The United States will hold presidential elections on November 5, after an extensive process that includes several phases, from the primaries and caucuses to the inauguration of the elected president. This system based on indirect voting has been the pillar of American democracy since the country's founding, but it has also become the subject of constant debate. On France 24 we explain the key facts of these elections: how the system works and why the 2024 elections are considered particularly important.
There is “a lot at stake” in this year’s US election because the outcome “could actually mean something like the end of full democracy,” warns historian Alexander Keyssar, a professor at Harvard University’s School of Kennedy Government and an author from “The Right to Vote, the Controversial History of Democracy in the United States.”
Keyssar refers to the Election process that begins on January 15thas Iowa Republicans vote for their party's candidate in November's presidential election.
Iowa is traditionally the starting point of the race for the White House every four years. when the state holds its caucuses, a kind of gathering of voters close to the party.
The meetings are just one of the features of a process that takes several months, to which are added the indirect voting system, the “hinge” or “pendulum” states or postal voting.
At France 24 we examine some keys to understanding this year's race for the White House, which, according to analysts and polls, points to a possible fight between the current president and re-election candidate, Democrat Joe Biden, and former Republican President Donald Trump. .
1. When and how do the elections start?
USA will hold its 60th presidential election on November 5, 2024 and the winner will be inaugurated on January 20, 2025.
Since 1845, the election to fill the White House has generally taken place every four years on the first Tuesday in November.
The day's selection dates back to the 19th century, when most Americans lived in rural areas and had to travel long distances to get to the polls.
Tuesdays were considered ideal as they allowed voters to travel after the Sunday rest day but before the Wednesday market.
Voter Alexandra Hall leaves the polls after casting her vote at McLean High School on Election Day in Virginia, USA, November 8, 2022. © Tom Brenner / Portal
The reason it was in November is because they were looking for a time of year when the harvest was over and the weather allowed travel without the difficulties of winter.
There are currently voices calling for a change to the election day, arguing that voting on a weekday reduces voter turnout.
2. What will be voted on in these elections?
This year, the country's president, 35 members of the Senate (33 of them in regular elections and two in special elections) and the 435 members of the House of Representatives will be elected.
The Democrats and their allies currently have a narrow majority of 51 to 49 in the upper house. Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2024, 10 will be held by Republicans, 20 by Democrats and 3 by Democratic-aligned independents.
Current composition of the US Senate in 2024. © France 24 /Nicolás Sánchez
In the lower house, Republicans are trying to defend their narrow majority of 220 to 213.
Before Nov. 5, the first test will come on Feb. 13, when a special election will contest the seat of Republican George Santos, the New York representative expelled in December over alleged corruption.
Composition of the US House of Representatives in 2024. © France 24 /Nicolás Sánchez
Meanwhile, at the state level, eleven governorships and more than 5,000 seats in state legislatures are in contention this year.
3. Who are the presidential candidates?
Current President Joe Biden is facing little opposition in his re-election campaign in the Democratic Party, while former President Donald Trump leads a group of six candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2024 election.
On January 5, 2024, Republican leader Donald Trump and current US President Joe Biden began their presidential campaign. © France 24
- Joe Biden, current President of the United States. On April 25, 2023, he announced that he would seek re-election.
- Dean Phillips. Member of the House of Representatives for Minnesota.
- Marianne Williamson, author and former spiritual advisor to Oprah Winfrey. He also sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
Donald Trump, former President of the United States. He announced his candidacy on November 15, 2022.
Ryan Binkley, businessman and pastor.
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
- Nikki Haley, former UN ambassador and former governor of South Carolina.
- Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas.
- Vivek Ramaswamy, businessman and political commentator.
4. How each party's candidates are selected: caucuses, primaries, and conventions
Elections in the United States go through a complex process that includes several phases, from the primaries or caucuses through the national conventions to the November elections themselves.
Primaries and caucuses: Before the general election, political parties hold primaries or caucuses (a type of popular meeting) in each state. In these elections, registered voters from each party choose their preferred candidate to represent the party in the general election.
What is an EFE caucus?
Party conferences: After the primaries, each political party organizes a national convention where the nomination of the presidential candidate is formalized. The vice president is also selected at this meeting.
election campaign: Once nominated, presidential candidates run campaigns across the country to win the support of voters, who are typically concentrated in so-called swing or undecided states.
General elections: The general election takes place on the first Tuesday in November. Voters choose their preferred candidates for public office, including the president. However, citizens do not directly elect the president; Rather, they vote for a group of voters committed to supporting their party's presidential candidate and making up the electoral college.
Certification of electoral votes: After the election, the votes cast by each state's Electoral College members are sent to Congress, which then meets in joint session on January 6 to count and certify the electoral votes.
Presidential inauguration: Finally, January 20th The elected president takes the oath and takes office.
5. Electoral system: Why can a candidate achieve the presidency without winning the popular vote?
Unlike many democracies around the world, in the United States, the winner of the popular vote automatically becomes the country's leader The fate of the president rests in the hands of the Electoral Collegeconsisting of 538 representatives from all states.
In principle, the Electoral College can allow a candidate who does not win the popular vote to become president. We already know this has happened twice in the last 20 years,” says historian Alexander Keyssar, whose book “The Right to Vote, the Controversial History of Democracy in the United States” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.
