Making sense of the US presidential race

Kanye West, Donald Trump and Lindsay Lohan. Before the current race to become the next President of the United States of America, I would have lumped these three names into the bucket of fairly questionable American celebrities.

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However, 2015 saw the somewhat trivialisation of the institution that is POTUS – Donald Trump is running in this presidential race, Kanye declared he will run in the future and there were shortlived rumours that Lindsay will do the same.

If Australian federal politics seems comical to us at times, then this line up is just downright daft. And it makes me wonder how on earth the system over there actually works, and whether such a state of ridiculousness could occur here.

Why does it matter to us? What relevance does it have to the day-to-day life of me, a stay at home Sydney mum? The immediate impact really is probably not a lot. It may mean a few interesting seasons of the Good Wife or Madam Secretary down the track, and Hollywood are probably creating Kanye as POTUS film scripts as we speak. Who would play Kim as First Lady? Malcolm Turnbull might need to verse up on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ should Don get in.

However, the power of the President of the United States and its government can at times be unbridled and enormous. Take the Bush administration and Weapons of Mass Destruction and its entry into Iraq. How many nations went along for the ride according to information the US presented as fact? The leader of one of the greatest economies in the world will, by default, have an indirect impact on Australian – US relations.

Statue of Liberty, New York. Photo - Jessica Podzebenko

So while it may not have an immediate daily impact on us, it concerns me that characters like Donald Trump are even running and let’s be honest, campaigning a section of American people with a degree of success. I am taking Kanye’s and Lindsay’s intentions with a grain of salt.

But to cut through all of this celebrity hoo-ha, it is important to understand how the political system works and what it takes to in fact become President. I glean a lot from watching ‘The Good Wife’ but that needs to undergo a fact-check. What on earth does ‘Iowa’ mean in the context of this race? What are the ‘primaries’? How on earth did Donald get to compete against Hillary in the first place? I am eager to know.

So from my research, I have discovered the process goes something like this:

  • A person with presidential ambitions will seek nomination of one of the political parties in the USA. Often a candidate will start a campaign around 2 years before the final election.

  • Each party has its own method to determine the best candidate to run for President. This means that the presidential nomination process is dictated by a number of indirect State primary elections (primaries) or caucuses. It is through this process that candidates battle for the nomination of their party.

  • A primary election is where voters vote for a group of delegates who have generally pledged to vote for a particular presidential candidate. This way, party supporters can indirectly vote for the person they want to represent their party in the presidential poll. Some States use a 'caucus' (a local meeting system), as opposed to a 'primary' to pick party delegates.

  • Ever heard talk of 'Iowa' in US political television dramas? Iowa is the first caucus, or major electoral event, in the presidential nomination process to be held in the country (this year on February 1st). It is therefore regarded as a bit of a litmus test of the sentiment of the American voting public.

  • The delegates of the parties (who have been chosen through the State primaries or caucuses) then officially nominate a candidate to run on the party's behalf at the party's national convention, held in July. The conventions are a key part of the American political process, held every four years to determine who the presidential candidates are.

  • The presidential election itself, held in November, is also an indirect election. Voters directly vote for a group of members of the Electoral College and it is these 'electors' or designated intermediaries - not ordinary citizens - who directly elect the President and Vice President. The designated intermediaries are selected according to State law and generally have pledged to vote for a particular presidential candidate.

  • The elected President and Vice President are inaugurated the following January.

Let’s see how voting in Iowa translates the voice of America.

Sources - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6297545, Wikipedia.

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