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The role of the Electoral College in US presidential elections

04-11-2020

The President and Vice-President of the United States of America are not elected directly by US voters, but rather by the Electoral College, a representative body composed of 538 electors chosen by voters in parallel contests in each of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia. This body emerged during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as a compromise designed to ensure the continuing pre-eminence of the states in the US federal system, as well as to temper what were seen then as potentially ...

The President and Vice-President of the United States of America are not elected directly by US voters, but rather by the Electoral College, a representative body composed of 538 electors chosen by voters in parallel contests in each of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia. This body emerged during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as a compromise designed to ensure the continuing pre-eminence of the states in the US federal system, as well as to temper what were seen then as potentially dangerous democratic passions. At first, state legislatures chose the electors, and it was only in the 19th century that state authorities began to appoint electors on the basis of the result of a popular vote. The operation of the Electoral College and the process by which it chooses a presidential 'ticket' has attracted growing attention in recent decades, on account of an increasingly polarised US political landscape and a changing electoral map. The existence of the Electoral College poses a number of basic questions about the fairness of the electoral process and popular representation in the United States. Moreover, there are many questions about how precisely the Electoral College process should be carried out, in order for it to be considered legitimate, especially as regards the behaviour of electors and their political parties during the election period. Two elections in the past two decades – those of 2000 and 2016 – have resulted in the victory of a candidate who received fewer votes nationwide than their opponent. Calls for the abolition of the institution and the introduction of direct election of the President by all citizens have become more frequent. Polls show a consistent majority in favour of this change, although this majority has narrowed and opinion has become more polarised along partisan lines as evidence has emerged of a structural advantage in the Electoral College for the Republican Party candidate. Nevertheless, this institution has endured for over two centuries of republican government, and a number of arguments are put forward in its defence. US public opinion is also more divided on the detail of proposed alternatives.

Externí autor

European Parliament Liaison Office in Washington DC

Understanding US Presidential elections

16-10-2020

In August 2020, the two major political parties in the United States (US), the Democrats and the Republicans, formally nominated their respective candidates for the 59th US presidential election, which takes place on Tuesday, 3 November 2020. An initially crowded field of contenders in the Democratic primaries developed into a two-horse race between former US Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, with Biden declared the Democratic nominee on 18 August. He will now contest the presidential ...

In August 2020, the two major political parties in the United States (US), the Democrats and the Republicans, formally nominated their respective candidates for the 59th US presidential election, which takes place on Tuesday, 3 November 2020. An initially crowded field of contenders in the Democratic primaries developed into a two-horse race between former US Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, with Biden declared the Democratic nominee on 18 August. He will now contest the presidential election against the Republican candidate, who faced no significant primary challenge, the incumbent US President, Donald Trump. The US President is simultaneously head of state, head of government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Presidential elections are therefore a hugely important part of American political life. Although millions of Americans vote in presidential elections every four years, the President is not, in fact, directly elected by the people. Citizens elect the members of the Electoral College, who then cast their votes for the President and Vice-President. While key elements of the presidential election are spelled out in the US Constitution, other aspects have been shaped by state laws, national party rules and state party rules. This explains why presidential campaigns have evolved over time, from the days when presidential candidates were nominated in the House of Representatives by the 'king caucus', to an almost exclusively party-dominated ‘convention’ system, and finally to the modern system of nominations based very largely on primary elections, introduced progressively to increase the participation of party supporters in the selection process. A number of additional developments have also played an important role in shaping today's presidential elections, notably political party efforts to limit 'front-loading' of primaries; the organisation of the Electoral College system and the changes to the campaign financing system. A previous version of this Briefing, written by Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig and Micaela Del Monte, was published in 2016.

United States Congress: Facts and Figures

14-02-2020

The Congress is the legislative branch of the US system of government and is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives (lower chamber) and the Senate (upper chamber). The formal powers of the Congress are set out in Article 1 of the US Constitution, and include making laws, collecting revenue, borrowing and spending money, declaring war, making treaties with foreign nations, and overseeing the executive branch. Elections to the US Congress occur in November every second year, with the ...

The Congress is the legislative branch of the US system of government and is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives (lower chamber) and the Senate (upper chamber). The formal powers of the Congress are set out in Article 1 of the US Constitution, and include making laws, collecting revenue, borrowing and spending money, declaring war, making treaties with foreign nations, and overseeing the executive branch. Elections to the US Congress occur in November every second year, with the Congress convening the following January. The current, 116th, Congress was elected in November 2018 and was convened in January 2019. The US has a long-standing two-party system, which means that nearly all members of Congress belong to either the Republican or Democratic parties, while independent members (if any) generally align or sit with one of the two main parties. At the most recent simultaneous US Congressional and Presidential elections, back in November 2016, the Republicans won majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as winning the White House. However, the Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives at the November 2018 mid-term elections. This EPRS Briefing is designed to provide key facts and figures about the US Congress as an institution, including relevant comparisons with the European Parliament (EP). The back page contains a map showing the location of the various Congressional buildings on Capitol Hill, home to the Congress in Washington DC.

