As in most election years, coverage of 2016’s Presidential Election cycle has been unavoidable to a broad audience: absolutely anyone with access to the Internet.
But while almost everyone has gained at least a little of bit of familiarity with the upcoming election and its candidates by now, the whole thing can be hard to understand for some including younger, less seasoned voters, foreigners or people who are generally uninvolved in politics. News stories and social media accounts are quick to throw around terms like “caucus” and “superdelegates” and “contested convention”, without doing very much to educate those who aren’t avid or seasoned followers of political elections, and this is causing real issues in terms of isolating voters and contributing to abysmally low voter turnout rates.
By now most of us probably have at least a few questions: What IS a primary anyway? If there’s only two parties, why are there like, eight hundred people trying to be president? What is a John Kasich? Is Ted Cruz actually one of the most prolific uncaught serial killers in American history? Why do I keep seeing memes where Hillary Clinton is uninformed about pop culture??? Who is this Jewish socialist who keeps talking about poor people and has a cult-like following?? (The answer is Bernie Sanders or Jesus Christ, depending on if you’re watching CNN or TBN) Why is there a deep fried oopma loompa with a decaying rodent on his head on the news, and what did Mexicans ever do to him???
Lucky for you, I have a quick guide to help you get the gist of the Game, the Players, and the Headlines, written in simple, (hopefully) easy-to-follow language. Some of you may already be a bit more knowledgeable on the subject, but everyone starts somewhere. Hopefully, using this little guide you can better understand the event that, for better or worse, will determine who will be on the ballot come November, and maybe sound a little bit smarter at the dinner table when you know how to use the word caucus in a sentence.
Okay, so, here’s how the American Presidential election works, in as simple terms as possible: You start with two major parties. One is Republicans (conservatives) who generally concern themselves with economic (money) issues. They have less progressive stances on social issues (typically against abortion, gay marriage, for interventionist foreign policy, deporting illegal immigrants, in favour of gun use), and believe in a smaller government- meaning less taxes paid, and less power the government has in the daily life of the public. The other major party is the Democratic Party (liberals), who are generally more concerned with social issues. They are typically for legal abortion, gay marriage, social benefit programs like Social Security and food stamps, and in favour of environmentally-friendly policies. Just because these two parties are the biggest ones, and have the most money and media time, does not mean they are the only existing parties. There are smaller parties- called Independents- such as the Green Party and Libertarian Party, but for now we’re going to leave them alone because, even though they’re valid parties, they have a different primary process.
Each party has a leader- the person who has gained the “nomination” from the party, and will become President should that party win the general election. But, in order to find out who gets to be the leader, they hold a primary election. Unlike a general, when every state votes the same day across the country in November, every state (and territories and Americans living abroad) will vote at a different time. On some days there may be many states voting, on some there may be one, on some there may be none. It is kind of a weird and long process, and it starts in February and stretches until July.
How it works is like this: every state votes in either a primary or a caucus. A primary is a normal vote, just like any other election, where you go in, you fill out the ballot, and you leave. A caucus, however, is a meeting of sorts. You have to be in the building at a certain time, and then everyone casts their vote. The votes are counted by a leader, and at any time you can ask them to recount. After the official count is made- and this is where it gets interesting- you are able to talk to the others in the room, make your case for your candidate, and people can change their minds. Then, the vote is counted again.
What happens is, every county or area is divided into “precincts”, smaller areas. Each of these smaller areas, usually based on population, has a certain number of “delegates”. Delegates are people who are pledged to go and vote for a specific candidate at the Convention (which we’ll get to in just a bit, bear with me, guys), and they are chosen based on the percentage of the votes. To make it simple, if one precinct has ten delegate spots, and there are two candidates running, and it’s exactly fifty-fifty, five delegate spots with go to one candidate, five to the other. Make sense-ish???
At the end of this long and kind of annoying process, there is a Convention for each party. At this convention, every pledged delegate will vote for their candidate. This is where things differ between the Democratic and Republican party: each party has a percentage of “superdelegates”- about seven percent of Republican delegates and fifteen percent of Democrat delegates. In the Republican party, these superdelegates have to vote for whoever has the most votes in their state, but in the Democratic Party, they can vote for whoever they want to. The people who elected them into office and pay their salaries could unanimously vote for one person, and they could still vote against them- if that sounds ludicrous, and a way to weaken the voting power of the public, well, you didn’t hear it from me. Issues in ethics, practicality and accessibility aside, the results of the convention determines the nominee.
John Kasich- Imma do John first because he’s the least likely to win the nomination (actually, unless a magical event called a contested convention happens- which it might, and we’ll get into in a bit- he mathematically cannot gain enough delegates to win). He’s the Governor of Ohio, and he’s known for being more moderate than other Republicans- for example, he supports Obamacare and believes climate change is a legitimate threat. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s probably because he has just 144 delegates to Trump’s 755 and has only won one state- and it’s Ohio. So like, that’s John Kasich.
