With less than a month to go, the most unconventional US presidential election has entered its final leg after a complex and lengthy selection process in the world’s oldest democracy that differs immensely from how leaders are elected in India, which is the largest democracy.
The electoral fight between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has captured international attention, with American media describing the heated 2016 presidential election as the most unconventional in the country’s history.
Both candidates have set records for unpopularity and have emerged as the most hated US presidential hopefuls ever. For instance, a Pew poll conducted last month showed widespread disenchantment towards this year’s presidential contest among American voters.
According to the poll, as many as 57 per cent of voters said they are frustrated and 55 per cent said they were disgusted with the campaign, dwarfing 31 per cent who said they are interested, 15 per cent who said they are optimistic and 10 per cent who said they are excited for the November 8 showdown.
Traditionally, a fair number of supporters on either side express negative opinions about the other party’s candidate, but the latest poll found that a majority of voters express negative feelings about both leading candidates, the blistering negativity bruising both candidates.
This presidential election saw a campaign in which sober policy discussion has been drowned by personal insults and base offensives.
Both Clinton and Trump are among the oldest general election candidates in US history. If Trump wins the election, it will make him the oldest newly-elected president in US history – Ronald Reagan was just about 70 years old when he was elected to office in 1981. If Clinton wins, it will make her, at 69, the second oldest behind Reagan.
Leading think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) described the presidential nominating process in the US as “one of the most complex, lengthy, and expensive in the world”.
Several candidates jump in the fray almost a year before the primaries and begin their campaigning informally in early- voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
The series of presidential primary elections and caucuses took place between February and June 2016, staggered among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and US territories. This nominating process was also an indirect election, where voters cast ballots for a slate of delegates to a political party’s nominating convention, who in turn, elect their party’s presidential nominee.
This year, the Republican field began with a long list of 17 candidates, including Indian-origin Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. The Democratic field, on the other hand, was not as crowded, with just Hilllary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders in the race.
CFR explained that at stake in the primary and caucus are a certain number of delegates, or individuals who represent their states at national party conventions. After the primaries and caucuses, most political parties hold national conventions to finalise their choice for their presidential and vice presidential nominees.
The candidate who accumulates a majority of his or her party’s delegates during the months-long process wins the nomination. In 2016, the Democratic candidate had to secure at least 2,382 out of 4,763 delegates to become the party’s nominee while the Republican candidate had to secure at least 1,237 out of 2,472 delegates.
Trump officially accepted the Republican party’s nomination on July 22. Clinton, the former secretary of state, was officially nominated on July 26 at the Democratic Convention.
Voters will now select presidential electors, who in turn, will vote for the new president and vice president on November 8 through the Electoral College. Electors are apportioned to each of the 50 states as well as to the District of Columbia (also known as Washington, DC).
The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled, while the 23rd Amendment grants the District of Columbia the same number of electors as the least populous state, currently three.
Therefore, in total, there are currently 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia.
It may be noted that electoral members are not members of US Congress.
In contrast, India, which has a multi-party political system, is a constitutional democracy with a parliamentary and not the presidential system of government.
India has been divided into 543 parliamentary constituencies, each of which elects one MP to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament. The political party holding a majority in the Lok Sabha elects its leader as the Prime Minister of the country.
Over 814 million people were eligible to vote in Indian elections, considered the world’s biggest democratic exercise where voting was held in 10 stages. India’s general elections see a large number of political parties contest the polls. In the 2009 election for instance, 363 political parties took part in the polls.