EU policies – Delivering for citizens: Future financing of EU policies

28-06-2019

The principle of subsidiarity means that the European Union (EU) should act where it can do so more effectively than its constituent Member States individually, and this also holds true in the area of public finance – the EU's budget together with off-budget tools for financing EU policies. At €165.8 billion in 2019 – or approximately 1 % of Member States' collective gross national income (GNI) – the EU budget is a great deal smaller in relative terms than EU national governments' budgets. It serves ...

The principle of subsidiarity means that the European Union (EU) should act where it can do so more effectively than its constituent Member States individually, and this also holds true in the area of public finance – the EU's budget together with off-budget tools for financing EU policies. At €165.8 billion in 2019 – or approximately 1 % of Member States' collective gross national income (GNI) – the EU budget is a great deal smaller in relative terms than EU national governments' budgets. It serves mainly as a vehicle for investment, particularly in the areas of rural and regional development, industrial research and support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and political and economic development in neighbouring countries. These policies are designed to yield European public goods, with benefits that go beyond the national borders of individual EU countries. The Commission calculates that they do so for less than the cost of one cup of coffee a day per citizen. During the 2014-2019 parliamentary term, the EU was buffeted by challenges to its capacity to act, including financially, by geopolitical instability in the wider region, the migration and refugee crisis, and unresolved questions about the future of the euro, linked to the legacy of the economic, financial and sovereign debt crises. However, the EU also saw several notable achievements. These include the update to the financial rules governing the use of EU funds, simplifying the rules and strengthening the focus on performance and results; the creation of a European Public Prosecutor's Office to help address the roughly 0.35 % of the EU budget at risk of fraud; a mid-term revision of the multiannual financial framework (MFF), enhancing its flexibility to provide for a more responsive EU; the development of proposals for new sources of revenue in time for negotiations on the post-2020 MFF; and policy innovation in the field of financial engineering, helping EU finance go further by leveraging private investment. The 2019 elections mark a turning point in the future financing of EU policies, since the new Parliament will be responsible for concluding negotiations on the next multiannual spending plan. The Commission has proposed a 2021-2027 MFF totalling 1.11 % of the post-Brexit EU-27's GNI, and new sources of EU revenue to reduce the burden on national treasuries and forge a clearer link between revenue and policies. It also proposes to consolidate progress made in the last term with regard to budgetary flexibility, financial integrity and the rule of law, and in encouraging private investment in Europe. This is an update of an earlier briefing issued prior to the 2019 European elections.

2021-2027 multiannual financial framework and new own resources: Analysis of the Commission's proposal

26-07-2018

The process of negotiating a new seven-year financial plan for the EU has now begun formally with the Commission's publication of proposals for a 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and for a new system of own resources providing the revenue to pay for it. This analysis presents the proposed new MFF and own resources and compares them to the status quo, as well as to the European Parliament's priorities as expressed in plenary resolutions adopted in spring 2018.

The process of negotiating a new seven-year financial plan for the EU has now begun formally with the Commission's publication of proposals for a 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and for a new system of own resources providing the revenue to pay for it. This analysis presents the proposed new MFF and own resources and compares them to the status quo, as well as to the European Parliament's priorities as expressed in plenary resolutions adopted in spring 2018.

Extending the European Investment Bank's External Lending Mandate to Iran

15-06-2018

The European Commission adopted two delegated decisions designed to counter the effects of United States (US) extraterritorial sanctions against Iran on 6 June 2018. One of the decisions updates Regulation (EC) 2271/96, known as the Blocking Regulation, to prohibit EU companies from complying with the US sanctions against companies investing in, or transacting business with, Iran. The second decision (C(2018) 3730 final) – the subject of this 'At a glance' note – brings Iran within the remit of the ...

The European Commission adopted two delegated decisions designed to counter the effects of United States (US) extraterritorial sanctions against Iran on 6 June 2018. One of the decisions updates Regulation (EC) 2271/96, known as the Blocking Regulation, to prohibit EU companies from complying with the US sanctions against companies investing in, or transacting business with, Iran. The second decision (C(2018) 3730 final) – the subject of this 'At a glance' note – brings Iran within the remit of the European Investment Bank's (EIB) External Lending Mandate (ELM), by adding it to the list of countries outside the EU that are eligible for EIB lending. Both decisions are part of the EU's efforts to protect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from the repercussions of the unilateral US withdrawal. The JCPOA was agreed between Iran and the E3/EU+3 – France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the EU plus China, Russia and the USA – in 2015, and is designed to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.

Guarantee Fund for External Action and EIB external lending mandate

16-05-2018

In response to a sharp increase in the number of people trying to migrate to Europe illegally, and as part of the mid-term review of the European Investment Bank's external lending mandate (ELM), the Commission proposed an external investment plan to tackle the root causes of migration from countries neighbouring the European Union, consisting of a European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) and quantitative and qualitative changes to the ELM. These changes entailed two legislative proposals ...

