The US election explained for Brits

It’s been all over the British press in recent months with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders becoming household names in the UK. However, US elections are very different to our ones. As a result, I’ve put together this handy guide to help clear up any confusion.

The basics

Unlike in the UK where you can serve as Prime Minister for an unlimited number of years, the American constitution dictates that a president can serve for a maximum of 8 years (or two terms). As a result, Barack Obama cannot run for president again. As well as Obama’s Democrat party, the rival Republican party also had to select a new candidate for president. It is worth noting here that the election will be a straight fight between these 2 parties – in 2012 the Republicans’ and Democrats’ combined vote share was a staggering 98% vs Labour and the Conservatives’ 67% in 2015 UK general election.

In order to select their candidate to contest the election, each party holds a series of primaries and caucuses – normally 1 in each state. In these, all members of each party can vote for the candidate that they want to represent their party in the election. There are a few other rules but, put simply, the candidate with the most votes gets to run for president in November.

The US election is a straight fight between the Democrats and the Republicans. In the last election the parties won a combined 98% of the vote. In the UK in 2015, Labour and the Tories won a combined 67%.

The candidates

A couple of months back it was finally confirmed who would be running for president. Businessman Donald Trump will be representing the Republicans with former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running for the Democrats.

While the Republicans are more right-wing than the Democrats it is important to remember that both parties are even further right-wing than the Conservatives are in the UK. Each candidate’s views differ a huge amount with the other…

Hillary Clinton’s main policies include being against gun ownership, wanting to expand the ‘ObamaCare’ programme (a health insurance system) and being pro-abortion and same-sex marriage.

Trump meanwhile is pro-gun owenership and wants to expand the military. He has previously said that he would ban all Muslims from entering the USA in order to clamp down on terrorism and has promised to build a wall separating his country from Mexico (to stop illegal immigration).


These last two policies have been criticised an enormous amount and Trump has been frequently accused of inciting racism and xenophobia. The businessman has also been condemned for various comments such as calling Clinton ‘Crooked Hillary’. It is customary for each presidential candidate’s rivals to formally endorse the successful candidate after the campaign of primaries and caucuses has finished. Ted Cruz, who tried and failed to become the Republican that would run for president, refused to endorse Trump at the Republican Convention a few weeks ago.

Clinton has also been criticised in the press, most notably for using a personal E-Mail address to handle confidential FBI files instead of the secure government one that she was supposed to use. She has also been attacked for various failures during her time as Secretary of State such as failing to deal with the aftermath of the overthrow of President Gaddafi in Libya and her role in the Afghanistan war.

Who’s going to win?

The most recent polls have indicated that for now Clinton has a small lead over her Republican rival (around 6%). However, with just under 3 months until Americans go to the polls that could easily change. Personally, I think that the US will vote for the person that is generally seen as the safer, less controversial option – Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is largely seen as a safe pair of hands, something that is likely to be visible with her foreign policies, including the way she deals with Theresa May and the UK. By contrast, Trump has already been involved in a diplomatic row with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan over his proposed policy of banning Muslims from entering the country. He has also suggested that America could leave the NATO alliance. From the UK’s point of view, a Clinton presidency looks like a better option as well as the more likely outcome. US elections are notoriously unpredictable though and with 3 months to go you’d be stupid to bet against Trump.