment), black voters are now proportionally only 10 % fewer than white voters.


Political parties or "factions" were not mentioned in the original Constitution. Differences over the role of the federal government led to the first national parties — the Federalists and the Republicans. Since then two major parties have dominated political life. The Democratic Party has existed in one form or another since the beginning of the 1800s and has been opposed in successive eras by the Federalist, Whig and Republican parties. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 and was originally the anti-slavery party.

There is little ideological difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, as both parties defend the free-enterprise capitalist system, accepted by almost all Americans as the basis of American society. The Democrats, unlike the Republicans, tend to favor some Government intervention, but both parties have liberal and conservative wings, and in Congress the liberal and conservative wings of the two parties often side with each other against the other wing. It is broadly possible to say that poor people vote for the Democrats and wealthy people for the Republicans. American politics are the politics of pragmatism and a party will always alter its platform to try and catch the mood of the nation, the middle ground.

On the same day as the electors vote for the President, they also vote for Senators, members of the House of Representatives, State governors and a host of minor officials. It was once common for people to vote the straight ticket, whereby a single cross against the party label on the ballot paper means a vote for every one of the party's candidates from the President downwards, but this is now rare. This explains why there have been a succession of Republican Presidents and Democrat majorities in Congress.