Elections & Voting


près elections - overview

pres elections occur:

  • every 4 years
  • in years divisible by 4
  • on the Tuesday after the 1st Monday in Nov 

Constitution (Article II) states to be an eligible pres a person must:

  • be a natural born US citizen
  • be at least 35 years of age
  • have been a resident of the USA for a minimum of 14 years

Constitution also states a pres cannot serve more than 2 terms 

1 of 39

stages of press elections

1- primaries & caucuses - show pop of candidates, chooses delegated to attend the National Party Convention - jan to june 

2- national party conventions - choose pres candidate, choose v.pres, decided on party platform, july to august 

3- general election campagin - campaign between candidates of various parties, sept oct & 1st week of nov

4- election day and electoral college - elect the pres and v.pres through the E.C, election day - Tuesday after 1st monday in Nov, Electoral votes - Monday after 2nd wednesday in dec

2 of 39


- an election to select a party's candidate for the presidency. some states w/small pop spread over a large geographic area often hold caucuses instead of a primary. these states incl: Wyoming, Minnesota & Nevada. their functions are:

  • to show popularity of pres candidates
  • choose delegates to go to the National Party Convention

-how primaries are run: under state law, 50 different ways of running primaries, 6 important rules of primaries

1-whether to hold a primary or a caucus - most hold primaries

2-when to hold the primary - tend to be in jan and june, then decided whether early or late, or with neighbouring states

3-how to conduct the primary - some states have experiemented w/ postal/electronic voting

4-who can vote in the primary - any registered voter, yet states ask for party affiliation (closed primary) or where anyone can vote (open primary)

5-who can be on the ballot - states have their own laws about who gets on the ballot

6-how to allocate delegates - candidates are awarded delegates in prop to the votes they get - a proportional primary. usually 15% is required to get the states delegates. although some R states whoever wins the majority wins the whole states delegates - winner-takes-all primary 

3 of 39

front loading

  • states have attempted to increased the importance of their primary by moving the date earlier in the year 
  • this number increased from 11 in 1980 to 42 by 2008 
  • by 5th feb 2008 55% delegates to D & R Conventions had already been chosen 
  • this has also led to Super Tuesday: a day in feb when a large number of states hold their primaries or caucues
4 of 39

invisible primary

-front loading led to the invisible primary whereby the year before the start of the primaries when potential candidates try to gain recognition and money as well as put together the neccessary organisation 

-begins immediately after the previous pres election and lasts through to 1st primary & caucuses of the elction year. invisible b/c there are few scheduled events at this period. time for would be candidates to:

  • try to get 'mentioned' in the serious press
  • try to get coverage on TV programmes 
  • set up exploratory committees
  • visit key primary & caucus states such as New Hampshire & Iowa
  • start fundraising
  • put together prospective campaign staff
  • formally announce candidacy for presidency 
5 of 39

advantages of primaries


1-increased level of participation by ordinary voters, 30% in 2008

2-increased level of interests

3-increased choice of candidates up to 14 in 2008

4-opening up the process to 'outsider' candidates

5-removing power of the party bosses 

6-significantly diminishing opportunities for corruption by doing away with the old 'smoke-filled rooms'

7-weeding out candidates not up to the contest

6 of 39

disadvantages of primaries

1-turnout is usually low, less than 20% of eligible voters 

2-voters are unrepresentative of typical general election voters: more elderly, ideological & better educated and wealthy

3-makes the process too long -may discourage some better-qualified candidates from running 

4-too expensice media orietated 

5-bitter perosnal battles can develop, Hilary Clinton & Obama in 2008

6-fails to test a number of important presidential qualities 

7-lacks significant input from professional politicans, too much power given to ordianary voters

7 of 39

possible further reform

  • a national primary 
  • series of 4 regional primaries 
  • limits on money raising and spending 
  • pre-primary mini-convention to choose the shortlist of candidates who would then run in the primaries 
  • states voting in order of size of pop, beginning w/ the smallest 

