The American election campaign takes its first major step towards selecting the final candidates for the two major parties next Tuesday. Super Tuesday, as it has become known, is the day on which the largest number of state electorates indirectly votes for the Democratic Party and Republican Party candidates. In the past four weeks, only four states has made their choice so far – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – but on Super Tuesday fifteen states will go to the polls. Since 1976, when the term was first used to describe six states simultaneously holding primaries, Super Tuesday has given a clearer indication of the identity of the frontrunners for each party’s presidential candidate.
The polls on Super Tuesday will consist of a system of candidate elections known as primaries and caucuses, a complex system of proportional representation. For the uninitiated the primaries are governed by each state and are a secret ballot, while the individual parties privately run the caucuses. The primaries and caucuses can be either open – any registered voter can vote – or closed – restricted to just registered party members. There are also a few semi-closed events, where registered voters for a particular party and unaffiliated voters can take part just to complicate matters further. The primaries and caucuses will run between February and the national conventions in the summer.
It is at the national conventions that the two major parties officially select their candidates for the presidential election. This year the Republican national convention (RNC) is on July 18th to 21st in Cleveland, Ohio. The Democratic national convention will be the following week in Philadelphia. Traditionally the RNC has been held later in the year, but Republican leaders believe that an earlier convention gives their final candidate an advantage in the general election. In a similar bidding system as the Olympics, cities compete with each other to host the conventions. This year the Democrats chose Philadelphia, the same city where the Republicans held their national convention in the year 2000 where George W Bush was declared the Republican candidate.
At both of these conventions party delegates attend representing each state. Certain states have a higher number of delegates allotted by the parties than others. For example, the number of delegates given to New Hampshire was 32 by the Democrats, and 23 by Republicans; Texas has been given 252 delegates by the Democrats, and 155 delegates by the Republicans. The results of the primaries and caucuses determine the number of voters for each candidate. These are called pledged delegates. In addition there are super delegates.