Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!

Home > Modern Studies > International issues > Politics in USA

Modern Studies

Politics in USA


The President, Congress and Supreme Court

American politics and government is based on the Constitution. This describes the right US citizens have and separates the power of the three branches of Government: the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.

At national level the Executive is the federal government headed by the President and Vice President, who are elected for at most two four year terms. The USA President is often said to be the most powerful elected world leader. He (it has never been a she so far) is Commander in Chief of the armed forces, head of the federal government with the power to appoint the cabinet (who are not elected unlike most of the UK cabinet) judges and other important officials. He recommends laws to Congress. However the separation of the power and the checks and balances built into the system impose limits on presidential powers.

The President and cabinet cannot be part of Congress and have to get Congress' approval to pass laws, approve the budget or declare war. Even when the President's party has a majority in one or both houses, Senators and Congressmen/women are more independent than British MPs and will not always support the President's plans. When a President is getting near the end of his eighth year in office he is seen as ‘lame duck' since everyone knows he will soon be out of power.

The Supreme Court is an important feature in American politics and has the power to declare governmental actions unconstitutional.

Both houses in Congress have important powers. Both are involved in the passing of laws. The Senate has 100 Senators, two from each state, elected for 6 years. The Senate tends to spend quite a bit of time on foreign affairs and national issues. The House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for two years. The House of Representatives is more concerned with domestic and local issues.

In 2008, US citizens elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. This was a historical event as it marked the first time a non-white has held the highest office in American politics. President Obama’s candidacy and election victory received intense worldwide media coverage.

Crowd waving USA flags in front of the White House at president Obama's inauguration.

Crowds gathered to watch Barack Obama being sworn in as President of the United States


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.