As you may have seen the United States of America (USA/US) has just had a new presidential election. So I thought it would be a nice idea to give you some information about the American election, the candidates, political parties and the political system of the world’s only super power. This year, 2020 has been a very difficult year in many ways especially with the strange conditions we have all had to adjust to with the onset of the pandemic. In keeping with this unusual year the US presidential election has also proved to be a strange one, as things stand Donald Trump (Republican) is the president of the USA but he has lost the election to Joe Biden (Democrat) and still at the time of writing Trump has not conceded (this means he has not given up, he does not agree that he has lost) and he is set to challenge the results in court. Before we get into exactly what happened and is still happening let’s have a look at how US elections work.

Donald Trump Republican (L) Joe Biden Democrat (R)

What’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats?

There are two main political parties in the U.S: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Of course other parties exist but these two parties have dominated American Politics pretty much since independence. Third party candidates like for example the Green Party usually also run in the elections but their candidate usually doesn’t get many votes, so we can be fairly sure that the next American president will always be either a Republican or a Democrat. The Republicans and Democrats usually disagree with each other when it comes to major issues such as taxes, health care and the environment. So you are probably wondering what is a Republican or a Democrat and what is the difference between them?

The Republican Party is associated with the colour red and uses an elephant as its symbol. States that traditionally vote Republican are known as
graphic from

How is a presidential candidate chosen?

Many people are members of either the Republican or Democrat party but only one person from each of these parties has the chance to represent their party in the election and this person is called a candidate. Before any candidate can be chosen they must fulfil some essential conditions. If they do not meet these conditions then it would not be possible for them to become president.

To be eligible as a presidential candidate, you must: have been born in the U.S., be a minimum of 35 years of age, and have been a U.S. resident for at least 14 years. 
graphic from

Meeting the above conditions is just the first step in the process for someone to become a presidential candidate for one of these two main political parties. The process is not as simple as only one person from each party goes straight into the contest for president, there might be few Republicans and a couple of Democrats who want the chance to be their party’s candidate the problem is that only one Democrat and one Republican can be the official representative of their party. This means there must be a series of smaller elections usually, but not always within the parties themselves, these are called primaries and the winner of these primaries is the one who becomes their party’s candidate for the race to the White House. After they have been chosen as the Republican and Democrat candidate and confirmed at their party’s national convention (big party meeting), the respective candidates then choose their own candidates for vice-president, this person is known as their ‘running mate’. This is why you always see two names on the election signs. For example this year for the Democrats the presidential candidate was Joe Biden and his ‘running mate for vice-president was Kamala Harris. So one the election signs you will see BIDEN/HARRIS (see photo below).

The White House, traditional home of the President of the United States of America.
Presidential candidates on top and their running mates for vice-president below

Donald Trump & Mike Pence vs Joe Biden & Kamala Harris 2020

Once the party candidates have been confirmed in their positions they then start on an intense schedule of events, party rallies etc, this is called campaigning. Candidates spend millions of dollars on getting their messages to the American people, through advertisements, television commercials and other mediums. They give many many speeches and also the candidates appear on television in head to head debates where the candidates go against each other, talk about their policies, their opponents and take questions from the press and public. This year the pandemic made campaigning very difficult, both Trump and Biden took different approaches with Biden seeming to care more for public safety and minimising the chances of people’s exposure to the virus at his events.

graphic from BBC Newsround

How does the US election work?

The US election happens every four years on the first Tuesday of November, with this year’s election on 3 November 2020.

Lots of people have used postal votes to make their choice this year as they want to avoid others at polling stations during the pandemic. However Donald Trump was worried that these votes will not be counted properly and this is part of the reason he has not yet admitted defeat.

How Different Polling Locations Subconsciously Influence Voters -  Scientific American

On election day, people in all 50 states get the chance to cast their votes. But this isn’t the end of the process. Following the national election, there’s another vote: the electoral college vote.

What is the electoral college?

The electoral college is a group of people that cast their votes and have the final confirmation on who becomes president and vice president. Each state gets a number of electoral votes based on the number of representatives they have in Congress (House and Senate). This is based on population numbers that are tracked every ten years. That’s why candidates often want to win the electoral votes for big states (such as New York or Texas) because they make up a large amount of the overall electoral votes across the country. A presidential candidate needs more than half of the electoral vote to win. The first candidate to get over 270 votes is the winner and the next president of the United States of America. The electoral college system means that it is possible for a candidate to win the presidency even if they didn’t win the most votes, or what’s known as the popular vote, during the national election, like Trump back in 2016.

America - Divided into all fifty states and and labelled.
The geographic size of the state isn’t important, population decides the number of electoral votes
Graphic: A map of the US showing how many electoral college votes are allocated to each state

So where are we now?

Donald Trump is still president and will remain so at least until January. It seems Joe Biden has won the election but as we have already said, Trump has not given in yet and will contest the results in court to try and keep hold of power. Not all the votes have been counted even though we are a week on from the day when Biden was announced as the winner. What happens remains to be seen but I can’t help but say that probably in the best interests of Democracy the transition from Trump to Biden should go ahead as peacefully as possible, so we wait while holding our breath.


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