US Presidential Elections 2016

Written by Radka Michaláková, Barbara Ocsovayová, Šárka Panochová

Edited by Šárka Panochová, Tereza Pavlíková

This year is Barack Obama’s last year in the office of President of the United States. It is also his eighth year as President which means that he cannot run for the office again. And this year, more than in the last few election cycles, some surprising faces have appeared in the race and are swinging the American political scene. The media have been covering the Presidential race for more than a year now. The discussion has penetrated everywhere, it seems almost impossible to avoid it. Re:Views brings you a series of articles about the candidates, the election process, and the campaigns as they unfold in the Spring of 2016.

The Presidential Candidates: What Has The U.S. Got in Store for Us This Time

Four years have passed and here it comes again, the presidential election cycle. At its beginning there stood 23 fresh faced candidates from both the Democratic and the Republican parties, all joined by a single goal: to become the head of the United States of America. As of the end of March – when this article is being written – only five remain. So what should we expect of these five candidates, what makes them stand out from the rest? And why should we even care who wins?

For one, considering the obstructions president Obama is facing with his nomination for judge Scalia’s replacement, the future president could very well be the one to nominate a new judge to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, unlike the Czech president, the U.S. president possesses the nation’s nuclear codes and is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army. And, last but not least, as the new American president, the winner of this race will have the final say in many of the social and economic issues that are being discussed in the U.S. today.

THE CANDIDATES

Even though this year’s presidential election is special in that there is a candidate on both sides who does not fit in too well with the party scheme, much of every candidate’s stances are still toeing along the traditional party lines when it comes to the most common topics. See for yourselves.

Party Affilation Gun Control Abortions Climate Change Obamacare Taxes Raise Taxes Cut Deportation of Illegal Immigrants
Clinton, H. DEM YES YES YES YES YES NO NO
Sanders, B. DEM YES YES YES YES YES NO NO
Cruz, T. REP NO NO NO NO NO YES YES
Kasich, J. REP NO NO Sort of NO NO YES NO
Trump, D. REP NO NO NO NO NO YES YES

On gun control, both Democratic candidates, Sanders and Clinton, support limitations to the potential gun owners, all the Republican candidates, on the other hand, view possession of a gun as their God-given right and intend to keep things exactly as they are in the Second Amendment. To quote Donald Trump: “I won’t let them take away our guns!!”

Abortions are another topic that follows this pattern of candidates keeping to their respective parties’ stances, with all the Republican candidates pushing to take away funding from Planned Parenthood clinics and/or ban abortions altogether.

As for global warming, two out of the three Republican candidates refuse to even consider it happening while the third, John Kasich, concludes that while it perhaps is indeed happening, it is probably nothing to worry about.  On the opposite side of the spectrum stand the Democrats, with Bernie Sanders calling climate change “the single greatest threat facing our planet.

Proposals on tax policy are in the same vein of differences between the two parties. Republicans would like to reduce taxes for all, even for the rich. Democrats would endorse the exact opposite; putting Wall Street under more pressure features in both candidates’ agendas and so does increasing the taxes for the wealthy.

Finally, the question of how to deal with immigration can again be answered based on the respondent’s party affiliation. Trump, as a representative of the Republican side, came up with proposals of deporting every illegal immigrant and refusing to grant citizenship to their American-born children. “We need to BUILD A WALL(” as a response to the immigration problem became something of a slogan of his. It also has aroused much controversy. The Democrats feel the immigrants should be granted full legal rights instead.

Knowing these basic party templates, what more is there to each of the candidates?