The expert points to two of the most controversial cases of the last few decades. The most recent was submitted in 2016 by Democrat Hillary Clinton, who lost the election despite receiving 2.8 million more votes than her rival, Republican Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton during a speech on October 30, 2016 in Florida. Jewel Samad, AFP
This also happened in 2000, when Democrat Al Gore received a total of 50,999,897 votes while Republican George W. Bush received 50,456,000 votes. However, Because it is not the direct support of the population that is crucialBush was declared the winner by winning in 271 B.Cothers in the electoral college, compared to 266 for Al Gore.
6. How does the Electoral College work and how does a candidate win?
At the heart of this system is the Electoral College, an indirect voting process that has characterized presidential elections since the country's founding.
Although nearly 218 million citizens in the United States are eligible to vote, they do not elect the president but delegate that responsibility to the 538 members of the Electoral College, known as delegates.
Each state has as many representatives in the Electoral College as there are members of Congress (House and Senate), plus three from Washington DC (residents of Puerto Rico and Guam do not vote in presidential elections).
The Electoral College is the unit that brings together the votes to elect the President of the United States, leaving the popular vote in the background. © France 24
To fill these 538 seats, each party proposes candidates and citizens choose them in the November elections, taking into account their preferred presidential candidate and according to each state's rules.
Although the presidential winner is already determined on election night due to the support of delegates from both parties, the Electoral College officially takes its vote in mid-December.
To win the White House, a candidate must win at least 270 Electoral College votes.
7. Pendulum states, determinants of the outcome
Many states across the country traditionally lean toward one party or the other.
The so-called safe states include California, Massachusetts and New York, which are traditional Democratic strongholds. Meanwhile, North Dakota, Alabama and Texas are on the Republican side.
Based on this security, the presidential candidates are focusing on it in their campaigns Conditions known as pendulums or hinges, i.e. those that can change signbecause they are the ones who can ultimately decide the results of the presidential election campaign.
This is because in the American electoral system, most states have adopted the “winner take all” policy, which means that the presidential candidate who receives the majority of votes in a state receives all of the Electoral College seats allocated to the state and therefore also with their voices.
Commuter states in the USA © France 24/ Lizeth M. Agredo Vásquez
For example, if a candidate wins the popular vote in a key state like Florida, he or she would receive the 30 electoral votes (the Electoral College seats) allocated to that state.
Some of the undecided states due to their heterogeneity included Ohio and Florida, as well as Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
8. Criticism of the electoral system
For historian Keyssar, “the Electoral College, a system created at the end of the 18th century, involved many compromises and interests in a political world very different from today's.” So it is an outdated system , which is fundamentally not democratic.”
One of the main criticisms of the system is the way electoral votes are allocated to states. For this reason, less populous states tend to be overrepresented in the Electoral College relative to their populations.
This controversy has led to calls for reform or abolition on the grounds that it does not adequately reflect the will of the population. While its proponents claim that the system protects the interests of less populous states.
Election workers in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, November 4, 2020. © AFP
However, changing the system requires a constitutional amendment, This would be very complex to achieve because it entails a partisan advantage for the Democrats and therefore “the Republicans will not allow it,” María Victoria Murillo, professor of political science at the School of Public and International Affairs, tells France 24. and director of the Institute for Latin American Studies at Columbia University (New York).
9. The specifics of the 2024 elections
Consulting firm Eurasia Group noted in its annual report on Jan. 8 that these elections pose the greatest political risk to the future of the world because whoever wins will undermine this country's democratic institutions.
He addressed this in his report The November 5 election “will test American democracy on a scale the nation has not seen in 150 years.” regarding the civil war in that country, adding that “in an outcome that essentially resembles a lottery (at least for the moment), the only certainty is that the social fabric, political institutions and international reputation of the United States will continue to be harmed.” “.
Donald Trump: Between prison and the White House? © France 24
Eurasia also predicts that an “unprecedented political crisis” could ensue if Trump were to go to prison over any of the legal cases against him.
Analysts such as David P. Redlawsk, chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, They agree that these elections “almost never happened.”
Two people who are leaders in their party and have both been presidents. We have a situation where the current president is being challenged by a former president. “This is really very unusual and of course it has become even more unusual thanks to Donald Trump, who, as we know, basically wants to overthrow the system,” he added in statements to France 24.
10. Important issues that are the protagonists of the campaign
In addition to Trump's legal situation, which, according to the analysts surveyed, will be one of the central issues of the election campaign, the focus will primarily be on foreign policy issues the war in Ukraine and the Gaza Stripdue to the appropriations requested by Congress to support Kiev and Israel, respectively.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attend the Republican presidential debate at Drake University in Iowa on Jan. 10, 2024. © Mike Segar, Portal
“There’s certainly something else to add to this issue Inflation, immigration and the economic situation“Says the expert María Victoria Murillo, who recalls that although Biden has continued in some aspects the policies of his predecessor regarding Latin America, with his position on the situation in Guatemala and the promotion of measures in Guatemala, he has also shown interest in regional issues has strengthened the face of the migration crisis.
Finally, Criticism of gerontocracy or the aging of the political class The American, who has been in the Senate for an average of more than 64 years and in Congress for 58 years, has also positioned himself among the election campaign topics. This is also because the two main presidential candidates are over 75 years old: in the case of Biden, he is 81 years old and Trump is 77 years old.
This issue has already become part of election campaigns, especially in the Republican one in which the candidate is represented Nikki Haley proposed imposing an age limit for Congress and requiring “mandatory mental competency testing for politicians over 75.”