election q&a

What You Need to Know About the Election


Who is running for President?

President Barack Obama has been nominated to run for re-election as the candidate for the Democratic party. The Republican nominee is former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Click here to learn more about both candidates.

When is Election Day?

Presidential elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This year, that is November 6. Congress established the timing of presidential elections in 1845. Many U.S. citizens were farmers back then, and November was a good time to hold elections because by then they would have completed harvesting their crops.

Why is 2012 an election year?

Presidential elections have been held since 1789. Since 1792, the U.S. Constitution has required that presidential elections be held every four years. This year’s election will be the 57th presidential race in U.S. history.

Why do we have presidential debates?

The debates are one of the best ways for voters to see the candidates defend their voting records and explain their position on issues that voters are concerned about. Doing well in a debate can help put a candidate above his or her competition, and doing poorly can help end a campaign. The first televised presidential debates took place during the 1960 election. Many believed that John F. Kennedy did better in those debates than his opponent, Richard Nixon. Kennedy was better prepared to appear on television. The debates are seen as a key reason that Kennedy narrowly defeated Nixon. Televised debates have been an important part of presidential campaigns ever since.

When are this year’s debates?

This election will feature three presidential debates between the major parties’ candidates. The first will take place on October 3 in Denver, Colorado. The second will be held in Hempstead, New York, on October 16. And the third will be take place on October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida. A vice presidential debate will be held on October 11 in Danville, Kentucky.

What is the Electoral College?

U.S. Presidents are not elected directly by voters. Instead, the Electoral College elects each President based on how people vote in each state. States are given a certain number of electors based on that state’s number of Representatives and Senators. The more-densely populated states have more electors than less-populated states. In most states, the candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote wins all of that state’s electoral votes. There are 538 electoral votes, so a candidate must win just over half of them, 270, or more to win.

Can a President lose the popular vote and still win the presidency?

Yes. Most Presidents win both the popular vote (the total votes cast by U.S. citizens) and the Electoral College vote. But a few have not. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, but Republican George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote and the election.

What are red states and blue states?

Red states are those that tend to vote for the Republican candidate in presidential races. Blue states tend to vote for the Democrat. These nicknames have come about largely because of television news shows. These programs use maps to show whether a Republican or a Democrat has won a state’s Electoral College votes. TV news shows tend to display Republican states as red and Democratic ones as blue. In 2000, reporters began using the terms “red state” and “blue state,” and the nicknames stuck.

When does the candidate elected in November actually take office?

Whoever wins on November 6 will be sworn into office—or inaugurated—in 2013 on January 20, a date required by the U.S. Constitution.

What is a political party?

It is a group of voters organized to support certain public policies. The aim of a political party is to elect officials who will try to carry out the party’s policies.

What are “third” parties?

Two major parties have long dominated U.S. politics—Democrats and Republicans. Third parties are any other parties that challenge them. Every presidential election involves several third-party candidates. Most have few followers, and they rarely impact the popularity of major-party candidates. However, sometimes third-party candidates drain important votes from major candidates. In 2000, the Green Party’s Ralph Nader was credited with taking away critical votes from Democrat Al Gore in Florida. Gore lost Florida’s Electoral College votes, and some argue that the loss cost him the election.

What other big offices will be up for grabs in 2012?

All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for election. So will 33 members of the 100-seat U.S. Senate. Many state and local races will also be up for grabs.

more q&a

What You Need to Know About the Election
Learn more about how America picks a President, and how the general election will work in 2012.

What You Need to Know About the Conventions
Get ready for this summer's most important electoral events with this guide to political party conventions.

What You Need to Know About the Primaries
Find out more about how candidates are nominated to run for President.