DEMOCRATS

hillary-clinton_photography-by-mark-nozell
Photo Courtesy of Mark Nozell

HILLARY CLINTON

The wife of a former U.S. president and herself a former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is said to be the candidate with the most experience at actually leading the state. An archetype of a reasonable democratic candidate, she has run for office once before, against Barack Obama in 2008. The ex-first lady is also the one candidate with the largest prejudices stacked against her since, as a rapper named T.I. stated, “not to be sexist but, I can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman.” If elected, she would be the first woman in the office of a president of the United States.

bernie-sanders_photograpy-by-gage-skidmore
Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

BERNARD “BERNIE” SANDERS

Out of the two Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders is the race’s black horse. Sanders, a Jewish senator from Vermont, is hugely popular with younger voters, and, along with Trump, the source of both the biggest surprise and the most controversial opinions in this year’s run. The oldest presidential candidate is supportive of the LGBT+ group, racial minorities, as well as women’s rights. However, his biggest goal seems to lie in evening out the economic inequality of the current U.S. populace and he is more than willing to go big about it. Doubling the minimum wages, making colleges free, and expanding healthcare to be universal for all are just some of his proposals, Bernie Sanders is intent on “making the wealthy, Wall Street, and large corporations pay their share.”

REPUBLICANS

ted-cruz_photography-gage-skidmore
Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

“TED” CRUZ

Ted Cruz, the Republican candidate who is probably the most influenced by religion, hails from Texas. He boasts a record of having “led the way to preserve the words  ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance at the U.S. Supreme Court” and “Successfully defended the words ‘Under God’ in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance).” If that is not enough of a proof that his faith stands quite high on the list of his priorities, the fact that he insists that “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman, it has strengthened societies for millennia, and we must uphold the truth of marriagesurely is.

kasich
Photo Courtesy of Michael Vadon

JOHN KASICH

The Ohio Governor is the most moderate among the remaining Republican candidates. For whatever reason Kasich also remains the most overlooked one. While he does finally seem to be gaining some time in the spotlight, he struggles to catch up to the other two Republicans in the primaries. His five reasons why not to vote for Donald Trump are definitely worth listening to.

donald-trump2_photography-by-gage-skidmore
Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

DONALD TRUMP

A presidential candidate who does not shy away from being different. According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post a mere linking of his name with a statement dramatically increases the likelihood of rejection of that statement by his opponents as well as its endorsement by his supporters, regardless of the statement’s content. He says things as they are since “being politically correct takes too much time.” Sometimes he sparks public outrage by his comments, like when he stated that women should be punished for having an abortion. He recanted a few hours later. Nonetheless, there is always something new with the man: When Bernie Sanders challenged his 2012 tweet that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump asserted it was meant in jest. No written confirmation of humorous intentions was issued, however, when he had made the call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” because “there is great hatred towards Americans.” Nor when he stated that “if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President.” At least as of yet.

All the statements of and information about the candidates that are featured in this article and are not sourced otherwise come directly from the candidate’s official websites

 

The American Spectacle: Snapshot to US Campaigning

US Elections that time of a year when presidential candidates become rock stars. Billboards and political jokes are long outdated and as always, Americans go just a little bit further with their campaigns. But what role do media play in all this? Is 2016’s Presidential Election the most fruitful year for political memes? What are grassroots campaigns and how do they work? Let’s shed some light on it all!

Media Coverage

The media play a huge part in American culture and the presidential race would not be any different. Polls show that the majority of US citizens use cable television as a main source of information about the elections. However, numbers show an increase in mentioning one candidate: there is a huge gap between numbers of mentions of Donald Trump and other presidential candidates. The media, as always, aim for bigger viewership and Donald Trump is the hot topic nowadays, impossible to ignore. Media go as far as to put him on a metaphorical pedestal by dismissing Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in favor of giving Trump $2 billion worth of free air time. American media are playing a big game of who is going to snap next, for instance by asking Bernie Sanders about Hillary Clinton and ready to capture a moment when Sanders finally speaks up. The media transform into gossipy places of talking about how one candidate is dressed and how the other styles their hair – or what is left of it. Therefore, the media’s credibility is to be doubted even more .