4 issues w/these reforms:

  • National Committees and Conventions of both parties would have to agree the same reform 
  • all 50 states would have to agree to change their state laws 
  • a number of states strongly favour the current system over any of the proposals above
  • further limiting money raising and spending would require an Act of Congress which would not be deemed by the SC as unconstitutional
8 of 39

national party conventions

-each of the major parties hold a National Party Convention:

  • held in the summer of the pres election year 
  • held in a large city
  • held @ a venue decdied by each party's National Convention 
  • attended by delegates & the media 
  • held once every 4 years to select its pres & v.pres candidates & to finalise a party platform
9 of 39

functions of National Party Conventions

-three formal functions

choosing the pres candidate:

  • lost almost entirely to primaries, delegates are chose in Conventions - 'committed delegates'
  • to win pres nomination, candidate must win absolute maj of delegate votes 
  • the convention confirms rather than chooses the pres candidate 

choosing v.pres candidate:

  • function has been lost, not since 1956 has National Convention chosen a 'running mate'
  • 'running mate' usually chosen by the pres candidate, convention merely confirms not chooses the v.pres candidate 
  • pres candidate looks for a balanced ticket when selected v.pres, based on: geographic region, pol experience, age and gender/race/religion

deciding on party platform(doc containing pol's that party intends to follow if it wins elections):

  • put together by  platform committee under direction of the party's national committee
  • platform committee holds hearing 6mnths of election year & a draft programme is presented to delegates
10 of 39

informal functions of National Party Conventions

conventions have 3 informal functions:

-promote party unity:

  • convention is the only time in 4 years the party meets together, at other times merely exists as a 50 state party
  • any wounder created in primaries solved
  • gives defeated cand opp to support chosen candidate

-enthusing the party faithful (delegates):

  • they are the people who will be organising and carrying out much of the campaigning 
  • they need to communicate that enthusiasm to ordinary voters in their own communities
  • they need to believe that they have a winning ticket & policies 

-enthusing ordinary voters:

  • through tv that parties will communicate w/ordinary voters 
  • pres candidate's acceptance speech on last night of the convention which generates most coverage important b/c: 1st opp for candidate to address voters; cand hopes to display pres qualities to voters; cand give outline of pol's to be addressed; hope to boost opinion pol ratings 'bounce'
11 of 39

importance of modern day conventions

commentators suggest modern day conventions are of less signficance because:

  • pres candidates chosen in primaires
  • v.pres cand's chosen by pres & announced before the Convention
  • parties try to lay on 'scripted' and 'sanitised' Conventions, without controversy
  • terrestrial tv companies give less coverage to Conventions -as opposed to cable 

whilst formal functions may have declined in importance, informal functions still as important 

12 of 39

general election campaign

  • is when intra-party campaign has finished and the inter-party campaign begins 
  • by tradition, begins on Labor Day, 1st Mond in Sept
  • runs for 8-9 weeks until day before election day in early Nov
  • expensive
  • conducted largely on tv
  • includes TV pres debates, usually 3 in Oct 
13 of 39

campaign finance pre-reforms

reasons for election campaign finance reforms:

  • country is vast 
  • elections are not to elect 1 legislative chamber 
  • general election campaign lasts 9 weeks, not 3-4 in UK
  • candidates must contest the primaries
  • there is no 'free-time' on US TV

until 1970s, campaign finance was largely unregulated meaning:

  • personal wealth was sig in running for pol office
  • people were not limited in the sums they could give to candidates
  • 'fat cats' gave huge sums to candidates 
  • candidates were not limited in the sums they could spend on their campaigns 
  • many opportunities for corruption 
14 of 39

campaign finance, 2002 reforms

1970s reforms left loopholes including:

  • 'soft money' spent by pol parties on 'party building' or 'get-out-the-vote' activities 
  • growth in 'issue advocacy' campaiging by abortion, environmental labour union groups 
  • weakening of parties as 'matching funds' go directly to the candidates' organisations rather than to the parties 

following these abuses, McCain & Feingold were successful in passing further reforms:

  • National Party Committees banned from raising or spending 'soft-money'
  • labour unions & corporate groups forbidden from directly funding issue adverts
  • banning of union or corporate money to fund ads that mention a fed cand within 60 days of a general election/ 30 days of a primary
  • prohibition of fundraising on fed property
  • increased individ limits on contributions to indivd cand's or cand committees to $2300 to be further increased for inflation in each odd-numbered year
  • banning of contributions form foreign nationals
  • 'Stand By Your Ad' provision, resulting in all campaign ads inc a verbal endorsement by the can w/ the words 'i'm ... and I approve this message'
15 of 39

the media

  • newspapers: no national titles except for USA today and Wall Street Journal. there as local papers that have a national reputation such as Washington Post & New York Times
  • journals: weeklies aimed @ general readership, most important Time and Newsweek
  • TV: terrestrial - ABC, CBS, NBC & PBS cable - CNN, Fox News,  MSNBC and C-SPAN. they carry 3 different types of pol info: 1-daily news 2-nightly documentray programmes 3-chat shows 4-comedy shows 

TV Pres Debates:

  • began in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon but were not used again until 1976, been used in every election since
  • there are 3 pres debates & 1 v.pres debate, 1 and half hours long
  • generally included D & R running candidates
  • most been in the format of a joint press conference w/ a panel of journalists asking Q's
  • 1992, 'town-hall' style debates have been used 
  • style more important than substance/avoid gaffes/look for opps to deliever a 'soundbite'/debates more difficult for incumbents pres b/c they have a record 

Tv Commericals:

  • cost
  • whether 'attack ads' are double-egded swords
  • the extent to which they change voters' minds 
16 of 39

Electoral College

establised by the FFs to elect the pres. how it works:

  • each state awarded a certain number of EC votes, which is equal to that state's rep in Cong - number of senators plus no of reps. 2008 - Cali had 55ECVs whilst Wyoming had £
  • total of 538 ECVs
  • to win the presidency, a cand must achieve absolute majoirty of ECVs - 270
  • whichever cand wins most pop votes in a state recieves all the ECVS of that state, not in the const but 48/50 states abide by this rule except for Maine & Nebraska
  • EC never meets together, electors meet in respective state capitals on Monday after 2nd Weds in Dec & send results to v.pres in W. DC
  • if no cand wins 270 ECVs the pres would be elected by the HofR, each state having 1 vote
  • v.pres would be elected by Senate
  • winners would need to recieve absolute majority of votes in respective chambers 
  • only twice has EC failed to produce a clear winner 1800 & 1824
17 of 39

strengths of EC system

  • preserves voice of small-pop states
  • promotes a 2 horse-race, w/ the winner therefore likely to recieve over 50% of the pop vote, giving the pres a mandate to govern
18 of 39

weaknesses of the EC system

  • small pop states over-represented
  • winner-takes-all system can distort the result 
  • possible for cand to win the pop vote but lose the EC - Gore in 2000
  • unfair to national 3rd parties
  • so-called 'rogue' or 'faithless' Electors vote for candidates other than the one who won the pop vote in their state
  • system used in case of EC deadlock could result in House choosing a pres of 1 party & senate choosing a v.pres from another party 
19 of 39

possible EC system reforms

three possbile reforms 

1-abandon the winner-takes-all system for a more proportional system

2-pass state laws to prohibit 'rogue' Electors from casting such rogue votes

3-abolish the EC altogether & decided the election on the pop vote - although this would encourage mulit-candidate election w/ the winner gaining only maybe 35-40% of national votes

20 of 39

voting behaviour in pres elections

subject of voting behaviour looks @ factors that explain the outcomes of recent pres elections & answer certain Q's about why people vote as they do:

