Many of us will find the choice between this year's clashing candidates simple, but the system that put these two hopefuls in the frame is slightly less straightforward.
Step 1: Who can run?
According to the U.S. Constitution, a presidential hopeful needs to be:
- A “natural born” US citizen (read: born on US soil, though even this can be stretched);
- At least 35 years old; and
- Resident for 14 years.
Although technically this means that middle-aged Joe Bloggs from Utah is eligible, the reality is that you don’t stand much of a chance unless you’re a senator, five-star military general… or billionaire businessman with a penchant for reality TV. The candidate then needs to attract significant positive attention from the media, donors and party officials before he or she can formally declare his or her candidacy and begin campaigning.
Step 2: Become the party’s nominee
Beginning in February, elections are held in every state and overseas territory and the winner of each collects a number of “delegates” – these are party members with the power to vote for that candidate at the party conventions held in July, where candidates are formally confirmed.
Step 3: Pick your running mate
Though House of Cards would have us believe that your spouse is a good fit for VP, a more sensible approach is to assess where the presidential candidate is weak – both geographically and demographically – and pick a running mate to plug the gap.
Tim Kaine brings a lot to the party for Hillary: he comes from a swing state, speaks fluent Spanish, is an experienced politician at local, state and federal levels and is, by all accounts, a nice guy. Clinton has battled the public’s dislike of her throughout the campaign and Kaine has gone some way to ‘softening’ the ticket, as well as (hopefully) bringing home Virginia and the Latino vote.
Like Kaine, Mike Pence was a safe choice for Trump as he is an experienced politician and is relatively low key. The latter characteristic has positioned him as welcome relief to the deluge of theatrics that Trump has doled out over the course of the campaign. However, Pence has arguably done a better job at positioning himself as a steady candidate for the Republican nomination in 2020 than promoting Trump for the job in this round; his ‘win’ in the VP debate was a masterclass in deflecting attacks on Trump’s controversial policies but also showed a distinct lack of solidarity with his running mate.
Step 4: The Debates
The Republican and Democratic candidates participate in three televised debates which, traditionally, focus on the key policies each candidate has for his or her term in office. However, this year these ‘debates’ (I use this term loosely) have been largely devoid of meaningful back and forth on key policies and instead have dwindled into a flood of personal attacks more closely resembling reality TV. The polls show Clinton prevailing in all three thanks to her cool head and Trump’s persistent jibes and deflection on controversial policies and campaign ‘mishaps’.
Step 5: Election Day
Ever wondered why the election is always the second Tuesday in November? It dates back to America’s historically agrarian society, when November was the quietest month for rural workers. Holding it on a Tuesday allowed them to travel to towns and cities to vote without needing to leave on a Sunday (enjoy that fun fact at your next pub quiz).
Polling booths will open on the morning of 8 November with around 120 million votes expected to be cast. Counting begins immediately and by around 11pm EST (4am GMT) we should have an idea as to which candidate has triumphed.
Step 6: Take office
President Obama’s term will officially end at noon on 20 January 2017 and the President-Elect will be sworn in at the Inauguration Ceremony. Only then will the presidential ‘baton’ officially pass over to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
So there you have it - the road to the White House in six easy steps. Although the campaign process is hopefully now demystified, just how it gave us two of the most disliked candidates of all time remains an enigma…