Short for US by Abbreviationfinder, United States is a federal state with 50 states. The Constitution, which came into force in 1789, prescribes a state of law based on the principle of division of power. According to this principle, executive, legislative and judicial power must balance each other: the president governs the United States, Congress writes the laws and the Supreme Court must ensure that presidential decisions and laws do not contravene the constitution. The constitution also regulates the power relationship between the federal government and the states.
The United States Constitution is counted as the world’s oldest recorded and now in force constitution. The constitution has been the model for many other countries’ constitutions and is also usually described as the world’s shortest: it consists of four handwritten pages. Nothing has changed in the original text but the Constitution has been supplemented with 27 extensions (Amendments). The first ten were added as early as 1791 and are collectively called the Bill of Rights. It guarantees the individual rights such as freedom of expression, pressure, religion and assembly, as well as legal security and the right to bear arms.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of United States for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
The other 17 supplements include the abolition of slavery (1865), female suffrage (1921) and a ban on a person being elected president more than twice (1951). A supplement adopted in 1919 meant that the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned, but the ban was lifted by a new supplement in 1933.
The executive: the president
The president is both head of state and head of government and has extensive powers of power. For its part, the president has a cabinet that essentially has an advisory function. The President himself appoints cabinet members who lead various ministries (corresponding ministers in Sweden). The president’s administration also includes government agencies and some special executive agencies. The president also has a staff of personal staff who often exert a significant influence on policy formulation.
The President’s duties include leading US foreign policy and being the commander-in-chief of the military forces. The right to declare war and approve formal treaties with foreign powers lies formally with Congress, but at least for a short time the president can send American troops abroad without congressional approval.
The presidential state of affairs means that the president does not rely on congressional support to be able to hold office. It is not uncommon for the White House (the President’s residence and workplace) and Congress to be controlled by various parties. The President has no right to dissolve Congress or announce new elections. The president himself can be removed from office only if he abuses his office and is brought before the national court. Prosecution is then brought by the House of Representatives and trial is being held in the Senate. Three presidents have been put before state law, but all were released in the Senate: Andrew Johnson (freed 1868), Bill Clinton (1999) and Donald Trump (2020). Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid national law.
The legislative power: Congress
The congress consists of the Senate and the House of Representativeswith a total of 535 voting members (see further under Election system below). The two chambers are equally responsible for the legislative work. All legislative proposals are dealt with first in one of the many committees. It is often there that compromises are negotiated before a matter is put to the vote. For a bill to go through, it must be adopted by both chambers. Sometimes the chambers first adopt different versions of a bill that must then be reconciled in a joint committee, after which the chambers will vote again. The committees are under constant pressure from the thousands of influential lobbyists who represent numerous companies and associations from their Washington offices. When committees want to gather information from outside, they often organize hearings that are usually public.
The Judiciary: The Supreme Court
The main task of the Supreme Court is to interpret and determine whether laws are in accordance with the Constitution. The Court thus plays a major political role when it takes a stand on various social issues. Abortion law and the death penalty are some of the issues in which the Supreme Court has played a crucial role. During the 1950s and 1960s, its decisions contributed to important advances in racial integration and citizenship. When same-sex marriage became legal in the United States in 2015, it happened through a verdict. Otherwise, in recent years, the Supreme Court has emerged as increasingly conservative, which, among other things, means that some civil rights that are consolidated in the 1960s are now starting to loosen up (see Democracy and Rights).
The Supreme Court has nine members appointed for life. The candidates are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate. The same applies to judges in higher federal courts.
The federal courts address crimes and misdemeanors that fall under federal law and civil cases between people living in different states. The state court system handles cases covered by state law. When the boundary is unclear, the decision is with the federal Supreme Court.
The president, who must be born in the United States, is elected for four years and can be re-elected. The election is indirect: voters formally vote for electors who then elect the president. Each state plus the District of Columbia with the capital of Washington constitutes a constituency where the winner takes all the electoral votes. The number of electors varies from 55 in the most populous state of California down to three in the smallest states (and in Washington DC). At the same time as the president, a vice president is elected, who is also the president of the Senate. He has the right to vote, which is important if there is an equilibrium position between the senators when deciding on a matter.
