Traditional college is out of date

Trump vs. Biden: The US electoral system can be so brutal - role of the electorate

In the US presidential election the Americans choose their president - one would think. Strictly speaking, however, they do not vote for him directly. This has far-reaching consequences.

Hillary Clinton found out in a particularly painful way that the presidential election does not always win the person with the most votes. Completely surprisingly, the Democrat lost in 2016 to the scandal-ridden real estate tycoon and outsider Donald Trump. Even though nearly 2.9 million Americans voted more for her than for him. That made things really bitter for Clinton.

The case shows the peculiarity of the American electoral system: the president is not directly elected by the people. Who the so-calledPopular vote wins, that is, gets the most votes in the US overall, is being watched with interest. But actually it is completely irrelevant.

The Electoral College is crucial

The president becomes the one who gathers the majority of the electorate behind him - that is, the majority in the so-called Electoral College owns, the electoral body. Each of the 50 states and the capital Washington, D. C., may send a certain number of electors to this body. How many there are is roughly based on the population: as many seats a state has in Congress, as many electors it gets. Sparsely populated states like Alaska send three electors, while Florida sends 29.

In most states, the principle applies: the winner gets all the electoral votes - the winner takes it all. The candidate who gets the most votes in Florida, for example, receives the support of all 29 electorates from Florida - even if he only narrowly won there. Only in the states of Maine and Nebraska are the electors divided between the two candidates according to a complicated key.

In this way, a total of 538 electors will be elected to the Electoral College on the election date. Whoever gathers more than half of the electorate behind him - at least 270. If there is a stalemate, i.e. both candidates have 269 electors, the US House of Representatives must elect the president. This has happened only once before, however, in 1824. John Quincy Adams became president at the time.

A highly controversial, unusual body

The Electoral College is a very unusual body. In fact, it never meets in one place. Only the electors of each state meet on a certain date after the vote in their capitals. There they sign and certify their election on a list and send it sealed to Washington, to the President of the Senate, who is also Vice President in the USA.

The Electoral College is also highly controversial for the results it produces. But also for the effects on the political culture of the USA. In 2016, the US electoral system led Donald Trump to clearly outperform Hillary Clinton with 306 electoral votes with 232 - even though she had clearly won the popular votes. This has been the case four more times in US history, including the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000.

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Because a candidate can become president without a majority in the population, critics attribute a democratic deficit to the electoral system. This is intensified by the fact that the winner-takes-all procedure in almost all states means that votes for the ultimately defeated candidate have absolutely no influence in the end.

Fierce battle for the swing states

Defenders of the Electoral College, on the other hand, argue that it takes account of the federal character of the United States and that even low-population states have a say. In addition, it produces unambiguous and clear majority relationships.

What the electoral system also produces, however, is a bitter struggle for the so-called Swing States or Battleground States. This is the name given to the states in which there is no traditional, clear majority for either the Republicans or the Democrats. The race in the swing states is always more or less open to both parties. And that means that both parties also concentrate their election campaigns on these few states instead of those states in which it is clear in advance that they will vote for the Democrats (e.g. California) or the Republicans (e.g. Kansas) in a majority.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden will therefore care much more about the concerns in the small Swing State of Wisconsin (5.8 million inhabitants) until the election on November 3rd than about those of the almost 40 million Californians.