For instance, once I become a citizen and register to go onto the electoral roll here, I also have to register with a political party right upfront. In other words, I have to place my allegiance with either the Republican (UK Conservative) or Democrat (UK Labour) party and in the Primaries (the stage the Presidential election is at now), I can only vote for the candidates of my chosen Party! I could register as an Independant but then I will probably forfeit the right to vote at all in the Primaries, as very few States seem to have Independant candidates on the register.
In the UK when you reach the age of majority (18) you are added to the electoral role by annual canvass. Every household receives a canvass card, this has to be completed and returned for all householders of majority age. You do not have to pledge an allegiance to any party though, you can vote anyway you want to at any election be it local or national.
We just approach this process of selecting the governing party and Prime Minister differently. In the UK the general public is cut-out of the initial part altogether and just the registered Party members get to vote on the candidates for their leadership. So unless you are a close follower of politics in the UK, you will often just be aware of who the candidates are for the leadership of each Party. The national campaigning only really starts once the date of the General Election has been announced.
The costs of campaigning in the Primaries I find quite unbelievable. Mitt Romney who ultimately pulled out of the race, spent approximately $98 million the equivalent of about ₤47 million!! Up to the same date (Jan. 31) the leading Democrat candidates, Obama and Clinton, had spent $115 and $109 million (₤55-60m) respectively. With the campaigning for Super Tuesday and the past month added in, I am sure these figures have sky-rocketed! As a Brit' I just find these figures staggering and it makes me glad the UK chooses to avoid this first round madness.
Campaigning costs in the UK for the main political parties as a whole, are limited in the 365 days leading up to a General Election. In 2005 the limit was ₤11,902,500 ($23 million) per party and these included expenses for all forms of advertising, direct mail, canvassing and rallies. Any party that exceeded the limit, upon conviction, would be subject to a fine.
I also don't think us Brit's would stomach political campaigning at such a high sustained level for a year before you even get to the final vote. Our 2005 General Election total timetable had only 17 working days in it until election day and the last day for receipt of registration of applications, is only 7 weeks beforehand. So the UK General Election process is far more condensed and has strict regulations on campaigning.
I am actually finding the political side of life in the USA far more interesting than I anticipated.
First of all just trying to understand your electoral process takes time and alot of patience on behalf of my husband. Then seeing the madness of the campaigning, rallies and celebrity endorsements.... I can't say that I really care ultimately who Tom Cruise or Oprah choose to support, but I am sure there are many influenced by this rather than the policies!
I tend to be influenced more by a candidates track record or reputation. For example, it has surprised me greatly how short the public memory seems to be in respect of the Clintons and their inability to steer clear of sleaze and dodgy dealings!
I would love to see a female President someday. But I firmly believe with all the current unrest in the Middle East, where women are still regarded as second class citizens, a female leader will be viewed with much derision and seen as a possible US weakness. This is just not the right time for such a major step internationally and that's coming from someone who grew up under Margaret Thatcher. But the Middle East nations are much more unstable and terrorists stir the moslem vs christian situation daily. Many of the leaders of these nations I believe would struggle with the concept of a female leading the majority of the western world.
Another surprising aspect for me is the age of the Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain. If he is elected President he will be 71 years when he takes office and this just seems too old! I just hope he has a younger, healthy (not that he is isn't) and equally popular running mate, just in case! My husband points out his experience and references Reagan as being about the same age when he was President. Maybe this is just my particular perception, as for the past 11 years the UK has had a relatively young leader!
If I had to predict who will be President this time next year, then first of all I am pretty certain it will be a Democrat. From what I observe, the US public seems to have reached the same point of disillusionment that we had, when our Democrats (Labour) gained power again with a young leader - Tony Blair.
As to who will be President, well either way that person will make history. Right now I would bet a buck on Barack Obama and I think he would make a good progressive leader for the USA.