Today is being called Super Tuesday in the United States. This is not related to the Super Bowl, which was last Sunday. It’s called Super Tuesday because it is the most important day for electing the candidates of the two major political parties (political groups), the people who will represent each party in the next election. The American election system is somewhat complicated, but here is a brief explanation.
We have two large political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. Each party picks (chooses, selects) its own candidates for president. The process for picking the candidates takes approximately seven to eight months, beginning in January and ending in July or August. There are two steps. In Step One, each person who wants to be the candidate for his or her party tries to win delegates (representatives) from each of the 50 states. These delegates are picked by each state, and each state determines how it will pick its own delegates. Each state also determines when it will pick its own delegates. For example, people in Iowa decided to have their election for delegates in January. Other states picked different dates in February, March, April, and May (and sometimes as late as June). This means that each person who wants to be the candidate will travel to these different states and try to win delegates. This also means that if you lose in some of the early states that pick first, you may not be considered a good enough candidate to continue, so it is important to win early and keep winning in the other state elections.
This is one reason why people think this is a crazy system. Both parties usually begin with seven or eight people who want to be the presidential candidate for their party. But if they don’t win some of the early states, they will probably have to drop out (quit) because people will think they are not popular enough to win. So there are really three or four states that effectively (in fact) select the candidates – the states that vote early.
There is no logic as to (related to) which states go first. Historically, New Hampshire was always the first state to pick its delegates, but now it is Iowa. Since each state wants to have an influence on who is the winning candidate, states have an incentive (motivation) to make their elections earlier and earlier. If you are a state that waits until May or June to have your election for delegates, the race (the contest, competition) could be finished already, since the winning candidate only needs a majority (51%) to win the nomination as the candidate for his or her party.
In the past several years, states have moved their elections from the later months to the earlier months in order to have a greater say (influence, voice) in determining who becomes the candidate. Today, there are 24 states that are holding elections to pick delegates, all on the same day! This is the most number for any day of the process, so it is called ‘Super’ Tuesday (elections in the U.S. are usually held (take place) on Tuesdays, not Sundays as in many other countries).
After all the states pick their delegates, we then go to Step Two, the national convention. All the delegates get together in one place and vote for the person they want to be the candidate for their party. This person is called the nominee (the selected or chosen one). These delegates must vote for the person their state told them to vote for, at least on the first ballot (vote) of the convention. If no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, then there will be more ballots until the winner is chosen. After the first vote at the convention, delegates are free to vote for whomever they like. However, this has not happened in many years. Usually, the winning candidate has enough delegates to win on the first ballot. These national conventions – one for the Democrats, one for the Republicans – are held in different cities every four years.
We’re not done yet! I said that each state has its own election on the day that it wants to to pick these delegates to the national convention (which is held in July or August). But there are two kinds of elections that a state can use. The first is called a caucus. A caucus is when people from each neighborhood or area come together at a school or other large building and meet to talk about the election and select delegates to their state political convention. Many states still have caucuses, including Iowa, Minnesota, and a few others. I used to go to caucuses when I lived in Minnesota. You see your neighbors there, talk about politics, and then select your delegates for your favorite candidates.
Most states have the other method of picking delegates, called a primary. A primary (meaning “first”) is like a normal election, where people go to a place (called a polling place) and vote for the person they want. There are no meetings, and the ballot is a secret. Big states such as California and New York use a primary system, and both of these states will be selecting their delegates today, on Super Tuesday.
After each party selects its candidates, then there is a general election in November (the first Tuesday in November), held every four years to elect the president. In the general election, the two nominees try to win as many votes as possible, and all 50 states vote at the same time. The winner becomes president. (Actually, it isn’t quite that simple, but I’ll wait until November to explain it all!)
In today’s election, there are just two Democrats who are still left in the race (contest) for the nomination of their party: Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barak Obama. All of the other people lost the early primaries and caucuses and dropped out already (after only four weeks!). For the Republicans, there are three people: Governor Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain, and Governor Mike Huckabee. The polls (opinion surveys) say that McCain will probably win the Republican nomination, but no one knows who will win the Democratic nomination because the race is too close to call (too even to know who will win). It is likely that neither Clinton or Obama will win enough delegates today to get the required 51%, so the election for the Democrats will not be decided (determined) today. One thing is certain, however: the Democrats will nominate (name, select) either the first African American (Black) candidate (Obama), or the first woman candidate (Clinton) in the history of the United States.
I use to listen to the news every afternoon on the radio, and you can’t imagine how much time they talk about nominations in your country. Just now they are speaking about this super tuesday but they don’t explain it as clearly as you do in the blog.
¿Is there anybody that don’t know now how are the nominations in U.S.?. I think it is very interesting and nice to know how is democracy elections are in other nations.
But if in my country should be “caucus” in some places sure it shall be very dangerous because many people would fight among them, or sure some other bad things may happen.