Social Media

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Twitter Screencap by Barbara Oscovayová

Modern age, however, brings bigger freedom and when the media misinform their audiences, people turn to both their salvation and damnation: the Internet. Nowadays, information travels at the speed of light, both the correct and the completely wrong. In this year’s Elections the web has been the main source of information for the public which definitely does not stay idle and is quick at using its imagination to pour out hilarious creations. People speak their minds and are turning their concerns into less serious than they are. This year’s elections have seen a rise of memes. Their targets are diverse, i.e. turning Ted Cruz into the Zodiac killer a notorious unsolved case from the seventies – which has given birth to such projects as funding abortion clinics in Texas by making T-shirts with this motif. Memes like these take up a life of their own and provide free, albeit debatable, publicity for the candidates. Did Bernie Sanders truly speak to the bird of freedom? Is Donald Trump actually a modern version of Lord Voldemort? All these crazy ideas born as jokes make a mere mortal wonder and look up the source of these anecdotes.

On the other hand, social media provide people with insights such as showing videos   of speeches and rallies recorded on mobile phones and thus, giving people a chance to be present there second- handedly. The Internet might be full of gags and misleading routes, yet when one seeks the right kind of information, they can learn how to register to vote and even find out whether they can even vote for their own candidate.

Comedians are also among the sources for the public to build their opinion on. Though 2016’s Presidential Elections might provide an endless chain of Donald Trump jokes, it still falls short compared to previous years.

Reaching Out to Their Voters

People can form their opinions based on the information they have gained from television and the Internet. However, candidates themselves try to reach out to voters by using various tactics to gain their interest and trust. Most of those who live in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have seen politicians on a couple political talk shows and countless billboards all over the country. US Elections work differently. It is the universal truth that politicians like to talk a lot and US political candidates are famous for their speeches. Though it is surprising how many people travel from one country to the other just to hear them speak. Yes, Americans are invested in the elections virtually, but even more so personally. They make an effort to hear out their chosen candidates in person and sometimes it makes for big spectacles and audiences made of thousands of people.

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Bernie Sanders’s rally in Brooklyn Photo Courtesy of Peter Foley/EPA

There are different campaigns which benefit from this interest and include common people in the election process, i.e. door-to-door campaigns where the candidate or the candidate’s supporters literally go from one house to the other, knocking on people’s doors and asking for their support.

Nonetheless, the strangest part in which US campaigns differ from those in Europe is definitely the data that campaigners gather about their voters, as Jessica N. Grounds mentioned in her talk given at Masaryk University. This data varies from getting to know where people work, what they shop for, what magazines they subscribe to and the list goes on. It might be a bit scary and uncomfortable for a person to realize there is a huge amount of data about them. However, research shows that people do not mind as much as they perhaps should. Americans feel included in a campaign and essentially, in the results as well, even more than only through their vote.

Grassroots campaigns are based on this concept as well: a need to be included. A big shift came with Barack Obama’s 2008 election, before which common people had not quite felt so involved in campaigns. But grassroots movements changed it. Suddenly, regular people could be a part of public funding; they could simply donate a few dollars and in return they would get e.g. a sticker. There would always be a specific notion that unites people working for grassroot movements, in this case a support for a certain presidential candidate. One of the biggest grassroots campaigns has been that of Hillary Clinton which had started even before she announced her intentions to run for president.  It has been possible thanks to her supporters, mainly women, who had a clear vision of a female president and joined forces to work towards their mutual goal.

Lastly, freedom of speech has always been of great value in the US and freedom of political speech even more so. Due to that, some people might be offended by campaign tactics which cannot be ignored, i.e. door-to-door campaigns, but they cannot quite argue against them. Others, however, embrace the opportunity to be a part of their presidential race, be it by offering a small donation or joining thousands of supporters in a rally to hear their favorite talk. Whichever the case, this year’s elections are taking it a little bit further once more and it sure will be a spectacle for non-Americans to watch and eagerly await the results.

 

How to Elect a POTUS

November 8 is only a few months away, the candidates are still fighting for support in the primaries, and the media are bursting with a constant influx of new material. Even for those who have been following the race for months, though, the actual POTUS selection process might be a tough nut to crack. Also, POTUS is not a nasty word. If you are familiar with the American obsession with acronyms, the fact that they have one for the office of the President Of The United States should come as no surprise. This article will walk you through the POTUS election process step by step.