  • party afflilation
  • difference in voting habits of men & women 
  • race
  • religion
  • poor/better-off
  • geographic region 
  • policies 
21 of 39

party affiliation

  • perhaps most important influence on determining voting 
  • 71% of voters identify themselves w/ 39% D and 32% R
  • 89% of D's voted for Obama
  • 90% of R's voted for McCain
  • in pres elections between 1952 and 2008 the party that had the highest level of support from its own identifiers won on 12/15 occassions 
22 of 39


  • women more likely to be registered voters than men
  • women tend to turn out in higher numbers on Election Day than men
  • men more supportive of R's whislt women supported D's more - gender gap
  • women are more likely to be registered D's than R's 

reason for the gender gap thought to derived from policy stances of 2 major parties:

  • abortion- D's 'pro-choice' R's 'pro-life'
  • defence - women tend to favour lower levels of spending on defence: D's position
  • law & order - women tend to opposed captial punishment - D position
  • gun control - women tend to support this - D position
  • women's rights - D supported Equal RIghts Amendment, R's tend to oppose it 
23 of 39



  • make up 10% of US electorate, solidly given support to D party 
  • Kennedy & Johnson passed civil rights acts 


  • Cuban, Mexian, Puerto Rican- Americans 
  • numerically growing in group 
  • Cuban-Americans have tended to support R candidates
24 of 39


1- protestant voters tend to vote R's: they did not give CLinton a majority of their votes in 1992 or 6. 

2-catholic voters tend to vote D, though not as strongly as used to be the case. D's pro-life stance on abortion can be a liablity w/catholic voters 

3-jewish voters tend to vote D solidly

4-2000 elections, high correlation between regular church attendance and votes for the R candidate

25 of 39


  • strong correlation between relative wealth & likely support of the 2 major parties 
  • Obama in 2008 won a majority among the very poor and the very rich
26 of 39

geographic region

1-Northeast tends to support the D's. demographically, the Northeast is a declining region - fewer people mean less pol clout 

2-from the end of the Civil War in the 1860s until the 1960s the South was described as solid, voting solidly for D party. this collapsed and has now reversed the trend. South a growing region - good news for R's 

3- West tends to support the D's. states incl Cali, Oregon and Washing voted solidly for CLinton 

4-Midwest is a battleground in modern elections 

27 of 39


1-1992 economy seen as the biggest issue

2-2000, 4 most contentious issues 1:economy & jobs 2:education 3:social security 4:taxes

3-2004, 4 main issues 1:moral values 2:economy/jobs 3:terrorism 4: Iraq

4-2008, main issue was economy, second war in Iraq

28 of 39

typical voters

  • old D 'New Deal Coaltion' has weakened
  • during the 1990s Clinton tried to move the D party away from its old 'tax & spend' liberal base into a more centrist '3rd way'
  • D's have lost sig support among Southern whites & have a problem attracting male voters, but are still strong in Northeast
  • R's have experienced difficulties attracting women & voters of racial minoriites but are strong among white, evangelical Christians & 'sun-belt' states
  • typical D voting blocs: blue-collar, unionised worker, urban dweller, West & Northeast, Catholic, Jewish, racial minority, possibly black or Hispanic, female, liberal, less-wealthy, less well-educated
  • typical R votng blocs: white collar, proff workers, suburban & rural, sun-belt, Protestant, evangelical, white, male, conservative, wealthy & college-educated
29 of 39

congressional elections - overview

  • occurr every 2 years when the whole of the HofR & 1/3 of the Senate are elected
  • either coincide w/ the pres election or occur midlway through the presidential term (mid-terms) 

Article I of the const states that to be eligible to be a member of Cong, certain requirments must be filled. in the HofR:

  • be at least 25 years old
  • been a US citizen for 7 years 
  • be resident of the state your congressional district is 

some states have a locality rule which means that the House members must be residents of the dirstrict they represent

Senate members must:

