Electing a President

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, the United States will choose its president for the next four years. The process is already starting, and one of my former students (hi Lauren) was wondering about how the whole thing works…

Barring something really weird, the person selected as president in November 2012 will be a member of one of the two established political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.
For context, about a third of Americans are registered as Democrats and about a third are registered as Republicans.  The remaining 30% or so are not affiliated with a particular party, and the objective for each party as the election approaches is to appeal to that middle group. Most Republicans will vote Republican and most Democrats will vote Democratic.
Here’s a recent statistic:

In July, 34.8% of adults consider themselves to be Democrats, virtually unchanged from 34.7% in June. The number of Republicans fell from 35.6% in May to 34.4% in June to 33.1% in July. That’s the lowest total for the GOP since July 2010.

For Democrats, the current results are in the middle of a narrow range they’ve occupied for the first six months of 2011.

Voters not affiliated with either party grew from 31.0% in June to 32.1% in July.

Further barring something really weird, President Obama will run as the “incumbent” which means he’s the one already in office.

You can have an incumbent governor and even an incumbent dog catcher (if that were an elected position).  The idea is that an incumbent has advantages of name recognition and his or her record.  Of course, if you are President Obama and unemployment is really high, it may not be such an advantage — indeed, people tend to blame the person in power for economic problems (see Herbert Hoover and the 1932 election, which he lost badly to FDR)

Given those assumptions — President Obama, the incumbent, will be the Democratic candidate and he will run against a Republican — it seems to make sense to focus on the process by which the Republican party will choose its candidate.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas has received a lot of press lately:

Here’s a 3-minute political ad that draws from Governor Perry’s official announcement on August 13.

And here’s a screen capture from Wednesday evening’s Washington Post:
If you want to read about the details, here’s the article in the Post.

And for those who have been paying attention to early polls, there was an Iowa Straw Poll on August 11 — here are the results:

Place Candidate Votes Percentage
1 Michele Bachmann 4,823 28.6%
2 Ron Paul 4,671 27.7%
3 Tim Pawlenty 2,293 13.6%
4 Rick Santorum 1,657 9.8%
5 Herman Cain 1,456 8.6%
6 Rick Perry (write-in) 718 4.3%
7 Mitt Romney (write-in) 567 3.4%
8 Newt Gingrich 385 2.3%
9 Jon Huntsman 69 0.4%
10 Thaddeus McCotter 35 0.2%
Scattering 218 1.30%
Total 16,892 100%
The campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann got a lot of momentum because she won the Iowa event.  Rep. Ron Paul of Texas did not get so much momentum, which is odd since he basically tied Bachmann (the margin between the two candidates was 152 votes).

Tim Pawlenty, the former Governor of Minnesota, was so disappointed by his third-place finish in Iowa that he withdrew from the contest.

Governor Perry and Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, were write-in candidates in Iowa because they were not officially campaigning in Iowa and did not sign up to be included in the straw poll.

The leading candidates now seem to be Perry, Romney and Bachmann — here’s a poll (which may not be worth much at this early stage, but it’s something to start with)

Rasmussen’s GOP primary poll results showed Perry leading both Bachmann and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by double-digit margins: 29 percent of poll respondents favored Perry, versus 18 percent for Romney and 13 percent for Bachmann.

People are also wondering about Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, John Bolton, and a few other potential candidates that typical middle and high school students will not have heard of. For those who want to get up to speed on the Republican candidates, I found a basic website called 2012 Republican Candidates that summarizes the basic facts about each of the candidates.

So that’s an overview of the process.

Below are some dates of debates to watch as the Republicans sort out who their candidate will be:




Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_(United_States)_presidential_primaries,_2012>

Republican Primary and caucus dates

  • February 6 – Confirmed date of the Iowa caucuses[41]
  • February 14 – Expected date of New Hampshire primary
  • February 18 – Confirmed date of the Nevada caucuses
  • February 28 – Confirmed date of the South Carolina primary
  • March 6–31, 2012: Primaries (and other contests) that provide for proportional allocation of delegates to the candidates, and all nonbinding caucuses;
  • April 1, 2012 onward: All other contests.

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_(United_States)_presidential_primaries,_2012>

A future post will distinguish between a caucus and a primary.

As the incumbent, President Obama has the advantage of not having to worry about winning the Democratic nomination. Whereas the Republicans have to criticize each other (and President Obama, as you can see from the Rick Perry advertisement, if you viewed it) and sort of beat each other up, the Democrats will likely be behind President Obama.

The election will really pick up after the parties hold their conventions at the end of next summer — here’s the schedule:

  • August 27–30, 2012: Republican National Convention to be held in Tampa, Florida
  • September 3–6, 2012: Democratic National Convention to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina

From that point on, expect a non-stop barrage of advertisements and debates as the two parties try to convince the middle of the country that their candidate is the better choice. Let’s hope for civil discourse, but given the recent track record from both parties, it could get ugly. A future post will examine the tone of politics today in the US and why it got so disrespectful.

About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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