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2012 US Election: Everything y'all need to know.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

By JAMILA RIZVI

Wake up and smell the democracy everyone. Because while you were resting your weary champagne-damaged, cup-fever-addled heads, the world’s greatest superpower has headed to the polls. And over the course of today we’re going to see the first results of an election that will have a significant impact on the direction of global politics over the next few years.

‘Oh no!’ I hear you gasp, recoiling in horror at your desk (or couch) and banging your head violently against the keyboard. ‘But I don’t know sh*t about this all important electoral process! I don’t know my red states from my blue states. I wouldn’t have a clue about each candidate’s approach to energy policy. What’s a primary? What’s a caucus? And why is everyone yapping on about Ohio and Florida when the only US state I’ve ever visited is oh-so-nice-they-named-it-twice, New York?’

But never fear, my friends. Here at Mamamia, we’ve got you covered. Here is everything you need to know to be able to hold your own in a conversation about the election results in the tea room or at mother’s group today. That is… everything you need to know sans detail. We’re playing it fast and loose today. Quick and dirty. But giving you all the key facts just the same.

Let’s go.

(1) Who’s who and how did they get there?

Let’s go….

Like in Australia, there are two major political parties in the United States – the Democrats and the Republicans. Unlike in Australia, the US uses a direct election system to determine who their leader will be, which basically means voters actually see the name of the potential Presidents on their ballot paper (not just their local representatives like we do).

Candidates from each party who would like to become President (it’s a pretty sweet gig:  you get your own plane and a white house) fight it out through a series of caucuses and primaries over a period of 5 months. Primaries and caucuses determine delegates from within each party, who then head off to a national convention as representatives of their state and tell the rest of the country who their state wants to be the nominee.

And after all of that, we end up with two candidates for President. For the Democrats, it was a pretty easy selection process this year, they ultimately settled on a nice young man whose skin tone has gained a lot of attention and is married to a woman with stellar upper arm muscles – you might have heard of him? Barack  Obama. Former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney (who beat out Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul) is the Republican Party’s nominee.

(2) And what will these men do for (hypothetical American) me?

An excellent question. As a fairly staunch supporter of progressive politics, I didn’t quite trust myself to give you a fair and unbiased view here, so instead I have trawled the web for inspiration.

A helpful friend passed on the details of a little known but very succinct blog called The Current Beat. And they’ve done a great break down of the key policy issues at play and where each candidate stands:

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ECONOMIC POLICY

Mitt Romney believes in free enterprise. He believes a hands-off approach is best where the economy is concerned. He opposed the auto industry bailout because he thinks that if a company is on the verge of bankruptcy, there are probably good reasons for that, and it ought to go bankrupt. Barack Obama believes in a strong government. He believes that regulation is necessary  for a stable economy. He supported the auto industry bailout because he thinks that the collapse of GM and company would have rippled through the economy.

EDUCATION

Barack Obama wants to make college more affordable. He wants math and science to be a national priority. He is dissatisfied with our educational system, and yearns to innovate and create something fresh and new that’s competitive in the global economy. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to force kids to attend consistently underperforming schools, and believes in a voucher system whereby the government can provide funds toward the cost of private school tuition. Mitt Romney generally opposes federal aid to pay for college.

ENERGY

Mitt Romney wants to make America energy independent by 2020 by using a combination of oil, coal, natural gas, and renewables. He wants to amend the Clean Air Act to exclude limits on emissions of carbon dioxide. Romney believes in the productivity of a lightly regulated energy economy. Barack Obama believes in an “all-of-the-above” strategy. Like Romney, he wants to curb our energy dependence and believes in a multifaceted energy policy. Every energy source should be a part of the picture, holds Obama. Unlike Romney, though, he believes in a heavily regulated energy policy.

FOREIGN POLICY

Barack Obama has enacted an initiative that aims to double American exports over the next five years. He has looked to refresh the U.S’s relationship with the  Middle- East. Under Obama, the U.S has been a global advocate for climate change action. He ended the witch-hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Relations between Israel and the U.S have been rocky under the Obama administration. Mitt Romney believes that when America is strong, the world is safer. He has vowed to safeguard America, and to “proceed with clarity and resolve.” “Resolve” is the name of the game. He wants to be friends with our friends, and enemies with our enemies, but he wants to leave room for compromise.

SOCIAL ISSUES

Mitt Romney believes the debate about gay marriage isn’t about discrimination; he believes it’s about the institution of marriage – an institution that, from the start, has been about love between a man and a woman. He is pro-life except for instances of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk. Barack Obama believes marriage is an institution for people in love. He believes the war on drugs is a misallocation of resources, and wants to scale it back. He is pro-choice.

