‘Seismic’ results kick off year of US voting

The first contests of this year’s US election have delivered shocks in both major parties. But with 49 states still to vote and a general election to follow, is the campaign season too long?

Fewer than 1% of Americans live in the midwestern state of Iowa. On Monday, one-tenth of Iowans voted in their state’s caucuses. But yesterday, the first results of the 2016 US presidential election were hailed as ‘a seismic political event’.

Staunch conservative Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, won the right-wing Republican party’s poll. Business magnate Donald Trump was second and Florida Senator Marco Rubio secured a strong result in third.

For their Democratic opponents, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — a self-declared ‘democratic socialist’ — came within 0.3% of favourite Hillary Clinton. In six districts, the vote had to be decided through a coin toss.

‘Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives,’ Cruz said. Sanders called the results ‘a political revolution’ which had ‘sent a very profound message to the political establishment, the economic establishment and the media establishment’.

But more polls now loom. On Tuesday, people will vote in the New Hampshire primaries. Contests in Nevada and South Carolina will follow before Super Tuesday on 1 March.

The final primary will be held on 14 June, and the parties’ nominees may not be chosen until their national conventions the following month. The general election between those nominees will take place on 8 November, more than 18 months after Cruz became the first major candidate to enter the race. Eleven debates have already taken place during the campaign season.

Elections are a regular event in the USA: senators are chosen every six years, presidents every four and representatives in Congress every two. Ballots are also held at a state level and for positions such as seats on school boards.

Democracy has been central to the country’s existence since the Declaration of Independence affirmed that governments ‘derive their just powers from the consent of the governed’ in 1776. But 200 years later, one of President-elect Carter’s advisors claimed that politicians had become subject to a ‘permanent campaign’.

Round and round

It does not work, say some. The election cycle breeds tedious debates, endless speeches and repetitive questions and answers. It undermines democracy as candidates are heavily reliant on donations to win. And when politicians are busy asking for votes, they spend too little time focusing on doing their job and running the country.

Do not write it off, respond others. Running for president should be challenging — it acts as preparation to become the most powerful person on earth. Politicians must always consider what voters are thinking. And voters have the chance to ask questions and make decisions based on plenty of evidence. These campaigns see democracy in its purest form.

You Decide

  1. Would you want a long campaign to take place before you voted for someone?
  2. Is the ‘permanent campaign’ good for democracy?

Activities

  1. Draw a poster for a campaign to elect yourself as US president. What policies or messages would you like to stress?
  2. You are an adviser to someone who wants to run for president. Research and write a memo to them explaining what they will need to do to have a realistic chance of winning.

Some People Say...

“Politicians should always be forced to listen to the people.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What difference does the length of a campaign make?
It may change the policies politicians make, and the US president’s policies can have an impact on people around the world. Candidates are more likely to make promises which they will have to honour if they are elected. While they are running, they may also only vote for laws which are politically advantageous.
Does the long campaign affect the result?
Lots of candidates have had a period in the ascendancy before voters have discarded them. Sometimes their record or conduct has come under extra scrutiny, and sometimes they have committed gaffes. For example, before the 2012 election Rick Perry, a candidate for the Republican nomination, forgot one of his own major ideas during a debate. He never recovered from the error.

Word Watch

Fewer than 1%
In the US government’s 2014 census, the population of Iowa was 3.1 million. The total population of the USA was 319 million.
One-tenth
ABC News reported that 180,000 people had voted in the Republican Party’s caucus — easily beating a previous record of 120,000. The Iowa Democratic Party said 171,109 had taken part in their vote; 239,000 did so in 2008.
Caucuses
Local meetings where delegates gather to discuss, and vote for, candidates. Most states hold primaries — more formal state-level elections by secret ballot.
First
Early states are considered important; success suggests to voters, donors and the media that the candidate has a chance of winning.
Seismic
Brian Beutler, in New Republic magazine, gave this description. Telegraph journalist Tim Stanley said ‘tectonic plates’ had ‘shifted’.
Conservative
Cruz wants a flat income tax rate of 10%. His social positions, including strong opposition to public funding for abortion, have gained particular support among evangelical Christians.
Super Tuesday
The Democrats and Republicans will each hold 12 contests on this date.

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