The parties formally elect their presidential candidates at the national party convention. In most states, primary elections are held to appoint delegates who then vote for the party’s presidential candidate at the convention. States that do not have primary elections organize party meetings or test elections (caucus) to appoint convention delegates. The primary election season usually begins at the beginning of the election year in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The primary elections will continue until June, but the tendency has been for the states to make their choices early in order to be able to exercise real influence.
The party convention is usually held in July or August. According to tradition, the formal election movement is to be started on Labor Day, the first weekend in September. In practice, the election campaigns start much earlier. The candidates who claim to be regarded as credible must collect multimillion amounts.
A large part of the campaign money goes to the purchase of TV time for political advertising. Most of the billions of dollars spent on election campaigns come from donations from private individuals, companies, unions and various associations.
The members of Congress are elected in direct elections and they can be elected an unlimited number of times. To the Senate, the 50 states each send two representatives who hold their seats for six years. Elections to one-third of the seats in the Senate are held every two years. The House of Representatives has 435 members elected in two years (as well as six non-voting members representing Washington DC and five territories, see below). The distribution is proportional to the population of the states. Accordingly, California has the largest representation (with 53 members), followed by Texas, New York and Florida. Seven sparsely populated states have only one member each in the House of Representatives.
Each state writes its own electoral laws. All elections take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Voter turnout in the United States is low, which is perceived as worrying, since those elected to political office have thereby expressed support from only a minority of voters. Since the turn of the millennium, turnout in presidential elections has been between 50 and 57 percent. In the mid-term elections, which apply only to the congress, the figure is usually 36–38 percent (an exception, however, was the mid-term elections in 2018 when just over 49 percent voted). See also Democracy and Rights.
The federal government and the states
The federal government is responsible, among other things, for defense, foreign policy, coin and postal services, higher legal issues and the country’s internal security.
The individual states have a relatively high degree of independence. They have their own constitution and power distribution similar to the federal: with the courts, congress and a governor as the highest executive leader. After Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s (see Modern History), development went a long way toward an ever-increasing federal influence. That has changed in recent years as increasingly influential conservative Republicans demanded a return to increased self-determination for the states, not least on social issues.
The differences between the states can be large. The death penalty is something that is decided at the state level and the school systems vary.
The diversity is even greater at the local level, as the country’s more than 3,000 counties (corresponding counties) have a local statute where different rules can be applied.
With the exception of Nebraska, all states have two-chamber systems with a Senate and a House of Representatives. When a bill is passed by both chambers, it must be approved by the governor, who has the right to veto. In most cases, however, the Legislative Assembly can repeal the two-thirds majority.
The state governor is usually elected for a four-year term. The governor’s powers include the command of the state’s National Guard, the right of initiative in legislative matters and the right to appoint higher officials and to pardon or shorten the punishment for criminals sentenced under the laws of the state. In several states, residents can request a revocation of the governor’s election through name-gathering.
In the states and at the local level, judges and prosecutors are often elected in general elections. A large number of other offices are also appointed on political grounds.
In addition to the states, the federation also consists of the Metropolitan District of Columbia, as well as five autonomous territories (see Geography and Climate) and several uninhabited lands.
In practice, the United States has always had a two-party system. Since Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican president in 1860, Democrats (Democratic Party) and Republicans (Republican Party) have dominated the US political system. However, they are not parties in the Swedish sense but rather loosely cohesive electoral organizations without paying members and with considerable ideological scope. They mainly mobilize before the elections. But for a long time, the Republican Party is generally conservative while the Democratic Party is more liberal.
During the first decades of the 2000s, Democrats advocated a more regulated financial sector and increased taxes for high-income earners. President Barack Obama (2009–2017) adopted a healthcare reform that has been debated in various forms since the 1960s (see Modern History and Social Conditions).
In recent years, Republicans have been increasingly able to connect with major corporate interests and the Christian Right. More influence has been advocated for the states and less for the federal power and advocated less state involvement in the private sector. The party has moved to the right during the 2000s.
It has always been difficult for new voices to assert themselves outside the two major parties. However, the Southern statesman George Wallace, who advocated the distinction between blacks and whites, had a significant impact in the 1968 election by exploiting racist moods. Texas billionaire Ross Perot got 19 percent in the 1992 presidential election, the best result a candidate achieved alongside the major parties since 1912 (when Theodore Roosevelt got 27 percent of the vote). However, Perot succeeded worse in 1996 and no lasting third force has gained a foothold in American politics.