Americans are going to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new president in the tightest race for 40 years. Voters are also choosing a new Congress, which will have considerable influence over White House policy.This content was published on November 7, 2000 - 14:57
The latest opinion polls give the Republican candidate George W Bush a slight lead - at most two per cent - but analysts agree the race is so close that the winner may not be known until Wednesday morning.
The Democratic vice president, Al Gore, has largely positioned himself as the public's champion. He has promised to use an expected budget surplus to help lift the poorest out of poverty, pump additional funds into social security, and pay off the national debt.
Bush, by contrast, is seen as the pro-business candidate, having pledged to spend the budget surplus on tax cuts, and to partially privatise the pension system.
Beyond the issues, Bush is seen as the more likeable candidate. Gore suffers from the perception that he is a rather humourless administrator, obsessed with the minutiae of policy.
A complicating factor is the electoral college system. Under the constitution, voters in the states do not actually choose their preferred candidate, but instead cast their ballots for a list of "electors", who then choose the president.
In most states, whoever wins the largest number of votes gets all the electoral votes. The system could therefore conceivably deprive a candidate of victory, even if he wins the highest number of votes nationwide. The winner must secure 270 of 538 electoral votes.
Another variable is the green candidate in California, Ralph Nader. He is expected to attract only about three per cent of the vote, but Democrats worry that these will largely be at the expense of Gore.
Depending on the outcome of the congressional vote, the next president could have his policies severely curtailed by a hostile Congress. History suggests that many voters prefer a divided government, whereby the presidency is held by one party and the Congress by the other.
Across the Atlantic, in Switzerland, political and business leaders will be watching the outcome closely.
The government is hoping that the new administration will continue to advocate a sustained commitment to participate in peacekeeping operations, especially in the Balkans.
Business leaders, who prefer Bush's more pro-business policies, are hoping the new president will continue to open US borders to trade.
Swiss companies have not limited their involvement to watching from the sidelines. Switzerland's two biggest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, each forked out more than $1 million to the parties' campaigns, with more than 70 per cent going to the Republicans.
The Basel-based healthcare giant, Novartis, has also bankrolled the campaigns, and is the 13th largest contributor from the pharmaceutical sector.
Spokeswoman, Rachel King, told swissinfo: "Novartis has not taken a position on the issue of campaign finance reform, but corporate contributions are very common in the US as well as a highly regulated and fully disclosed activity."
She denied that campaign contributions buy influence but admitted that "what you get in return is more access and more opportunities to tell your story. We do give more money to Republicans because they are more likely to support policies that help research and development in the pharmaceutical industry."
Swiss-owned companies employ more than 352,000 people in the US and Switzerland's financial stake in that country amounts to more than $210 billion, 63 per cent of which is invested in the chemical and insurance sectors.
While the portfolios of all other major industrialised nations involved in the US economy have decreased, Switzerland's portfolio grew by 1.3 per cent between 1997 and 1998, the two most recent years for which data is available.
Switzerland also has close links with the US in the scientific area. Two thousand Swiss scientists work in US laboratories and some 8000 students are enrolled in American universities.
Last month, the Swiss government teamed up with the business community to open its first high-tech consulate in the US. Based in Boston, its objectives are to promote Swiss technology and facilitate Swiss-American joint ventures.
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