Elections are crucial in a representative democracy like the United States. Ideally, they enable people to choose their leaders and thereby influence public policy, endowing elected officials with democratic legitimacy.
Campaign finance is an integral component of American elections, and the issue of big money and its influence have emerged as a critical issue for debate. Campaign finance laws have shaped the way that candidates raise and spend money in elections, though the Supreme Court has loosened those limitations in recent years.
Presidential elections involve caucuses, primaries, the national party convention, the general election, and the Electoral College. Presidential hopefuls vie to be their party’s nominee by collecting delegates through state caucuses and primaries. The presidential candidate selects his vice presidential running mate, who is approved at the convention. Voters in the general election select electors to the Electoral College, who, in turn, select the president and vice president. It is possible for a candidate to win the popular vote and lose the general election.
Congressional candidates run for either the Senate or the House of Representatives. There are no limits on the number of terms a member of Congress can serve. Senators are elected in states and Representatives in congressional districts in states. Congressional districts are based on the U.S. census and are reconfigured periodically. Elections for the Senate tend to be more competitive than for the House, where incumbent officeholders have an advantage.