WASHINGTON — The American constitution states that the U.S. president must be a natural born American, be at least 35 years old, and have lived in the country for at least 14 years.
Presidential hopefuls typically come from America’s two biggest political parties, the Democrats and Republicans. There are also candidates from other parties or those who run as independents. However, the last victorious independent candidate was George Washington in 1792.
The last time an independent made a significant impact was in 1992 when tycoon Ross Perot took 18.9% of the votes. Then Democratic candidate Bill Clinton was the ultimate winner, knocking out the incumbent, Republican George Bush Senior..
Parties usually choose their nominees based on who ‘wins’ the most states in caucuses and primaries. In a caucus, a preferred nominee is decided through public debate and show of support, while at primaries, a preferred nominee is chosen through secret ballot.
Each party’s presidential nominee is officially announced in the summer at national conventions, where the winners also choose their vice presidential candidate. Next, everyone hits the campaign trail.
Candidates will focus particularly on ‘swing states’, places with a history of voting for different parties and ‘swinging’ results. Campaigning continues until election day, which is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Unlike most democracies, the U.S. candidate with the most general votes does not necessarily become president. It is the candidate with the most votes from the electoral college that wins.
Each state has a number of electors equal to their Congressional representation ie 435 representatives and 100 senators, with 3 electors from the District of Columbia. To win, candidates need 270 of the 538 electors.
That winner is then usually announced on election night and inaugurated in January as the next president of the United States.