The 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.