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Pre-2008 Posts

How Americans Elect Presidents: Mystifying and Wearisome U.S. Electoral Politics Explained

Elsewhere on the internet I had an exchange with a Canadian progressive who understandably finds U.S. electoral politics complicated, mystifying and wearisome.  I thought our exchange was fruitful and might be interesting for others who would like to understand the way Americans elect presidents. 

I have a few very basic questions. Your country’s politics give me a headache and I religously avoid watching American news but I have seen a few clips… about Iowa? Does everyone in each state, one at a time, starting for some bizarre reason with Iowa, vote on ALL the potential Presidential candidates for both parties? What then, is the point of voting in November? Why Iowa? Do you do a different state each week?

Also, how could someone who is democrat (I have figured out that Hillary is a Democrat) be pro war? I think Democrat is supposed to be an American version of liberal. What exactly do Democrats believe? (even a URL wouldbe helpful here)

Who picks the policies of the democrats? Is this what this voting is about – to pick a leader who is the degree of liberal that one agrees with in order to influence overall party policies? Is there any other method of regular people telling the democrats that they are looking really right wing?

No wonder so many people don’t vote in your country – it must be exhausting to go thru all this preliminary stuff and the media attention, choices and things you seem to fight over are pretty much either superficial fluff or differnt shades of right wing.

But by all means DO Vote, the rest of the world needs a break from Bush’s team. Please vote as left as you can. Thanks.

Hello.  🙂 State caucuses, like the Iowa caucus, are the way the states ramp up for the national conventions for each party, held in the summertime, in which each party decides who its presidential candidate will be. Some states use caucuses, some use “primaries,” but the goal in each case is to gauge the level of support in the state for the various candidates, to draw a bead on which candidate the state is going to support, and to decide who the state’s delegates will be to the national convention. The delegate-selection process is done differently in different states and the Democrats do it differently from the Republicans. The Iowa caucus is viewed as important because it is the earliest state caucus and begins to give people a feel for which candidates ordinary, everyday citizens are liking and supporting (as opposed to all the media hype we all see and hear all of the time).

Most of the Democratic candidates have been, at least to some degree and at some point, pro-war. While historically Democrats are less likely to support war, there have always been pro-war Democrats and hawkish democrats who were, at the same time, liberal as to domestic policies. By the same token, in general, Republicans have been consistently pro-war. I’m trying to think of an anti-war Republican over the last 30 years and I can’t think of one.

In the same way, there isn’t one set of policies or a single platform to which all in the Democratic or Republican party adhere. As a general rule, Republicans are pro-big-business, anti-abortion, pro-war. and lax on environmental issues. As a general rule, Democrats are pro-labor, pro-choice, environmentalists, and less likely to be pro-war. But, there are some pro-choice, anti-big-business Republicans and some anti-choice, pro-war Democrats. Party platforms get hashed out in the various precinct and district caucuses throughout the United States and states vary from one to another depending on what a given state’s issues are. States in the Midwest, where the economies depend on farming and industry, tend to be Democratic and pro-labor. The Pacific Northwest and Alaska tend to be Democrat because of farming, industry and environmental concerns. Platforms are always in flux. Everything gets hashed out and worked over in the national conventions when presidential candidates are selected, but consensus is not sought or achieved; the majority rules, meaning there will always be people in each party, each district, each convention who depart in various ways from whatever the final party platform might be.

Most people aren’t involved in politics at the precinct or district level, though they should be! Because that is the level at which we can bring our influence to bear most directly. Party politics are very confusing and wearying, though, and most U.S. citizens just watch the news, read the papers and vote in elections (if they vote at all). In general, they try to vote for the candidate whose views most align with their own, although there are still some people who vote a straight party ticket, i.e., they always vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate. Another wrinkle is the electoral process. individual votes are tallied to elect the President, but each state also has a certain number of “electoral votes” based on state population, and sometimes a Presidential candidate can win the popular vote but still lose the election because he doesn’t carry enough electoral votes. The point of electoral votes is that states have the ability to weigh in, as states, in the election process, given that each state has its own priorities and issues, just as each individual has her own priorities and issues.

It’s very true that the Democratic Party is not all that different from the Republican Party these days. What is viewed as “liberal” today politically in the U.S. was centrist 30, 40 years ago, and what is viewed as “conservative” today would have been viewed as off the charts fringe-y, moving towards fascism 30 years ago, if not outright fascist and warmongering. The entire nation, over the past 30-40 years, has shifted way to the Right, and what is considered the “Left” now is only Left because it’s a tad left of the extremities of the Right! This is the reason, or one reason, for the growing interest in third parties and third party candidates — the Greens, the Libertarian Party, Free Soil, for a few. There is significant dissatisfaction in the U.S. with both the major parties and especially with the inertia and stagnation of the Democrats and their inability to produce solid, viable candidates who represent any real choice in terms of platform.

Of course, amongst progressive people (most of whom are dissatisfied with the Democrats at least to some degree), there is a lot of conflict in election years around voting for third party candidates. In the last election many progressives voted Green for Ralph Nader/Winona LaDuke and were blamed by Democrats and other progressives for Bush being elected, because as it turned out, Bush won by such a VERY slim margin and the view was, if those who voted for Nader had voted for John Kerry, Kerry would have won and everything would have been much different over the past four years.

We will likely have a Democrat in the White House, though I am ready to serve, send me in, coach! One thing that came out loud and clear in the Iowa Primary was, people are SO so SO ready for a change! Change, please, everyone is saying, whether Republican or Democrat, as reflected in the popularity in Iowa of Huckabee and Obama. People are tired of the Old Guard, and that’s something which emerged very clearly in Iowa.

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4 thoughts on “How Americans Elect Presidents: Mystifying and Wearisome U.S. Electoral Politics Explained

  1. Heart for President! *wavessign*

    That would be way cool. And thanks for the explanation.

    Posted by Jokerine | January 6, 2008, 11:19 am
  2. Hey Heart,

    Haven’t been to the blog in awhile, but the boards were down so I thought I’d take a read! 🙂

    I had to smile reading the Canadians questions about our elections. Yes, they are “damn confusing!”

    I think everyone *should* vote, especially women–we worked damn hard for this right, and the leadership, in general, is going to have more of an effect on our livelihood.

    On the other hand, I have become a little disheartened with the presumed “fairness” of the U.S. election process. I can’t help but remember that quote by Emma Goldman, “If voting could change anything, it would be illegal.”

    The reason Bush hasn’t (yet) put further restrictions on voters is because he is familiar with those in power and the way they operate.

    Posted by Laur | January 6, 2008, 8:16 pm
  3. Alaska leans Democratic? The governor, Senators, and its single Representative are all Republicans. The only anti-war Republican I can think of is Ron Paul, though he is anti-choice and more Libertarian than Republican. There are a few Republican politicians opposing the war on Iraq, however. Almost no mainstream politician dares to criticize the war on terror. Many Democrats denounce the war on Iraq, as a distraction from the “real war on terror,” whatever that means.

    US politics can seem mystifying, but the way I see it, politics as usual is pathetic, all smoke and mirrors.

    Posted by Aletha | January 8, 2008, 6:47 am


  1. Pingback: 2008 Presidential Election » How Americans Elect Presidents: Mystifying and Wearisome US … - January 6, 2008

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