How does the US decide on a president?

A presidential term is four years long. After four years, the nation gets to decide who they want as their next president.

The election process consists of four different stages: the primaries, the convention, the campaign and lastly, election day.

1. The primaries

The first step in the process, is to choose the candidate that will represent the party. Unlike most countries, where the party picks the candidate, US voters can choose from a list who they want to support.

As the elections are always held in November, State primaries start in January. Candidates of the same party campaign against each other to be nominated.

At the party’s national convention which normally takes place in the summer, the delegates choose the final candidate. The voters choose the delegates and the winning candidate will need to secure a majority of the delegates’ support.

In certain states a caucus system is used to choose their delegates instead of primaries. This process is more complex and instead of people simply indicating delegates by ballot, this selection takes place through a number of phases.

2. The convention

The party conventions are where each state indicates which candidate they will be supporting for presidency. States arrive at the hall with great fanfare, flags and banners showing who they have chosen to support.

The party usually already knows who has won by this stage and each state’s delegates select their formal presidential candidate. The highest number of delegates indicates the winners and at this stage, the candidates also secure the support of party rivals and name the person who will be running in capacity of vice-president.

3. The campaign

The third phase, the “campaign proper” is where the rival candidates go head to head. This is the time when policies are finely honed, taking into account the views of supporters for candidates who have been eliminated.Although this stage is shorter than the state primaries, it is much more intensified with heavy television publicity and public debates between candidates.During the last weeks of this phase, the focus shifts to the states which have the potential to swing the final votes in the critical electoral college votses. 

4. Election day

The first Tuesday in November (unless the Tuesday falls on the first) is the official election day for the American president.

Millions of voters show up to the polls and within 12 hours the preliminary results are usually in.

Once the votes have been counted, the process moves to the electoral college. Every state is represented by a different number of college members, as reflected by the state’s representation in Congress. The candidate with the majority of votes in each state, wins all of the electoral college members from that state.

Apart from Nebraska and Maine where additional votes are awarded to candidates who win the House of Representatives Districts, the other candidates don’t get any of the electoral college members from that state.

Even when a candidate gets the majority of members from across the states, the election is not quite over. The electoral college members meet formally to vote for the president. Although they are not legally bound to vote for the winning candidate, or even in line with their party’s allegiance, they rarely vote otherwise.

In the following January, the electoral college votes are formally counted in front of Congress.