America’s presidential election process is so complex it confuses Americans. Hence American presidential elections bewilder foreign observers.

To help non-Americans, understand America’s baffling presidential elections here is a short guide. Hopefully, this guide will help others understand America’s 2020 Presidential election.

A Few Important Aspects of America’s Presidential Process include:

There is no One Presidential Election in America

The American Presidential election is actually a series of contests that begin in February 2020 and continue until December 2020. These contests take part in three stages throughout the year.

First, in the primaries and caucuses, the two major political parties; Democrats and Republicans, choose their candidates. In this stage each state; and territory of the United States, holds separate contests for the parties to choose candidates.

In primaries, party members vote for the candidate. In caucuses, meetings chose the candidates. In 2020, they could chose the candidates on “Super Tuesday” (3 March 2019) when 16 states and Democrats outside the United States chose their candidates.

The primaries begin on 3 February 2019 with the Iowa Caucus and end on 6 June 2019 with the Virgin Islands Caucus. Expect the parties to pick their candidates by 1 April because they hold most primaries in March.

The second stage of the presidential election is the General Election which occurs between July and November. Highlights of the general election include the Democratic and Republican conventions, and the presidential debates.

The general election is what most people think of as the American presidential election. However, the general election actually takes place over a period of a month.

In the general election, many states allow early voting, and some states like Colorado allow voting by mail. Thus most Colorado voters cast their ballots before the official “Election Day.” Other states require everybody to vote at physical polling places on 3 November 2019.

Usually, the vote on 3 November decides the presidential election. However, it could take weeks to decide a contested election. Americans often contest elections because of sloppy voting systems that rely on obsolete technology. That last happened in 2000 when a series of recounts and court battles delayed George W. Bush’s (R-Texas) victory.

The American People do not Elect the President

The general election is a popularity contest that measures national sentiment. However, the general election voters do not elect the president.

Instead, an unelected body called the Electoral College elects the president in December. The Electoral College is a body of electors who theoretically represent the voters will.

It is possible for a candidate to win the popular vote in the General Election but lose the Electoral College. For instance, Donald J. Trump (R-New York) received 46.1% of the popular vote in 2016, while Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) 48.2%.

Trump, however, is president because he received a majority of the Electoral College votes; 306 to Clinton’s 232. Trump won the Electoral College because each state has at least three Electoral College votes in America regardless of population. Trump won because he is more popular in low-population rural areas.

The Electoral College could generate controversy next year because some observers think both Trump’s College lead and Democrats’ popular vote advantage could grow. In fact, New York Times columnist Nate Cohn thinks, Democrats could win the popular vote by 5%, but still lose the Electoral College.

Such an outcome will fuel calls to abolish the Electoral College in America. Abolishing the Electoral College is difficult because abolition requires a vote of 38 of the country’s 50 state legislatures. To explain, the Electoral College is mandated by the US Constitution, and it requires a vote of two-thirds of state legislatures to amend the Constitution.

There are Only Two Political Parties in America

There are only two political parties in America because the nature of the primary process makes it impossible to run on other tickets.

Those parties are the Democrats (left wing) and the Republicans (right-wing). However, there is wide variation among the parties’ membership. For instance, the Democrats include self-proclaimed Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and pro-business candidates like Hillary Clinton.

Thus most American presidential candidates seek the nomination of one of the two major parties. For instance, outsider candidates like Trump and Sanders use the primary process to seek the presidency.

Theoretically, it is possible for an alternate; or third-party, candidate to become president. However, no third-party candidate has attracted enough votes to affect the election’s outcome since former President Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive-New York) in 1912.

Thus, the final race will between the Democrat and the Republican. Currently, President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) is the probable Republican nominee. In contrast, the primary elections will chose the Democratic nominee.

Trump is the probable Republican candidate because he is the only major figure in that party likely to win a presidential election. Republicans are rallying to Trump because he is electable not because they like him.

The Presidency has Very Little Power

The great irony of American presidential politics is that the U.S. President has very little power.

The president cannot write or initiate legalization, unlike India’s Prime Minister. The Constitution limits the president’s legislative influence because he or she is not a member of Congress.

The U.S. Constitution separates the legislative and executive branches of government. Thus, Congress is under no obligation to pay attention to the president.

In terms of legislation, all the president can do is suggest legislation to Congress and lobby for it. The President can sign legislation, but the Constitution does not require a presidential signature for bills to become law in America.

The president can; however, veto legislation he opposes. Yet the U.S. Senate can override a veto by a two-thirds vote. Presidents rarely veto legislation because of the political battles vetoes create.

Unlike, the prime ministers of India and the UK the president cannot write the budget and has limited sway over national policy. Generally, the president suggests a budget that Congress ignores, and spends his or her time promoting policies or programs he likes.

Most American presidents concern themselves with foreign and military policy because Congress has little interest in affairs outside the U.S. Congress ignores foreign policy, because American voters do not care about foreign policy.

The Presidential election’s importance is exaggerated

Thus, most of the hype surrounding the American presidential election is meaningless. However, the media pays a lot of attention to presidential races because they are a great spectacle and tremendous entertainment.

One reason, you will see a lot of coverage of next year’s presidential race is that the very colorful President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) is a probable candidate. In the final analysis, American presidential races are great political theater but the media exaggerate their importance. 

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