In response to a sharp increase in the number of people trying to migrate to Europe illegally, and as part of the mid-term review of the European Investment Bank's external lending mandate (ELM), the Commission proposed an external investment plan to tackle the root causes of migration from countries neighbouring the European Union, consisting of a European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) and quantitative and qualitative changes to the ELM. These changes entailed two legislative proposals. A compromise package was agreed in trilogue between Council and Parliament, and adopted at first reading during the February I 2018 plenary session. Both acts entered into force on 8 April 2018. Second edition. The ‘EU Legislation in Progress’ briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Post-2020 MFF and own resources: Ahead of the Commission's proposal

27-04-2018

On 2 May, the Commission is expected to publish proposals for a new multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the European Union for the years after 2020, as well as for a new system of own resources (OR) to provide the EU with the means to finance its annual budgets. The following day the proposals are to be presented to the Parliament's Committee on Budgets (BUDG).The proposals are being published as a package, and will be followed by a series of further legislative proposals for individual spending ...

On 2 May, the Commission is expected to publish proposals for a new multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the European Union for the years after 2020, as well as for a new system of own resources (OR) to provide the EU with the means to finance its annual budgets. The following day the proposals are to be presented to the Parliament's Committee on Budgets (BUDG).The proposals are being published as a package, and will be followed by a series of further legislative proposals for individual spending programmes to appear later in May and in June. The next MFF and OR system will set the EU's priorities and determine much of its scope for action for a period of at least five years. The proposals are an opportunity for the Commission to respond to a set of longstanding issues concerning how the EU finances its priorities, and to new issues arising from a political landscape that has changed profoundly since 2013, when the EU last negotiated its multiannual budget plan. Chief among these are the twin pressures affecting both the revenue and spending sides of the budget: the loss of a major net contributor country in the departure from the EU of the United Kingdom; and growing pressure to respond to new challenges mainly linked to the refugee and migration crisis that erupted after the current MFF was put in place, as well as ongoing issues resulting from the financial and sovereign debt crises. The Commission's proposals for a new MFF and OR will also respond to the question of how big the EU budget should be. Currently subject to a political cap of 1 % of the EU's GNI, the EU budget is modest in comparison with the government budgets of the EU's Member States. Nevertheless, negotiations over whether to increase this cap will be politically fraught in a context where some Member States are under pressure to reduce national budget deficits. Other issues at stake in the negotiations are the flexibility, conditionalities, structure and duration of the next MFF, and the sensitive question of whether to increase the EU's financial autonomy by endowing it with new and significant own resources.

Reform of the EU's system of own resources

06-03-2018

In May 2018, the European Commission is expected to present a legislative package on what are known as 'own resources' – the sources of revenue for the EU budget – for the period after 2020, alongside proposals on a new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The European Parliament has long pointed to shortcomings in the current system of own resources, and in anticipation of the Commission's proposals, the Committee on Budgets has drafted an own-initiative report on the Parliament's priorities. ...

In May 2018, the European Commission is expected to present a legislative package on what are known as 'own resources' – the sources of revenue for the EU budget – for the period after 2020, alongside proposals on a new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The European Parliament has long pointed to shortcomings in the current system of own resources, and in anticipation of the Commission's proposals, the Committee on Budgets has drafted an own-initiative report on the Parliament's priorities. That report is on the agenda of the March plenary session.

European Fund for Strategic Investments – EFSI 2.0

15-02-2018

On 14 September 2016, the Commission proposed an extension of the duration of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) until end-2020, and the introduction of technical enhancements for that fund and the European Investment Advisory Hub. Under the new regulation, (EFSI 2.0), steps are taken to increase support for small-scale projects; Parliament can send a (non-voting) expert to EFSI’s steering board, and EFSI’s scoreboard will be publicly available after a project is signed. The increase ...

On 14 September 2016, the Commission proposed an extension of the duration of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) until end-2020, and the introduction of technical enhancements for that fund and the European Investment Advisory Hub. Under the new regulation, (EFSI 2.0), steps are taken to increase support for small-scale projects; Parliament can send a (non-voting) expert to EFSI’s steering board, and EFSI’s scoreboard will be publicly available after a project is signed. The increase in the financial allocation needed to deliver the higher investment targeted will come from an increase in the EU budget guarantee from €16 billion to €26 billion, and an increase in the EIB contribution from €5 billion to €7.5 billion. However, the provisioning rate for the guarantee is reduced to 35 %, giving a total contribution from the EU budget of €9.1 billion, compared to an initial contribution of €8 billion. Parliament managed to reduce the share of this increased contribution financed via redeployments from the Connecting Europe Facility programme, by instead drawing more heavily on EFSI-assigned revenues and investment reflows. The agreed text was adopted on 12 December 2017.

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