Warning: Bumpy Road Ahead

A disclaimer at the beginning: Describing all the steps of the procedure precisely and concisely at the same time, as was originally intended, would take up a lot more pages than there are in this magazine. For the sake of brevity, therefore, some of the details are left out. You are encouraged to follow the sources and find the truth on your own.

Step 1: Primaries

The first step in this process is choosing the party nominees. The candidates campaign in all 50 states as their goal is to gain as many votes as possible to secure the nomination for themselves. It turns out, however, that primaries are way more complex than they seem at first glance:

Many of the technical proceedings about the primary election process are in the hands of the individual states. States have different voter laws, they decide when the elections will take place, if they want a closed or an open primary, and the candidates have to file statements of candidacy in each separate state to get on the ballot. Not all states, however, are primary states – some hold caucuses instead.

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Voting booth. Photo Courtesy of Šárka Panochová

The difference between a caucus and a primary is in a lot of technicalities such as who calls its date and who administers it (caucuses are in the hands of the state parties, not in the hands of the state legislatures as primaries are), and how exactly the voting is done. In short, in a caucus there is a lot more face-to-face contact among the voters so it takes longer than a primary where people come to cast the ballot and go home. (For those who are interested, this short video from The Atlantic nicely summarizes how the Iowa caucus works.)

If the state holds a primary, it decides whether it is going to be open or closed. In an open primary, voters do not have to be registered with either party to come and vote, they can choose on the day of the primary. In a closed primary, on the other hand, voters have to be registered to vote with one of the parties to be allowed to cast the ballot. Deadlines for such registrations and for voter registration in general again vary by state (see above).

When people vote in a primary, their votes only gain a certain number of delegates for the candidate. It is the delegates who then officially choose the party nominee at a national convention (explained below). At first, it is important to determine who these delegates are. This is a realm of the parties’ influence: the numbers of delegates, their categories, and how they are assigned to the candidates varies according to the party you are looking at. Once again, simply: Both parties have a certain number of pledged delegates, whose votes follow the results of the primaries.

In addition, there is also a number of unpledged delegates. These are known as superdelegates in the Democratic Party and can be state party leaders, distinguished members of the party, former and current Democratic Governors, etc. Republicans award bonus delegates based on how the states have voted previously, based on the number of Republican Senators or Representatives, and Republican Governors,… These delegates can vote for whoever they choose but as they form only a fraction of the overall number of d

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Ballot. Photo Courtesy of Lars Plougmann via Wikimedia Commons

elegates (unsurprisingly different for each party), they have real influence only if the race is very close or during a brokered convention. The rules are much more complicated than this brief explanation can convey and not exactly transparent (for example, North Dakota’s system is yet again completely different).

 

Ordinary rank-and-file voters cannot do much about this system other than go cast their votes and then simply follow the delegate count as the primary season progresses. Here are the delegate counts for both Republicans and Democrats.

Step 2: National Conventions

After all states have held their primaries or caucuses, the chosen delegates for each party go to their respective National Conventions to choose their party nominees for President and Vice President. This years’ conventions are both going to be held in July, the Republican one on July 18-21 in Cleveland, OH, and the Democratic one in Philadelphia, PA, in the week of July 25.

The delegate counts are known even before the conventions start which means that no big surprises should come out of them. But what if after all the primaries no candidate gains the number necessary to secure a majority of delegate votes, that is, 1237 on the Republican side and 2383 on the Democratic side? In that case a brokered convention ensues. The process is rather complex, but it can be said that in a brokered convention, delegate votes are “brokered through political horse-trading and multiple ballots. The last time this happened was in 1948 and 1952 on the Republican and Democratic sides respectively, and neither of the party nominees who came out of them won the general election later that year.

Step 3: General Election

Once the nation knows the party nominees, the real race for the White House begins. The next ballot people cast is in the general election, which is held “on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every fourth year”. The closest date that fits this description is November 8, 2016.

