All you need to know to get in on the office chatter about the US election …
The Difference Between the Democratic and Republican Parties
Traditionally, the Republican Party sit very much on the right-wing of politics. They’re considered conservative, they believe in state autonomy and a strong criminal justice system, and support the 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms). Republicans tend to be wary of civil rights and social issues and often lean towards the traditionist side of things. Historically, they are preferred by the older elite and large corporations for their support of free trade, low minimum wage and a relatively low taxing system.
Democrats, on the other hand, are considered liberal, have been proponents of social issues like abortion and marriage equality, sponsor free trade, favour high taxation on the elite and support social welfare programs and affordable healthcare, which speaks to the lower and middle classes.
However, this election has somewhat turned these typical values on their heads, as Clinton is seen as a member of the wealthy elite (which she is) and Trump has pulled support from low-income working-class people for what they see as federal destruction of US manufacturing in favour of high-level management and IT. This is why the swing states are more important than ever for this election (more on them later).
Clinton’s Election Low Points
Okay, quick(ish) summary of Hillary’s emails.
While Hillary was Secretary of State (essentially Minister of Foreign Affairs), she used a private server in her home for work emails. The 2015 FBI investigation into her use of this private server centred around the question of whether classified information passed through this private (and undocumented) account, which would be liable to hacking and make Clinton guilty of negligence. Clinton was asked to hand over her work-related emails, she obliged with 30,000 of them but withheld and deleted a further 30,000 which she deemed as personal. The FBI has never said whether or not they managed to uncover these emails or if they qualified as “personal” and concluded in July that Clinton had not committed any wrongdoing though her actions were “extremely careless”.
However, many felt that the private server was used as a way for Clinton to proposition her charitable Clinton Foundation donors for contributions in exchange for political favours and vice versa, something that was never substantiated. Just a few weeks ago, FBI director Comey announced that they were reviewing more emails found on a device belonging to her top aide’s ex-husband and former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner (a whole other can of worms we won’t open here, but the documentary is great). Following the review, the FBI announced on November 6th that there would be no changes to their original conclusions but the drama opened a window for Trump to capitalise on the biggest mark on Clinton’s campaign at the apex of the election.
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Trump’s Election Low Points
Trump’s biggest moments are a lot less complicated. He controversially suggested banning all Muslims from entering the country, he wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico to stop illegal immigrants entering, he called Mexicans “rapists and criminals”, he has promised to jail Clinton if elected, he insulted a gold-star family (a family who lost a family member during the Iraq war) and has refused to apologise, and he was critical of John McCain’s “war hero” status. John McCain is like the Paul O’Connell of the Republican party – you do not criticise John McCain.
The list goes on, but probably the biggest gaffe is when a video leaked of him in 2005 saying he made unwanted sexual advances on women (I’m being very polite here) and got away with it because of his fame. He denied ever actually doing anything, claiming it was simply “locker room talk”, but 11 women then came out to accuse him of sexual harassment. We could also get into the Fox News / Megyn Kelly / Roger Ailes thing but again, can of worms.
Needless to say, neither candidate is perfect, although we might point out John Oliver‘s “Bed of Nails” theory. Stepping on one nail is incredibly painful but stepping on a few dozen is bizarrely less painful and so Trump’s myriad of blunders have become expected and therefore less controversial. The perfect example of this is that I completely forgot to mention that Trump announced that not paying his income tax makes him “smart”. Just completely slipped my mind.
Trump has repeatedly used one stick to beat Clinton over and over again, while she could fill an entire lifetime and still not use up all the sticks Trump has handed her. Just sayin’.
Were there any? Maybe Alec Baldwin’s excellent Trump impression?
All jokes aside, we’re really struggling to think of anything. Perhaps Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine conducting entire speeches in Spanish and finally recognising the importance of the Latino vote in the US? Or else it’s finally bringing the issue of sexual harassment to a global stage.
Electoral Colleges V. Popular Vote
Right, now you have a grasp on the major issues (unbelievably, very few of which are actually in any way politically relevant) it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. To win a Presidential election, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 electoral college votes on offer. The entire US is split into these colleges with each state allocated them based on how many delegates they have in Congress and the Senate. Each state (except for Maine and Nebraska) work on a winner-takes-all system, whereby receive the most votes in the state and you win all of its electoral colleges. This means that you can have an instance where a candidate receives the most amount of votes overall but loses the election because they didn’t get enough electoral college votes. In 2000, Al Gore actually received more votes than George W Bush but lost the election.
Take California for example – it has a population of almost 40 million and 55 electoral votes. Clinton is expected to take the state by an overwhelming margin but if she wins by 50.1% or 90.1%, she’ll still only get 55 electoral colleges. Get it? And this is why the swing states are so important.
Where Are the Swing / Battleground States and What Does This Mean?
Many states are very staunchly Democratic or Republican – California is almost guaranteed to be blue and Texas will be red. Swing states or battleground states, however, are states that can be won by either candidate, where the polls are too close to call. A win in a swing state, by even the finest of margins, can have a huge influence on the election. They vary from election to election but this Tuesday the ones to watch are Florida (29 college votes), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), and Nevada (6). While Clinton looks to be marginally ahead elsewhere and therefore doesn’t need to take all of these, she will realistically need one of the big two (Flordia or Ohio) to stay on course. Should Trump get both Florida or Ohio then we’re in for the full count.
Also, keep an eye on New Hampshire (4) and Pennsylvania (20). These are traditionally Democratic strongholds (known as “Blue Wall” states) but have made a move towards the Red’s this cycle, likely because of Trump’s appeal to manufacturing’states and the working classes.
When Can We Expect To Hear Results
Everything more or less kicks off at 12.30 am Irish time on Wednesday morning when the first of the battleground states of Ohio and North Carolina close their polling stations. They’ll be first and biggest telltale signs of where this election is going. If Hillary takes both, she’s fairly home and dry, especially if she manages to hold onto New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. If Trump takes both then it will likely go to the wire, with the possibility of Hillary winning the popular but losing the electoral college vote and the election.
As most of the rest of the stations close over the following two hours, watch out for Florida – that’s a make-or-break state for both candidates with 20 electoral votes, particularly if Trump wins Ohio or North Carolina. If it does run very close, the decision should be definitive by about 4 a.m. Irish time.
Where Can I Find Information On The Election
FiveThirtyEight.com has the most extensive statistics and polls and is very readable with lots of graphs and diagrams. Head there for the easiest way to get your head around the basics. The New York Times will also be opening up all of its content from today until Wednesday (it’s normally got a 10-piece monthly limit before you hit a paywall) so you can follow the election live and it’s a great source for opinion pieces on all things election.
And finally, on a personal note, this writer sincerely hopes to wake up on Wednesday morning to find this car crash of an election over with and nothing but shards of glass on the ground from a shattered ceiling and a few orange-tear-stained tissues. From my mouth to God’s ear.