Political feelings have to be “secret” (top secret) in many regions of Spain if you want to be safe, or simply if you want to live over there with neighbourhood. In fact a lot of people have to go away from little towns o villages if their neighbours know something about his way of thinking, just because their lives where in danger. Other lost their lifes because they didn’t want to go and were killed without other reason that their way of thinking.
And this is something that not so many people kwons about what is happening just now here in my country. Many journalists, politicians, artist, or significant persons who have some influence need to have permanent escort all day wichever place they go.
This is very sad and not well known by other nations or people over there. I think we are a young democracy and we need more time to establish it everyplace in this country.
I envy very much your “caucus” and when this way of elections should be possible here, everywhere, it shall be a sign of things are going much better.
For me also it is very difficult to talk about politicians just among my friends….¿can you imagine “caucus”?
Thank you Jeff you explain it perfectly, and again I envy your Iowa’s people.
Sorry, I do not think yours like a crazy system, not at all, I like it very very much, as I said above, and my “caucus” is Hillary for president.
Obama seems also a good fellow but I prefer Hillary as I know her better. A great person, a great woman, and sure a good President.
Hi, this is my first posting here.
It seems to me that the process of selecting candidates for the general election in US has the benefit of involving people in this decision process by contributing to renew politics and politicians in your State. I’d rather prefer it was the same in my country too, but I’m afraid it is far too different. Unfortunately the citizens in Italy have no choice on which candidate they want to vote, neither for the presidency (prime minister) or for the members of the parliament. Both are decided by the Italian parties which are far more then two. So we are stuck with almost the same candidates as 10 years ago! The next general elections is due in Italy in April and Berlusconi (which is now 72 years old) is opposed to Veltroni (52) but both have always been in politics from more than a decade and there is no new face on the stage. I really envy your political system because it is up to the American people who will drive the US in the next years.
Thanks a lot for the explanation.
But I have a question: who can participate in the election of the delegates of a state? Only party members?
Thanks to Emiliano and Matteo for their comments. It is interesting to hear the perspective of others about your own country, and of course to learn about the situation in other places.
To answer Miguel’s question: It depends on the state and on the party. In some states, they have “open” primaries, meaning that even people who are not party members (“independents”) may vote in the election (they just pick one party or the other, but not both!). Some states have a “closed” primary, meaning that you have to be registered in for that party. But it is the parties that decide whether it will be open or closed. Here in California, you can vote in the Democratic primary if you are an independent, but not in the Republican one. This causes additional confusion. To make matters worse, the Democratic party has a certain percentage of delegates who are not decided by the popular vote. These are called “super delegates” and are usually political party members, elected officials, and other infuential people in the party organization. Still, the large majority of the delegates for both parties are popularly elected on primary day.
Thanks a lot for your answer, Jeff 🙂
Last night I went to bed near 4,30 p.a. looking for the news on the web, and it was amazing to see the newspapers showing the pools on first page.
Here, all newspapers did the same El Pais, El Mundo, ABC, etc., and each has his candidate. El Pais (Obama) of course as it is in the same way
that our Government.
I had on my screen The N.Y. Times, Whashington Post, El Pais, and El Mundo. I was looking at them simultaneously.
Also on the radio every journalist told us before that they were going to be all night awake watching for the results.
As Matteo says I know that Italy has same problem than here as the list are decided by the parties. The lists are closed, and if one of the first parties has not enough majority to make up Goverment the separty parties has the key of Government, what is happening just now. A big disaster, as they are people that wanted to go out of Spain “Nationalist”, they don’t want to speak spanish, they dislike the spanish flag…..also dislike our history and teach children what ever they wanted at the schools. Also, what is more incredible they “do not teach spanish at the schools” and the Spanish flag is not at the Cityhall buildings….and so on.. These parties are never satisficed wich what they obtain from official goverment………
We have elections next march, and as our politicians are so mediocres we are much more interested in what is happening in US. elections, that in ours as we know it should be just the same we have now, much more of the same what a pity.
Matteo yesterday I listen that in Italy 60 years of democracy after the second war 59 differents goverments, that is very incredible and that is the truth a country goes on without goverment at all. Regards.
Good for spanish people in U.S., their votes go to Hillary…….and in California has been esential for her. I am happy.
” These delegates must vote for the person their state told them to vote for, at least on the first ballot (vote) of the convention.”
how about if the candidate won a state then quitted,who else should the delegates vote for?hold another primary to decide?
Are there others political parties in USA besides Democrat and Republican? Some say they exist, but for me they are like cod fish’s head: we know that cod fish has head but we never see it.
I just wanted to point out a spelling mistake (?) here in the article in the 2nd paragraph, line 8: “This also means that if you *loose* in some of the early states that pick first,……”. Shouldn’t that have been “lose”?
And thanks, Jeff, for this very informative stuff!
[Thanks, Thomas. We’ve corrected it.–ESL Podcast Team]