American politics and government is based on the Constitution. This describes the rights US citizens have and separates the power of the three branches of Government: the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.
At national level the Executive is the federal government headed by the President and Vice President, who are elected for at most two four year terms. The USA President is often said to be the most powerful elected world leader. He (it has never been a she so far) is Commander in Chief of the armed forces, head of the federal government with the power to appoint the cabinet (who are not elected unlike most of the UK cabinet) judges and other important officials. He recommends laws to Congress. However the separation of the power and the checks and balances built into the system impose limits on presidential powers. The President and cabinet cannot be part of Congress and have to get Congress' approval to pass laws, approve the budget or declare war. Even when the President's party has a majority in one or both houses, Senators and Congressmen/women are more independent than British MPs and will not always support the President's plans. When a President is getting near the end of his eighth year in office he is seen as ‘lame duck' since everyone knows he will soon be out of power.
The Supreme Court is an important feature in American politics and has the power to declare governmental actions unconstitutional.
Both houses in Congress have important powers. Both are involved in the passing of laws. The Senate has 100 Senators, two from each state, elected for 6 years. The Senate tends to spend quite a bit of time on foreign affairs and national issues. The House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for two years. The House of Representatives is more concerned with domestic and local issues.
In 2008, US citizens elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. This was a historical event as it marked the first time a non-white has held the highest office in American politics. President Obama’s candidacy and election victory received intense worldwide media coverage. State and Local Government
The USA, as its name implies, has a federal system. Each of the 50 states has its own government headed by a State Governor, like a President on a smaller scale, and it own legislature split into two houses, Senate and House of Representatives as well as a State Supreme Court. American states have more power than Scottish councils or even the Scottish Government. For example they decide on state taxes and policies on law: the penalty for murder varies from state to state, some have the death penalty some do not.
At a more local level there are cities and counties which elect their own mayors and councils. Many posts in the US are elected, eg the local head of police (in the UK this would be the Chief Constable) is appointed by the local authority police board. This means that officials in the USA are very concerned about public opinion.
US Parties and Elections
The two main parties are the Republicans and the Democrats. It is important to realise that these only operate as national parties at election times. Comparisons with the two big UK parties can be misleading. The Democrats tend to be supported by poorer people, ethnic minorities and city dwellers. The Republicans draw more support from rural areas, longer established and better off families. However local issues can have a big effect.
Candidates, especially for President, have to secure the nomination of the party through a complicated system of primaries, caucuses and then conventions. In practice to succeed in American politics you need money. Presidential candidates spend million of dollars on their campaigns. Presentation and personality are often more important than policies. Looking good and competent on TV is seen as essential.
The 2008 Presidential campaign was also notable