søndag 28. oktober 2012

How about that US election?

Courtesy of a colleague and the Guardian newspaper, here's a guide to understanding the election for your English class:


When are the US presidential elections?
They are going to be held on 6 November, 2012. The United States (US) elections are always held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Why should I care? 
Some would say the president of the US is the most powerful person on earth - and whoever gets the job has a lot of influence across the whole world. The president makes decisions about how the US is run and how it works with other countries. Many people know Barack Obama is president of the US, even those who don't know much about politics.

How often are presidential elections held?
Every four years. The last election was in 2008 which is when Barack Obama became the US's 44th president and also the first African American to be elected as president.

Who are people voting for this time?
In the US there are only two main political parties: The Democrats and the Republicans. So the fight is between the Democrat's choice and current president Barack Obama with Joe Biden as his vice president or 'running mate' (in the US elections the would be presidents and vice presidents always run together as a team) and the Republican's choice of Mitt Romney with Paul Ryan as his running mate. The two parties are often symbolised by animals – with the Democrats symbolised as a donkey and the Republicans as an elephant. The origin of these symbols goes back to cartoons in the 19th century but now democrats say the donkey is smart and brave and Republicans say the elephant is strong and dignified.

How did the candidates get chosen to run for the job of president?
Earlier this year each state in the US plus the District of Columbia (the official name of Washington DC, the US capital) had its primary elections - in some states these are called caucuses - to decide who would stand for the presidential elections.

How do US elections work?
It's slightly complicated. When US citizens vote for who they want to be president on 6 November  officially they are actually voting for people called electors in their state or district who say they will back this particular candidate. There are 538 electors all together, each of the US's 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) is given a certain number depending on how many people live in the state. Of course everyone finds out who is going to be the president after the US elections in November, but officially the president doesn't get the job until the electors meet and cast their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December after the election (this time round that's 17 December). The first candidate to claim 270 electoral votes becomes the president. 

Can anyone be president of the US?
In theory yes but there are some rules. They must be born in the US, be at least 35 years old and have lived in the US for at least 14 years.

Can Barack Obama be president again?
Yes he can, if he gets voted in. US presidents are allowed to do serve two terms – that is be voted in for two four year stints as president. So if Barack Obama gets the job this will be his last term. He won't be able to stand for election in 2016.

What can you tell me about Mitt Romney?
He is 65 years old and has five children and has been married to his wife Ann (who he calls his secret weapon) for 40 years. He is a multimillionaire and a Mormon. Mormons are Christians but their religious and cultural group was founded in the US in the 1820s by Joseph Smith who claimed he had visions of an angel which told him where to dig up a mysterious book of golden plates inscribed with ancient writings.

How excited are the American people about this election?
They don’t seem particularly excited. This is a huge contrast to the situation this time four years ago when Barack Obama was first up for election. Record numbers of people turned out to vote for him in 2008 – in fact turnout was at levels not seen since women were given the vote in 1920. The whole world seemed to rejoice in the US voting for its first black president. However enthusiasm for Barack Obama has been shrinking. 

How will American citizens decide who to vote for?
Many Americans have already decided they are Republicans or Democrats so they already know who they are going to vote for. But a series of three live TV debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will help some who aren’t so sure who to vote for, or wondering whether they will vote at all. The first of these TV debates was held on 3 October in Denver. A poll straight after the debate by US news service CNN had 67% of registered voters saying Romney had won the debate, while just 25% gave it to Obama. This doesn’t mean Romney has won the election but there have been years when these televised debates have swung voters - most notably the 2000 election between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W Bush (Bush won). 

What are the big issues in the this election? 
Money is the big one. Like most of the world's countries, the US has money problems. So how to spend it and what to spend it on and tax are the big subjects. In the first TV debate the two candidates spent most of their time arguing over tax, jobs and healthcare. Barack Obama has expanded the healthcare system in the US to provide healthcare for many more people - now known as Obamacare. But Mitt Romney argues Obama has spent too much money recklessly. In the Denver debate he said he would apply a test to anything he is going to spend money on; “Is this project so important that I need to borrow money for China to do it?”. 

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