Your Guide to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Part 3

Icons of politics and American ElectionsTo help you understand the presidential elections in the United States this year, I’m going to attempt to explain some of the events of the election in an ongoing (continuing; series) “guide.” I am not an expert on politics, but I’ll do my best. No doubt both Warren and Lucy will have things to add on this topic as well.

This post is called “Part 3,” but don’t worry if you think you missed the first two parts. I didn’t actually call them Part 1 and Part 2 when I published them!

The first part was published back in 2008, and explains the primary nomination process.

The second part was last month, when I described Super (Crazy) Tuesday.

If you haven’t read those yet, you should do so before continuing on with this series.

The Latest: A Contested Convention?

There’s been a lot of talk (discussion) in the media (newspapers, television, radio, and Internet news sites) recently about the possibility of the Republican Party having a “contested convention.”

What exactly is a contested convention?

In order to win a political party’s presidential nomination (the right to represent the party in the main or general election in November), a candidate (a person trying to get elected) must have a majority (50% + 1) of the delegates to the party’s convention.

A delegate is a representative from a state or territory who gets to vote in the party’s big meeting or convention this summer. As I explained in Part 1 of this series, during the spring of each election year, each state and territory (places like Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam) votes in a primary for their favorite candidates. Then delegates are chosen from that state or territory to represent the state/territory at the national political conventions during the summertime. The number of delegates from each state/territory is determined by the population of that state (well, approximately determined – it is actually a bit more complicated than that).

But – and this is really important – the actual people who will be the delegates to the national convention from the states and territories are usually chosen by the political organizations (Republican and Democratic) in each state, not directly by the voters. These are often people who have been involved in the politics of that state for many years, and are usually not “newcomers” (people new to a place or an activity).

At the convention, the delegates usually have to vote the candidate the voters in their state selected during the primaries. We say the delegates are “pledged” (promised or committed) to that candidate. They must vote for the person their state voted for.

For example, if you are one of the 99 Republican delegates from Florida, you will have to vote for Donald Trump, even if you personally don’t like Donald Trump. That’s because Trump won the primary election in Florida this year, so all of Florida’s delegates have to vote for him.

Seems simple, right?

Now here’s where it gets tricky (difficult or complicated): a delegate typically is pledged to that candidate only for the first ballot (the first vote at the convention). After the first ballot, delegates are usually free to vote for whomever they want.

So if you don’t really like Donald Trump and you are a delegate from Florida, you may (depending on the rules in your state/territory) be able to vote for someone else on the second ballot (or third ballot etc.).

Why is this important? Because many of Trump’s supporters are newcomers to politics, and therefore they are less likely to have been selected as delegates to the convention. This means that many of the Republican delegates currently (now) pledged to Trump may not actually want Trump to win the nomination.

If those delegates get a chance to vote on a second ballot, they could vote for another candidate.

In the past 40 years, there has never been a second ballot at a presidential convention. That’s because someone has always entered the convention with a majority (50% + 1) of the delegates. When no one has a majority of the delegates on the first ballot, then we have what is called a contested or open convention.

This year, a candidate for the Republican nomination needs 1,237 votes at the convention to win. If no candidate has majority on the first ballot, there will be a second ballot (and perhaps more), and many of the delegates will be able to vote for a candidate other than the one they were pledged to on the first ballot.

So even if, say, Donald Trump has 1,236 delegates pledged to him on the first ballot, if he doesn’t win that ballot, the delegates can select someone else (such as Ted Cruz or John Kasich or ??).

In other words, just because you have a plurality (more than anyone else, but not a majority) of the pledged delegates on the first ballot does not mean you will be nominated.

The possibility of a contested convention is very real at the Republican convention this summer; it is less likely at the Democratic convention, where Hillary Clinton is expected to have a majority of delegates on the first ballot. It all depends on whether the current front-runner (the person who currently has the most pledged delegates), Donald Trump, can win a majority of the remaining primaries.

Have a question about the U.S. elections or politics? Put them in the comments section and I’ll try to answer some of them in a future post.


P.S. If you really want to understand how the American government works, get our Introduction to the United States course. It will give you the background you need to understand the basics of U.S. history and the American political system.

P.P.S. If you haven’t subscribed yet to our magazine, go to Learn English Magazine and download our free iOS or Android app. I’ll be adding more commentary on U.S. politics in the upcoming (coming; future) issues.

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10 Responses to Your Guide to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Part 3

  1. Dan says:

    Many thanks Jeff.

    I find these posts interesting, useful and informative.
    As a European I have been following this “crazy” and getting crazier primaries since its start as much as I can.

