Election 101: What You Need To Know About The U.S. Presidential Race

By Danni White on October 12, 2016

In a little over 40 days, the citizens of the United States will get to decide who will become the next commander-in-chief. The choices ultimately come down between one man and one woman.

The world of politics can be a cutthroat business. For those who run for the highest office, it takes both skill and depth, charisma and precision to make the right connection with the working class (which just happens to make up the majority of U.S. voters).

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Although the chosen one won’t formally take office, or be sworn-in as they say, until January 2017, now is a good time to learn more about the political process and how it all works in choosing the free country’s leaders.

Who are the candidates and what do they represent?

If you take just a cursory interest in the news, you’d be prone to think the race was between two candidates only. Technically, only two have an actually realistic chance of winning. However, more participated in this presidential race before they dropped out than ever before and even at this crucial point more candidates may have a bigger say in which way the country swings.

So here goes with the 2016 candidates and the parties (and ideas) they represent:

Hillary Clinton represents the Democratic Party. She became the first female candidate to be nominated for president by a major political party in the U.S. Clinton has an extensive political background. She was the first lady of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1992. She became the first lady of the United States in 1993 and in 2001, she became the first female senator from New York.

In 2009, President Barack Obama selected her to the position of Secretary of State where she stayed until 2013. She favors expanding women’s rights, protecting rights for the LGBT community, and implementing paid parental leave among other things.

Donald Trump represents the Republican Party. He is better known as a very successful businessman primarily in the real estate industry, as well as an author and reality TV personality (think, “The Apprentice”). In a surprising turn of events, he touted his non-politician status all the way to being formally nominated for president at the Republican National Convention.

While many of his statements on certain issues have been controversial, Trump places a strong emphasis on stronger immigration laws, veterans’ health care reform, tax cuts, and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Jill Stein represents the Green Party. She practiced internal medicine for 25 years and served as an instructor in the same field at Harvard Medical School. She advocates for a Green New Deal, channeling Franklin D. Roosevelt, and believes renewable energy jobs should be created to address issues of the environment and climate change.

She favors “free higher public education,” wants to cut military spending and replace the Affordable Care Act with a “Medicare-for-All” system of healthcare.

Gary Johnson represents the Libertarian Party. He is a two-term governor of New Mexico as well as a successful businessman and author. He unsuccessfully ran for president as a Republican on a platform of libertarianism in 2012. Johnson advocates for simplifying or lowering taxes, limited government, and military non-interventionism.

He is a staunch supporter of civil liberties, favors church and state separation, opposes federal and state gun control legislation, and has endorsed gay marriage as well as current federal laws related to abortion.

So how does the election process work?

Citizens of the United States vote for the people they want to represent them in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Most of those votes are cast on the same day as the votes cast for the 45th president of the country.

The way a president is elected is slightly different than it sounds. Voters don’t directly vote for the person they want to be president. Instead, they vote for people called ‘presidential electors’ who are a part of the electoral college. In turn, the electors vote for a new president and vice president.

The larger a state’s population, the more presidential electors the state has. So for example, California has the most with 55 while Delaware and Vermont have only three. Texas has 38 while Nevada has six.

The candidate who receives the most electors’ votes wins all the electoral college votes within the state. Furthermore, the first candidate to reach the coveted magic number of 270 electoral votes wins the presidency.

(In the slim event that no presidential candidate receives that coveted number of 270, then the House of Representatives will select the president with each state delegation having a single vote. If no vice presidential candidate receives a majority vote, then the Senate will select the vice president with each senator having a single vote.)

If you want to cast your vote, check out the cool and informative slideshow at Refinery29 (It’s way less boring than reading a litany of small text on the topic).

When is all this supposed to happen?

Voters will go to the polls on November 8 to elect the next president of the United States.

Every major cable news channel will run the various voting events all day and into the night. They will keep track of state closing times for voting locations, vote counts by state, and as the final numbers per state roll in, the news anchors will report which candidate has won which state.

So what are the odds for each candidate?

Now that we’re deep into the election season, it is safe to say that there are two clear front-runners. Unless some strange turn of fate happens, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have an equal shot, give or take a couple of percentages, at winning the presidency.

The political climate is quite volatile this time around. Polls are taken frequently and the results vary on a number of issues. Sometimes, Trump beats Clinton by a few percentage points. Then there are times when Clinton beats Trump by the same.

Third party candidates like Stein and Johnson have a much longer road to travel to actually win the presidency. But their campaigns have just as much validity as the front-runners do.

When does this all become official?

Well, after the general election on November 8, the people’s chosen one will celebrate the achievement, of course. But between November 9 and January 9, the president-elect (as he or she will be called) will assemble a cabinet and solidify policy.

On January 20, the president-elect will be inaugurated and will officially become the 45th president of the United States.

Danni White is a developmental psychology graduate student at Liberty University. She works in the digital publishing, media, and technology industries. After this degree, she will go on to work on a PhD in social psychology in which she hopes to do research on perception and social cognition’s impact on human behavior. She hopes to apply this research in corporate HR departments and community-based organizations. In her otherwise limited spare time, she blogs, writes and reads. She loves coffee, sports, music, cooking, meeting new people, and binge watching Netflix.

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