Ted Cruz- Not actually the infamous zodiac killer (in this timeline). He’s a senator from Texas and, in any other year would be the typical Republican frontrunner: he’s Christian, has them good ole’ church-goin’, woman-shamin’, gay-hatin’ values, and, weirdly enough, was born in Canada. If Trump doesn’t take the nomination, it’ll likely be him, but once again, he is a couple hundred delegates behind.
Donald Trump- Do I really have to summarize at this point? We all know Donald- he’s rich because his dad is rich and because he made a few wise real estate investments, has gone bankrupt a handful of times, built himself an empire which included a failed university and ultra-popular reality TV show, and has had three wives. He’s also really weird (makes sexual comments about his daughters????), and has gotten A LOT of attention for his extreme comments, from suggesting the mass deportation of Muslim Americans, to women being punished for abortions, to weird comments about Hillary Clinton using the bathroom, to the infamous “wall idea”. The truth is, most of Trump’s ideas are fairy tales- or nightmares- but would likely never get through Congress, never get the money it needs (or the cooperation of Mexico), and they wouldn’t really solve anything anyways. There are valid theories even Trump doesn’t believe his own rhetoric- but either way, it definitely attracts a lot of people, and he is currently leading in delegates.
Hillary Clinton- If you don’t know her, congratulations, you weren’t alive for much of the 1990s and also 2008. But most of you probably know the run down: she’s married to Bill Clinton, was Senator for two terms, and was Secretary of State for one. If she’s elected she’s the first female President- but some are concerned his win for representation won’t be a win for progressive ideals. Hillary has stood by some awesome progressive values in her career- like wage equality- but her record also has some sizable blunders: supporting her husband’s welfare reform- which took away welfare from millions- supporting fracking, calling black youth “super-predators”, destabilizing Libya, not officially supporting a $15 minimum wage, supporting the death penalty, voting for the Iraq War and accepting money from corporate donors. She is also criticized for having a back-and-forth record- she’s claimed different stances on gun control, immigration, maternity leave and fracking, for instance, and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, even though she now says she has a rich history of supporting gay rights.
Bernie Sanders- This Senator of Vermont is like the Trump of the Democratic Party- the outsider whose completely unafraid to say what the rest of the party really feels. He self-identifies as Democratic socialist, and wants to bring about major change from introducing universal healthcare and tuition-free public college, to ending private prisons, to moving our energy system into 100% renewable energy. Despite an overwhelming popularity among young voters, he struggles with older voters. Polls now show him winning or tied with Hillary for Black and Latina millennials, but he is losing older people of colour by epic margins, and as a result he’s lost every Southern state by wide margins. One of the most common complaints for his radical ideals is the fact that Congress is currently overwhelmingly Republican- meaning he’ll struggle to get any plans past them. However, the response to this complaint is that he and Hillary will both struggle equally- even if her plans are centered more around incremental change, Republicans won’t budge- and the only solution is for high voter turnout in two years to replace Congress with more liberal-leaning politicians, which he feels that he can do. He also has the majority of independent support, considering he is the longest serving independent member of Congress.
What is a contested convention you ask? How does it work? Well, a contested convention is kind of a long and confusing process (because nothing else in a primary election is!!!). It could happen to either party, but I’ll focus on the Republican party because it is more likely and more important to the overall results.
Basically, because ten million people have tried to earn the GOP nomination, there’s a chance one candidate could have more delegates than every candidate, but not fifty percent of them. If this happens, it can be contested, and each time it’s contested, less and less of these “bound” delegates are actually obligated to vote for the person who won the popular vote in their area- they can use their own judgement. There a lot of other rules and the whole process is complex- but, basically, all you need to know is that even if Donald Trump gets the most delegates, he may not be the candidate. If he is contested, it’s likely another candidate can snag his spot- after all, most Republicans disagree with him, and most delegates would likely vote against him.
The concept of unpledged delegates has created quite a stir on the Democrat side of things. As explained before, superdelegates are able to choose whoever they want, regardless of who has the most delegates or the most votes in their area. While in most years these superdelegates have floated by under the radar, this year they’re one of the most talked about topics.
It’s been well-established that Bernie Sanders is up against, well, the establishment. Hillary Clinton has been a household name for decades, and unlike Bernie, it’s not on her priority list to rapidly change our current political system. Also, Hillary has been fundraising not only for her own campaign but only the DNC in general. As a result, around 400 of these unbound delegates have stated that they will vote for Clinton, and only about 30 pledged towards Sanders- and about two hundred undecided. This year, unpledged delegates have caused such a stir because unlike most years, they have the potential to completely change the results of the primary- Bernie could have the most pledged delegates and still lose because of the superdelegates, and vice versa.
Obviously, it has come into controversy whether or not this system is ethical- after all, should elections not be dictated by the people, on person one vote?
It has already raised questions about how the Sanders campaign hopes to get the nomination considering the lopsided support- and his current plan is to convince these delegates to change their minds, as polls routinely show his as the strongest candidate against Trump, he brings in independent voters (which often decide elections), and many of Clinton’s wins are from Southern states which, while important, rarely if ever lead to a win for a Democrat in a general election.
Whether or not this plan will work, it’s clear that the whole concept of super delegates has created a national conversation that won’t be dying down anytime soon.