    Something that I have noticed is like one has only two option Democrats or
    What if someone doesn’t feel represented by those two parties?
    Are there other options?
    I mean, watching mainstream media looks like there is no other option.
    I saw an alternative, but just because I subscribe to The Rubin Report
    on YouTube. Do you know the host? He is from LA and lives in the gay area.
    He is married to a man. But thieves gossiping, right? The truth though.
    It was a Libertarian Candidate named Gary Johnson.
    If it wasn’t for that show I would have never heard about this candidate.

    I find myself agreeing with the conservatives minus the religion part of it.
    With all the due respect, but here are some serious religious nuts over there.

    I guess my question would be: is that true Trump has small hands? LOL just joking.

    Thanks Jeff!

  2. Dan says:

    Hi, me again.
    I am not sure this is unique to the US elections but I have noticed that the label “racist” is thrown around a lot.
    Especially from the left.
    The accusation/insult is overused without evidence. Just thrown around like

    Thanks again

  3. jetlee says:

    Very informative. Thank you Jeff.

    I have one question.

    When all the primaries finish, don’t we know whether a specific candidate wins a majority or not?

    What I think is ….

    1. If there is a candidate wining a majority at primaries – > We don’t need to hold the first ballot at the national convention because he or she will win the nomination.

    2. If there is no candidate wining a majority at primaries -> We also don’t need to hold the first ballot at the national convention because nobody will win the majority on the first ballot. It’s better to just do the second ballot.

    I miss some point?

  4. Tania says:

    I was worry about you as we did not receive the new issue of the Learn English Magazine for a month.
    We are waiting for the upcoming issue.
    We miss you and your video lessons.

    All the best for you,


  5. Thiago Messias says:

    Very interesting text. Thannk you much for this session, I learn so much from it. Love it.

  6. Roberto says:

    Hello everyone,

    Interesting topic about American people choose their candidates… It is a joke obviously.
    I didn’t know that people who select candidates, Democrats or Republicans, they are chosen for the same political party!
    But if I want to be honest, I can’t talk about American politics because in my country, Spain, we are without goverment and I think
    we are going to celebrate new elections in June.

    In my opinion and as I consider USA a great country, I am very surprised with both potential presidents, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,
    and I question to myself…. is there anybody out there? (USA and Spain)

    This is the first time from I am interested in politics that I don’t mind the result or aftermath in American elections, however and to keep in touch
    with US I will try to learn how to play baseball and the best way is to watch MLB baseball games that are going to start this weekend.
    Any recommendation for a team? I am looking forward to hearing your do’s and don’ts of baseball teams.

    Best Regards

  7. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Too complicated and a litle useful for ordinary people. I am sorry.

  8. Pete says:

    A small note :

    As u must know by now , I always speak my mind. I can’t help it.
    I can not hold my tongue ,and I can hold it back
    I tell it like it is : the quality that doesn’t go over very well by many.

    U know , from the very beginning of the US presidential campaigns I have been roundly criticizing the tone and the direction the race has taken.
    And , I always blamed the media out let for all the ruffling feathers, and pettiness we are witnessing today.

    A learning guide member


  9. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    You’re right, Pete. Staying out of these things is the best thing we can do. We don’t gain any profit, only they do. What the use?
    Aecio, no side of politics.

  10. Pete says:

    Hey Aecio
    I hear you bro

    Y know ,the truth is , I prefer sb in the oval office who at least knows a thing or two about world in generall and how U.S. politic system works.
    Somebody who is forward thinking, pro-freedom ,and most importantly ,see people for what they are like not what they look like. A leader who know when take charge and when let go
    I digress! Where was I ?
    Oh ,
    In all honesty , I would rather current US president kept the office for at least two more terms.
    In my book, he has what it takes.
    He has substance and he is a free thinker. He Is a great speaker and he has a great sense of humour.

    I feel compelled to add :
    I m truly happy that Canada enjoying a leader whose good look is not his only exceptional value. He is a visionary with great ideas, a thinker who highly values freedom in all its form and shape.

    Thanks Aecio for looking though my blog notes. It is very nice if you.

    A learning guide member


    If u are keen to learn more about U.S. political system ,as our dear proffessor mentioned on his bost, I suggest you read and listen to the course Eslpod offering on the top right corner of Eslpod home page. I bought the complete version of the course the day it came out.
    I must say it is the best 75 dollars that I ever spent.
    The course contains detailed answers ,done by Lucy and Jeff , to 100 questions in US naturalization exam. It covers literally every nook and cranny of today’s US politic system.
    Speaking personally, the bonus of the the course is that it is rich in words and expressions.

    I knew almost everything Jeff explained us on his post simply because I listened and read the course 6 times already.
    Guess what !!
    The current post triggered another once-over for me.
    I started relistening to the course Yesterday.
    I must say
    It is great !!!

    P.S.S. speaking of which, Lucy , to me , the first 100 episods of Eslpod is the best of the bunch.

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