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US 2024 election – how does it work and who's winning the race so far?

We look at how the US election works, who’s in the race to be the next president of the United States, and who’s leading the polls.

Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

This article is more than 6 months old

It was correct at the time of publishing. Our views and any references to tax, investment and pension rules may have changed since then.

With Joe Biden’s four-year term as president of the United States coming to an end next year, several candidates have thrown their hat into the ring to be next in line.

But how does it all work, who’s in the race and who’s leading the polls?

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure if something is right for you, ask for financial advice.

How is the president elected?

The US presidential election is run differently to how we elect the prime minister in the UK.

Candidates can announce their bid to become the next presidential candidate for the Republican or the Democrat party at any time ahead of an election. Those who’ve announced their intention to run go to the first ballot known as the primaries.

What are the primaries?

This is where each state will vote on who they want to represent that party for the upcoming election. Each state has their own rules on who can vote. However, the majority of states either allow everyone in the state to vote, or limit it to only those who are registered to that specific party.

The end result is each party having a representative that will battle it out to become the next president.

Ahead of the primaries, a number of debates will be held for the candidates to sway people’s votes to their agenda. The first scheduled debate for the Republican party is on 23 August 2023, while the Democrats are yet to schedule their first.

Voting in the primary’s starts in January and will be finished by June.

The electoral college

Once each party has their nominated presidential candidate, they’ll go head-to-head in the election. The elections will be held in November 2024.

In the election, voters cast their vote for the next president by voting for electors. This is similar to voting for your local member of parliament (MP) in the UK.

However, the difference in the US is that whichever presidential candidate gets the most electors within a state, wins the votes of all of the electors within that state.

It means each state ends up backing one presidential candidate only. This is different to our own election where an area might be made up of lots of MPs representing different parties.

But, not all states are equal. Each state has a different number of electors, based on their population. This means that some states are more important in winning the race for the White House. For example, California has 55 electors while Alaska has three.

In total there are 538 electors for president, meaning that a majority of 270 is needed in order to win.

Who’s in the race?

From the Republican party there are several candidates who’ve announced their intention to run for president, including former President Donald Trump.

Late in 2022, Trump announced his intention to become only the second candidate in history to be named president for non-consecutive terms.

Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice-president, has also announced his bid in a rare case of the former vice-president and former president going up against each other.

Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, is also a high-profile candidate for the Republican party. He received endorsements from then President Trump in the run up to elections in Florida back in 2017.

There are 11 other candidates who‘ve also put their name forward.

The Democratic field is much smaller, with only three candidates currently seeking to be the Democratic nominee.

President Joe Biden announced his intention to run for re-election after beating Trump to the top job in 2020, despite already being the oldest president in history.

Environmental lawyer Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of former Democratic President John F Kennedy, announced in April he intends to run too. Author Marianne Williamson is also trying again after a failed attempt in 2020.

Who’s leading the polls?

Although nothing is certain, the current polling is showing a clear favourite for each party.

Despite on-going issues with US prosecutors, including a third indictment related to his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Donald Trump remains clear favourite for the Republican nomination. His polling average is currently around 53%, with his closest rival Ron DeSantis having fallen some way behind at around 16%.

At the start of the year, the race between Trump and DeSantis was extremely tight with only a few percentage points between them.

DeSantis was deemed to have similar policies to Trump, but some voters have turned against him claiming he lacks the charisma of Trump. He’s now lost some of his major donors with concerns he’s moved too far to the right on some of his policies.

Biden leads the Democratic polling with a polling average of around 63%, well ahead of Kennedy and Williamson.

Kennedy is thought to have alienated himself after supporting various conspiracy theories, and being a heavy critic of the US handling of COVID-19. His polling average is around 14%, down from highs of 20%. Williamson trails them both with a polling average of around 6%.

As things stand, it looks like we’re heading towards another Biden vs Trump presidential election in 2024. But there’s still plenty of time for undecided voters to be swayed.

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    Important notes

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