The United States is currently divided almost exactly in half between supporters of the Democratic and Republican parties
• The Republican-Democratic division in the country follows clear geographical patterns
• The Democratic Party generally controls the large northern cities (the North-East), the industrial region around the Great Lakes and the West Coast• The Republican Party generally controls the South-East, Texas and the mostly rural central part of the country
• For most of its history American politics has been based on a twoparty system
• Occasionally, “third party” candidates emerge in major elections (this generally represents a split within one of the major parties)
• ‘Minor’ parties (Green, Communist,Libertarian, etc.) exist in the U.S. but win a much smaller proportion of the vote than they do in Europe
• Only one round of elections. The candidate with majority after this round wins, even if there is no absolute majority.
The ‘Electoral College’
• In Presidential Elections voters do not directly elect a candidate.
• Instead they vote for a member of the Electoral College (“un grand electeur”)• Each state has a number of electors which is equal to its total Congressional representation (so California has by far the most electors, followed by Texas and New York)
• The candidate who wins the popular vote in a state receives all the electoral votes of that state • The vote of the electors is then a formality as they simply support the winner of the popular vote in their state
•This system can lead to seemingly unfair results where one candidate wins the national popular vote, but loses to his opponent
in the electoral college (example of 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore): Candidate Party Popular Vote % Electoral Vote George Bush Republican 50,460,110 47,9 271 Al Gore Democrat 51,003,926 48,4 266 Ralph Nader Green 2,883,105 2,7 0 Pat Buchanan Reform449,225 0,4 0 Harry Browne Libertarian 384,516 0,4 0 Howard Philips Constitution 98,022 0,1 0
• Voters are attached to this electoral system because it ensures the importance of individual states
• If the popular vote were all that mattered, candidates would concentrate on major population centres and direct their message to important groups that are present nation-wide • In the current system,Presidential elections are usually decided by the results in about a dozen politically divided states
• These are called ‘swing states’ (the most important are Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania). In 2000 the Presidential election was decided by a few hundred votes in the state of Florida. In 2004, had John Kerry won the state of Ohio he would have been elected. Major swing states are relatively largeand contain diverse populations (Pennsylvania is divided between the big city of Philadelphia in the East and a large, rural population in the West; the north of Ohio contains major industrial centres like Cleveland and Cincinnati, while the south is farmland and home to a large population of religious conservatives, etc.)
The Two-Party System
• The 2000 Election results also show the smallplace ‘minor parties’ occupy in U.S. politics
• There are several reasons for this: 1. Only one round of voting, so voters want to make their vote count (vote utile) 2. Much American political debate occurs within the two big parties (plurality of views is expressed before a candidate is chosen, then parties unite—note difference with France where parties choose their candidate internally, thenthe plurality of voter attitudes are expressed in the first round of the election) 3. The size of the country makes it impossible for small parties to compete with the larger ones. Almost no national television or radio channels, so a small party would have to buy air time in hundreds of regional centres. How to pay for transportation and campaign events in all parts of the country, etc....