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Strange and Little Known Facts About Presidential Elections

by Editor (editor), , November 04, 2016

November 8th is bearing down on us, and before long we will know how the country has spoken. How we feel about the result is to be decided, but at least we'll know.



We are within a week of the 2016 Presidential election.

Let's all take a deep breath and savor the fact that we got here. We did it! After interminable primaries and one of the most divisive campaigns in history - we're nearly there. November 8th is bearing down on us, and before long we will know how the country has spoken. How we feel about the result is to be decided, but at least we'll know. The long, slow drowning of waiting will be over.

In these quiet days before the polls open, it's worth thinking about what is going on. In a world where some countries still struggle for true democratic power, the fact this election is happening at all should be praised. America is still a relatively young country, but we're all old hats at this by now.


Presidential elections have always been a source of intrigue; the battle for power; a game of chess with the American public. But how much do you really know about both this election and the ones that have gone before? There's only a short amount of time left to surprise people with your trivia knowledge on the subject, so let's delve in.

1. The 2016 election is between two of the most disliked candidates in history.


This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, but it's still a cute historical point. Despite massive campaigns, lengthy primaries, and caucuses - this is still the best we could come up with? Not only are both Trump and Clinton disliked, but they are also disliked in huge swathes by the party that they represent.

2. Elections have a surprising impact on a number of areas of our system.

When Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice, died earlier this year, the election was cited as a reason to delay replacement. Admittedly it was mostly done by GOP representatives wanting to prevent a liberal appointment, but it still happened. Markets are notoriously volatile during an election cycle, so your stock portfolio might have taken a beating. Even things like the price of gold (see for more) can be impacted by decisions the candidates make. All of this leads to the general sense of unease we all feel come that fateful Tuesday.

3. Talking of - what's with the Tuesday thing anyway?

We know that we go to the ballot boxes on the second Tuesday in November, but how many of us actually know why? It all harks back to the Founding Fathers and, most importantly, their religious beliefs. In a time when people had to travel far and wide to get to the polls, leaders were cautious of interfering with the Sabbath. It was decided that the Sabbath would be observed as normal, Monday would be a travel day, and everyone could then vote on Tuesday. The fact we have continued it is more to do with habit than any modern necessity.

4. George Washington is why we can't "keep" Barack Obama


A few memes have been flying around social media recently, lamenting the fact Barack Obama has to leave office. The two-term limit is a well-accepted truth, but why is it there? George Washington is the source of this precedent. While his contemporaries wanted him to run for a third term, he decided two was quite enough. He wrote of an "ardent desire for retirement," and the idea stuck. Not only did he make the decision for himself, but for every President that followed. It could be overturned, but both sides seem to agree eight years of one guy is plenty.

5. The Founding Fathers didn't want political parties.

This might sound surprising, but the idea of the American republic was conceived by men who didn't want political parties. Full of new ideas, the idea of splitting the electorate did not appeal. The preferred notion was that everyone was equal under God and the political system was something to be broken free of, not made anew. Alas, it didn't quite work out like that.The Democrats were founded in 1828 and the GOP followed in 1854.

6. Early voting is only available in certain states.

Getting a nation the size of the USA to the polls is no easy thing. Every election brings stories of voters having to queue for hours to cast their ballots. One way of dealing with this has been to introduce early voting, which has been going on for some weeks now - but only in certain states. The first state to introduce early voting was California and others soon followed. Whether the rest will follow is a state decision.

7. Elections have been won for strange reasons.


While there is no definitive reason any one candidate wins a particular election, there is a notion in the case of the 1960 election. It was all about TV. It was Nixon, the experienced former Veep with years of experience under his belt, versus the newcomer Kennedy. Before the election, it was widely believed - and polls agreed - that Nixon would win. This was, however, the year of the first televised debate. Kennedy got up to a little trickery and declined makeup powder; Nixon saw this and did the same. Little to Nixon's knowledge, Kennedy had already had his powder applied when he staged this exchange. The result was a sweaty, panicked looking Nixon versus a smooth, assured and calm Kennedy. The competitive visual image - the first of its kind - is believed to have swayed voters. Kennedy went on to win the presidency by a tiny margin.

8. Losing the presidential election is brutal.

For the long campaigns, the candidates are afforded a level of Secret Service detail. This keeps them safe during the campaign and gives them a taste of the life they are fighting for. However, from the moment of concession, they lose this. In 2012, Mitt Romney was followed by the detail to his concession speech. With that done, he had to return in his son’s car, suddenly alone for the first time in months. Harsh.

9. We may have entered a post-factual era.

The phrase "post-factual era" has been batted around a lot the past few months, but polling would suggest it's coming true. All three debates were rigorously fact-checked and the results weren't good for either candidate. The impact on the polls? Negligible.

10. Polling mistakes can happen - and it favors Donald Trump.

Polls are often used as predictors and generally, they are reliable. However, across the pond, there have been three polling upsets in recent years that have got Americans thinking. In 2014, the Scottish Independence referendum failed with a much higher percentage for the winning side than thought. The 2015 General Election, which predicted a "hung parliament", saw a Conservative majority returned. Finally, 2016 saw the referendum on Britain's membership of the EU cause chaos for pollsters again. "Brexit" was passed 52-48, despite all polls predicting the opposite.

So could it happen here? If it can, it's good news for Trump. All three of the above upsets favored the more conservative, right-wing option. More worryingly (or good news, depending on your viewpoint), online polls showed more accuracy than phone polls. Phone surveys have long been the gold standard of polling, yet this might be overturned. In case you're wondering, Trump is tending to do better with online polls than he is with more traditional methods.

11. Electoral college votes have two possible reasons for existing.


Every time we cry out at how bizarre the electoral college voting system is. There are two reasons why it exists and why it's unlikely to change any time soon. The first is to balance out the population with the size of the state. Votes are awarded on population, so populous New York gets 29 while Wisconsin gets 10.

That seems fair enough, but the second reason is less pleasant to think of. It seems the Founding Fathers didn't like the idea of direct democracy. They did not trust the electorate, and they felt direct votes would make it easier for a dictator to win power. So they introduced the electoral colleges as a buffer between genuine democracy and something they could tolerate. Thanks for the vote of faith, guys!

12. The higher the turnout, the happier the Democrats.


You would think both sides would want people to vote. More votes = more people potentially voting for them, right? Not so. Lower turnouts tend to record Republican victories. It's been suggested the high turnout encouraged by Barack Obama's campaign both times is what saw him enter the White House. So if you're a Democrat, it's almost more important you make time to vote - yours is going to count more. For the GOP, stand aside and hope to see empty polling stations.

So now there is only a few days to go and more facts to be added to the tally. Happy voting!

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