If you’re looking for more detail on the two candidates’ policy positions here or here. And if you want to know more about the political goings-on over the campaign period, there is a great summary from The Australian here

(3) How does this counting business work?

Unfortunately the counting-of-the-votes part of an election is never as simple as it should be. The theory that you can just divide all the ballot papers into two piles and the highest one wins is a good one but not particularly fair.

I warn you now: This video is painful to listen to – there is a terribly camp and over-the-top American accent and it’s all a bit cutesy for my taste –  BUT BUT BUT it provides a very clear explanation of how the US presidential election system works.

Just trust me and go with it… And make sure you see the video right on through to the best bit, when a winner is declared and the ridiculous voice over guy ‘celebrates’.

(4) What will the outcome mean for Australia?

The United States are a critical ally and close friend of Australia, in addition to being a global super power with phenomenal influence on international affairs. So the outcome of this election matters for us. Big time.

Australia’s relationship with the United States will remain strong regardless of who is in power over there or here – it’s something that transcends party politics. Having said that, the strong personal friendships between Howard and Bush and now Gillard and Obama, have served our nation well – and in that sense, an Obama victory would be better for the current Government, while Abbott would probably prefer to see a conservative in the White House.

What WILL be critical for Australia, is the foreign policy direction that each candidate would likely take. News.com reports:

A more pressing question for Australia is this: what would a Romney presidency mean for overall US engagement with the Asia-Pacific, particularly its relationship with China?

The Obama administration has “pivoted” towards Asia, meaning it has made the region a top foreign policy priority. Romney has so far appeared pre-occupied with the Middle East, particularly Iran. When he does turn his attention to Asia, it’s usually to bag China.

(5) But what about the women?

Women voters at an Obama rally.

There has been extensive public commentary about the rise of the conservative right in the United States and what the outcome of this election will mean for women. Most specifically, what it will mean for women’s rights over their own bodies.

And here, if you’ll forgive me, is where I will move out of political neutrality and say my piece. *Grabs soap box and drags it into the middle of the room. Ahem*

Mitt Romney’s approach to social issues, including the role of women in society – are quite simply, not of this century.

As the former Governor of Massachusetts he VETOED a law, which would have given women who were assaulted and raped access to the morning after pill.

He holds outdated and unrealistic views about abstinence education and wants to restrict access to contraceptives. Yep, cos’ those contraceptives make teenagers want to have lots and lots of sex – it’s not like they wanted to have sex anyway because of you know, hormones.

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Romney has pledged to reinstate the ‘global gag rule’, which would mean aid organisations that provide access to abortion services or even GIVE WOMEN INFORMATION about abortion, would be prevented from receiving US  Government funding.

And perhaps of greatest concern for the millions of American women heading to the polls today, is that Romney will also be able to appoint judges to the US Supreme Court. By replacing progressive judges (as they retire over the next four years) with conservative judges, this could see the law relating to a woman’s right to choose dramatically altered.

Heard of Roe v Wade? That’s the historic US case that protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Well, if that case were overturned it would see state law applying instead – and in some US states that would mean prison terms for women who accessed abortion services.

(6) When will we know what’s happening?

US Electoral map. (The red represents Republicans and the blue is Democrat).

Like Australia, the US is a biiiiiiig country and that means: multiple time zones and consequently, polling booths closing at different times all over the place. So what do you need to be watching for through the day and which states are the ones that matter? Good question.

Early in the day we won’t have much to go on because the polls will only be closed in pretty safe republican states like Kentucky. Crikey have recommended that you look to the outcome in Indiana for early indications – if the commentators DON’T start predicting a Romney victory in that state early, then that could suggest a better than expected showing for Obama and the Democrats across the country.

Up next are swing states Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. All states to watch. They’re the equivalent to marginal seats in the Australian system – these are states that don’t have a ‘pattern’ of voting for one party consistently. They’re swingers. And they like to mix it up. They’re the states that will decide the election but because it’s likely to be close, we’re unlikely to know the clear victor in each of these states until later in the day.

(7) But I want more! More information, I say!

Oh don’t worry, I know you do. You’re hooked now. RIGHT? The best place for you to be getting up-to-the-minute information will be Twitter. Yes, there will be some rubbish material too and the odd hoax doing the rounds but social media is surprisingly good at weeding out a fake report and spreading a true one.

We’ll update you tomorrow as well. Happy Election Day!

The land of the free and the brave is perhaps just as well known for its celebrities. Who is supporting who? Click here to find out (and for a hilarious video of comedian Chris Rock saying why you should vote for his favourite white guy Barack Obama).