  • be at least 30
  • have been US citizen for at least 9 years
  • be a resident of the state you represent 
30 of 39

trends in congressional elections- primaries

  • cand's for cong elections must secure the nomination of their party
  • as virtually all 545 members of Cong are D or R,this means securing the nomination of 1 of the 2 major parties through the D or R Congressional primary
  • defeats for incumbents in the primary is unusual 
  • between 1982-2010 15 electon cycles - only 66 H members and 7 senators were defeated in cong primaries
31 of 39

trends in congressional elections - coat tails eff

  • the effect of a strong candidate for a party at the top of the ticket helping cong cand's in the same party to get elected @ the same time
  • the coat-tails effect had not been evident in elections for over 2 decades
  • in 1980, R pres Reagan helped R's gain 33 seats in the House and 12 in the senate
  • 2008, OBama helped D's gain 21 seats in house and 8 in senate
32 of 39

trends in congressional elections - split-ticket v

  • the practice of voting for cand's of 2 or more parties for different offices @ the same election
  • the opposite, voting for cand's of the same party for diff offices is called straight-ticket voting
  • split ticket voting in cong electio which coincide w/ pres elections may result in divided gov 
33 of 39

trends in congressional elections - power of incum

  • incumbent is House member or senator who holds the seat
  • cong elections show high levels of support for incumbents & re-election 
  • in HofR, re-election states have exceeded 90% in 9 of last 11 cong elections
34 of 39

trends in congressional elections - decline

decline in competitive races in House elections:

  • between 1992 and 2004, there was a sig trend towards fewer genuinely competitive seats in elections to the HofR
  • a competitive seat is 1 that was won by incumbent by less than 10% points 
  • 2 consequences when H seats become uncompetitive
  • 1- incumbents in safe seats tend to vot in the H in a way that please only those voters from their own party - this leads to an increase of partisanship & a decresed in compromise & cross-party cooperation 
  • 2- H members in safe seats have more fear from intra-party challenge in a primary than from inter-party challenge in general election 
  • hence, the primary becomes the real political battleground & the winnin primary is tantamount to winning re-election 
35 of 39

trends in congressional elections

the pres' party tends to lose seats in mid-terms

  • in the 96yr period since the Senate was 1st directly elected, the pres' party has lost an average of 30 seats in the H and 4 Seats in the Senate in the mid terms 
  • in 2010, Obama lost 63 H seats and 6 Senate seats
36 of 39

propositions, referendums & recall elections

propositions - referred to as an initiave in the US, provided in 24 states w/ 2 types:

  • direct propositions that qualify go directly on the ballot,
  • indirect propositions are submitted to the state legislature, which decideds on further action 

a proposed proposition must be:

  • filed w/ a designated state official
  • reviewed for conformance w/state legal requriements
  • given a formal title & brief summary for inclusion on ballot paper
  • circulated to gain required no of signatures from registered voters
  • submitted to state officials for verification of signatures

prop advantages: 1- provide a way of enacting reforms on controversial issues 2-increase the responsiveness & accountability of state legislatures 3-can help increased voter turnout 4-increase citizen interest in state issues & may also encourage pressure-group memership

prop disadvantages: 1-lack flexibility of legislative process 2- they are vulnerable to manipulation by special interests

37 of 39


  • avaliable in all 50 states - whereby voters can effectgively veto a bill passed by the state legislature 
  • a number of states require that changes to the state const must be approved by a state wide ref
  • in other states, changes in a state tax must be aprroved in this way
  • in 24 states there is provision for a pop ref
  • in these states, if the state legislature passes a law that voters do not approve of, they may gather signatures to demand a referendum on the law
  • usually there is a 90 day period after the law is passed during which the petitioning must take place 
  • if voters reject the law in the ensuing ref, the law is null & void - a pop veto 
38 of 39

recall elections

  • a procedure that enables voter in a state to remove an elected offical from office before thier term has expired 
  • a direct form of impeachment 
  • there are 19 states that make provisions for recall elections 
  • most recent case Cali's D governor Gray Davis in 2003 and subsequent election of R, Arnold Schwarzenegger
39 of 39


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all USA electoral processes resources »