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Monday 20.11.2017 | Name days: Anda, Andīna

10 oddities in US president elections

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You’ve heard their policies, but what about the other questions? Like what’s that jabbing gesture Obama makes with his thumb? And why is Mr President title kept for life?

BBC examined 10 of the lesser-spotted things about American presidential politics – and about this campaign.

Why is Election Day always a Tuesday?

The Tuesday after the first Monday in November was set as presidential election day in 1845. In the mid-19th Century, the US was an agrarian nation and it simply took a lot of time for farmers to drive the horse and buggy to the nearest polling place. Saturday was a workday on the farm, travel on Sunday was out, and Wednesday was a market day. That left Tuesday.

The sunglasses thing

Politicians are almost never photographed wearing sunglasses, especially during election campaigns and even at leisure. Obama plays golf with the sun glaring in his eyes, and this summer, Romney was photographed on the back of a jet ski on a lake in New Hampshire, bare-eyed though his wife Ann wore sunglasses. If a person’s eyes are hidden, people trust them less, says Parker Geiger, an Atlanta executive image consultant. “Sunglasses put a barrier between you and the other person. They say eyes are the windows of the soul, and if I can’t see your soul how can I trust you?” he says.

In Nevada, you can vote for “none of the above”

The US state of Nevada allows voters to mark “None of these candidates” on the ballot. The option has been on the ballot since 1976 and plenty of voters have used it.

Thumb jab

Featured in the three presidential debates were Romney, Obama, and Obama’s thumb. At the debates, the president frequently jabbed his hand, with his thumb resting atop a loosely curled fist, to emphasise a point. The gesture – which might appear unnatural in normal communication – was probably coached into Obama to make him appear more forceful, says body language expert Patti Wood.

Job titles are for life

Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts for four years – and he left office almost six years ago. Yet he is still addressed as Governor Romney, as if that were a title of nobility rather than a political office. The US has only one president at a time, but Bill Clinton and George W Bush are always referred to as President Clinton and President Bush – even in the same sentence as Obama. It really shows the esteem that we hold those offices in – that this is a democracy, and those are such important positions that it becomes like a professional title, experts explain.

Election loser can still win the White House

Four times in American history, the candidate with fewer votes has wound up with the presidency. That is because the winner of the presidential election needs to capture a majority of electoral votes, which are apportioned to the states by population and for the most part awarded in winner-take-all state contests. The national presidential election is effectively 51 separate contests (50 states and Washington DC), with the winner of 270 electoral votes taking the presidency.

It could be a dead-heat – with a President Romney and VP Biden

American politics is at its most partisan and polarised in more than a century, many analysts say. But it could get much, much worse – Romney could be elected president and Joe Biden re-elected vice-president. Under the US constitution, if the electoral college (the sum of delegates from each state – 270 and you’re president) ends in a tie – and there are several scenarios under which this could occur – the election is sent to the 435-member House of Representatives. This is currently Republican-controlled and is unlikely to change hands, so they would choose Romney. But under the same clause, the Democrat-led Senate would choose the vice-president – Joe Biden. Biden might then be tempted to undermine Romney at every turn.

Why the obsession with “folks”?

Obama and Romney use the word “folks” far more often than the word is typically heard from the lips of men with their socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. The word, which finds its origins in the Old English, is in the US historically associated with the South. That’s a stereotypically less-pretentious region that neither Obama nor Romney are from. The word used as such is roughly the same as “people”, but warmer and more inclusive, says Grant Barrett, editor of the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang.

Only a third of the US matters

Most of the states in America, including four of the five most populous, are so solid in their support for the Republicans or the Democrats that the candidates do not bother campaigning there. Instead, each side chalks up those safe states in their tally and fights over the remaining handful of swing states on their path to 270 electoral votes. The election is thus decided by the roughly 30% of the US population which lives in the swing states.

In North Dakota, you can vote without registering to vote

The only state where it is not necessary to register in order to vote is North Dakota. Although it was one of the first states to adopt voter registration in the 19th Century, it abolished it in 1951. The North Dakota State Government website says the move can be explained by the state’s close-knit, rural communities. North Dakota’s system of voting, and lack of voter registration, is rooted in its rural character by providing small precincts. Establishing relatively small precincts is intended to ensure that election boards know the voters who come to the polls to vote on Election Day and can easily detect those who should not be voting in the precinct. People still need to produce identification, if they are not known to officials.

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