In the general election it does not matter if people are registered with a party, they simply need to be registered to vote and, as of July 1971, older than 18 (it was actually 21 before that date). Their votes are recorded, but the final say on who will live in the White House in the four following years formally comes from what is called the Electoral College. In fact, citizens vote for electors pledged to their favorite candidate.

Electors are people who are chosen by the state parties as a recognition of their loyalty or distinguished service to the party. Each state gets as many electoral votes as they have representatives in the US Congress, Senators and Representatives combined –the number is based on the size of the state’s population. Half the states have less than 8 electoral votes (3 being the smallest number) and only six states have more than 20 votes, the biggest being California currently with 55. Look here for this year’s allocation of electoral votes. The magic number the candidates for President are aiming for is 270, the majority of the 538 electoral votes. Of course there is more to it: recount of electoral votes every ten years, swing states, safe states,… If you are interested, there are plenty of details to read more about.

There is no federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their state. But some states require it either by state law or by pledges to the electors’ respective parties. It almost never happens that the electors would go against the people so as a slight exaggeration it could be said that the electors are there only pro forma. The trick is elsewhere…

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I Voted sticker. Photo Courtesy of Michael Bentley

Almost all states (except for Nebraska and Maine) have a winner-take-all policy regarding the general election. This means that the candidate who wins the simple majority of the popular vote takes all the electoral votes of that state. Votes cast for the candidate who fails to gain the majority are virtually lost. And it can happen that the US President may be elected by the majority of electoral votes not winning the majority of the popular vote. As dramatic as it sounds, though, this situation has only occurred a few times in history. The noteworthy case is the 2000 election of Bush v. Gore. Again, there is more to it but there are always well-done educational videos like this one which can help you navigate through the system.


What To Remember About the Election Process

 

  • Donkey Elephant

Each of the parties has its own different internal set of rules and procedures for every step of the way. From the categorization of delegates, to how delegates are awarded to the candidates, to the way primaries or caucuses work, to the selection of electors, a lot is in the hands of the parties. And to make it even more interesting, it is not always the national but often a state party leadership who decides.

  • Disunited States

It is important to bear in mind that the United States is a collection of 50 states which have considerable levels of autonomy. And it is the individual states’ laws that regulate many of the election procedures. What this means is that if you lived and voted in one state for thirty years and suddenly moved, you might need to do some research about your new home state’s voter laws, primary system, or the regulations concerning your electors.

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via Wikimedia Commons

 

  • Directly Indirect

In the whole mess of trying to follow the right rules and not forgetting about all the important dates, it is easy to lose track of the fact that for all the voting, the ordinary people never actually vote for the candidates directly. In the primaries, they choose delegates for the national convention which selects the nominee, and in the general election, it is the few chosen electors who cast the final votes. It is easy to dismiss this hint at indirectness by remembering that the electors mostly follow the popular vote, but there are still the unpledged delegates in the primaries and all the “loser” votes in the winner-take-all general election…

  • Rules Change

Last but not least, to add to this beautiful confusion, another disclaimer: Americans seem to be quite stubborn about keeping some of their historical legislation, for instance the Electoral college system (this original idea of the Founding Fathers still appeals to the federal government even though several attempts have been made to change the system). This is, however, not the case with the rest of the POTUS election process. Rules have been changing ever since the first election and change is definitely not a thing of the past! It is enough to trace the history of the primary selection to get the idea.


What Are The Takeaways?

If nothing else, it is enough to remember that the process is way more complex than may be generally believed and that it is almost beyond a mere human’s abilities to get to the bottom of it. Which is why there is no shame in letting others do the research for you and then just digesting the information. (Look how Samantha Bee beautifully summarized  the early-April controversy about Democratic superdelegates.)

Sources used:

Coleman, Kevin J., Joseph E. Cantor, and Thomas H. Neale. “Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer.” CRS Report for Congress. April 17, 2000. pp. 11, 38.

Ibid, 9-11, 37.

 

 

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