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Saturday, 23 March 2019 12:11 am

American elections 101 with a political scientist and a podcast

The US Election is tomorrow!

NewsWire has enlisted the help of Dr Jon Johansson a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University and an expert in US politics to compile this last minute guide to understanding the US Presidential Election.

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Dr Jon Johansson a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University

Previously in part one we learnt about choosing nominees, 2016 nominees, third parties, campaigns, power of the President, and spending money.

In this edition we will talk about the  voting processes in the simplest terms.

Voting and turnout

New Zealand voters will cast a ballot every three years with two ticks, one for their local electorate Member of Parliament (MP), and one party vote.

Professor Johansson describes voting in the US as more complex.

“I’ve seen ballot papers in some states that go for 18 pages.”

In the US, people are asked to vote for President, Senator, and Congressional representative, as well as local elections down to the level of school board or sheriff.

In certain states, people will also be voting on referendums on specific issues, such as decriminalising marijuana, he says.

The complex process of voting contributes to the lower voter turnout, as compared to New Zealand.

“In New Zealand, we were mortified when our voter turnout went into the low-to-mid 70%” Dr Johansson says.

“In America, the turnout last time [2012] was only 54.8%.”

“Americans do not vote in the same numbers that New Zealanders do.”

The Electoral College

When votes for President are tallied, it is not simply the candidate with the most votes who wins the race.

In the US, a system called the Electoral College is used, allocating each state a number of electoral votes, based on population.

Whichever candidate wins the popular vote in that state wins all of the electoral votes for that state, Dr Johansson says.

A candidate must win 270 electoral votes from the 538 available to become President.

Big-wins or small-wins within states are not represented proportionally in the overall count.

This leads to the possibility of a candidate losing in the popular vote (by losing with large margins in some states), but still winning the Presidency, by winning more electoral votes.

A small prediction

Professor Johansson says he expects Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 Presidential race.

“If Hillary wins the Presidency, I think one of the reasons will be that the American economy is actually a little better that the way it’s being described by Trump.” he says

“Maybe Americans are a little more optimistic about their future than Trump’s pessimistic messaging has portrayed.”

 

 

By Laura Beth Keown and Jade Winton-Lowe

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Dr Johansson a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University

As the US Election comes to a head many people are scratching their heads over just how the US political system works.

NewsWire has enlisted the help of Dr Jon Johansson a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University and an expert in US politics to compile this last minute guide to understanding the US Presidential Election.

Choosing nominees 

Presidential elections are held every four years. The two major political parties the Democrats and Republicans, hold primary votes in each of the US states to choose their nominees for President.

“People who are registered as Democratic voters can vote in the Democratic primary, and likewise with the Republicans,”Dr  Johansson says.

Once each party has chosen its Presidential nominee, that person will choose their own Vice-Presidential running-mate.

2016 nominees

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes part in a Center for American Progress roundtable discussion on "Expanding Opportunities in America's Urban Areas" in Washington.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The two nominees in the 2016 Presidential race are Hillary Clinton, below, and Donald Trump.

They are some of the most disliked candidates in history, but the primary process led to their selection.

According to Dr Johansson says, “ in terms of the Democrats, Hillary was always the presumptive nominee.”

“In polling throughout the four years of Obama’s second term, Hillary was always just miles ahead against any other potential Democrat to run.”

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Donald J. Trump. Republican candidate

He says This had the effect of making sure that there was very little competition for Hillary in the primaries.

On the other side, 17 Republicans ran in the Republican primaries.

“In that very crowded field of 17, that was the one circumstance in which a wild card like Donald Trump, left, could win,” he says.

Third parties

In New Zealand, a proportional voting system leads to smaller parties having a share of seats in Parliament.

But US elections use a majoritarian system, where the individual who wins the most votes will win an election says Dr Johansson.

As a result, third parties are very weak.

According to Dr Johansson, “they have no chance of having an effect, unless it is an absolute knife edge election, and that 2% of the vote deprives one of the [major] candidates from winning.”

“Some people argue that votes for [Green Party candidate] Ralph Nader deprived Al Gore of winning the 2000 election.”

Campaigns

Once the nominees are selected around July, they set off on three-months campaigning across the US.

“The campaign is very important for highlighting the character, policies, and performance of the two people who are putting their hands-up to be the next president.”

hillary-shakes-hand-in-multi-sized-sea

Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally in Florida

Candidates raise money to advertise on television and travel to key states promoting their policy positions.

This time round Donald Trump has relied more on media attention and rallies to earn support.

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Donald Trump at a Memorial Day campaign rally.

Power of the President

The role of the President is not to be taken lightly Dr Johansson says.

“They have the ability to unleash nuclear weapons, they have extraordinary powers to start wars or respond to foreign policy crises.”

He says, the character of candidates is important because of their enormous ability to shape events in the realm of war-making and foreign policy.

Spending money

In New Zealand, electoral law places limits on how much can be spent in election campaigns.

Dr Johansson says, “New Zealand elections are not big-money campaigns. It’s rare for money to really become an issue in New Zealand elections.”

In New Zealand, electoral law places limits on how much can be spent in election campaigns.

Dr Johansson says, “New Zealand elections are not big-money campaigns. It’s rare for money to really become an issue in New Zealand elections.”

But he says “In America, democracy is completely oiled by unlimited money.”

He estimates that the 2016 US Presidential race will see between $2-3 billion in spending.

“Hillary Clinton has probably raised close-to, or exceeded $1 billion,” he says.

The two-year election cycle for the House of Representatives, leads to continual fundraising for campaigns.

Want to know more?

Still unsure on how the U. S. elections work? Don’t worry, we have your back. Listen to this podcast to learn how the U.S. election system works.

Laura Beth Keown unravels the mystery of the U.S. elections to Jade Winton-Lowe.

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