Chances are you’ve had a brief preview of U.S. politics through international media, but as a new resident working in the country as a registered nurse or medical technologist, it helps to have a better understanding. To get you started, we’ve created this quick guide to politics in the United States. Read on to learn about the major political parties, how the government works, and how to vote.
There are two major political parties in the U.S. - the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. While other parties exist, they have less influence. Here is a brief overview of each party's general principles:
Democratic Party: The Democratic Party generally supports social equality, individual rights, progressive social policies, and a larger role for the government in areas such as healthcare and social welfare.
Republican Party: The Republican Party generally supports individual liberty, free-market capitalism, limited government intervention, and traditional values. Often more conservative, they emphasize a smaller role for the government and lower taxes.
How the government works
The United States operates as a federal republic, meaning power is divided between the federal government and individual states. Here are the key components:
Three branches of government: The U.S. government consists of three branches: the Executive branch (led by the President) which enforces the laws of the land, the Legislative branch (Congress: Senate and House of Representatives) which makes all laws, regulates interstate and foreign commerce and controls taxing and spending policies, and the Judicial branch (Supreme Court and other federal courts) which interprets, applies and determines the law.
Checks and balances: The three branches have distinct powers and can check each other to prevent the abuse of power. This system helps ensure a balance of power and upholds democratic principles.
The election system
An election system is used to choose leaders at various levels of government. Here are the key elements:
Presidential elections: Presidential elections are held every four years. Candidates from different parties compete, and citizens vote to select electors from their respective states who, in turn, vote for the President. The candidate who secures the majority of electoral votes becomes President.
Congressional elections: Members of Congress (Senators and Representatives) are elected separately. Senators serve six-year terms, while Representatives serve two-year terms. These positions are elected directly by citizens in their respective states or districts.
State and local elections: State and local elections vary and can take place in any year at various times throughout the year. The roles voted on can include state governors, county executives, city majors, among other key positions of responsibility.
Who can vote
The following criteria must be met to be eligible to vote:
U.S. citizenship: Only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in federal, state, and local elections.
Age requirement: Individuals must be at least 18 years old on or before Election Day to vote. However, some states allow 17 –year olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the general election.
Residency: Voters must meet their state's residency requirements, which usually include having a permanent address within the state or district where they wish to vote.
It's important to note that voter registration is a crucial step towards exercising your right to vote. Each state sets its own rules regarding voter registration, but it is generally required in advance of Election Day. Registered voters are provided with information about their assigned polling place and can participate in various elections.
Please keep in mind that specific requirements may vary by state, and it's important to check with your state election office for detailed information on voter eligibility and registration.
How to vote
Register to vote: Make sure you are registered to vote. Each state has different requirements and deadlines, so visit your state's election office website or contact them directly for registration details.
Find your polling place: Before Election Day, find out where your designated polling place is. This information can be found on your state's election office website or other relevant voter resources.
Research candidates and issues: Understand the candidates running for office and the key issues they represent. Read candidate platforms, watch debates, and consult reliable news sources to be an informed voter.
Cast your vote: On Election Day, visit your designated polling place during the allotted voting hours. Follow the instructions given by the poll workers and use the provided voting equipment or paper ballots to cast your vote.
Early voting and absentee ballots: If you are unable to vote on Election Day, check if your state allows early voting or offers absentee ballots. These options provide flexibility for those who are unable to vote in person.
This quick guide provides an overview of U.S. politics to assist you in understanding the basics. As you settle in and immerse yourself in American society, you will gain a deeper understanding of the intricate political landscape. Get involved, stay informed, and make your voice heard!