USA Election Glossary


Air war: The battle between candidates to get as much advertising on television and radio as possible.
Absentee voting: It allows voters who cannot come to polling places to cast their ballots. The voter mails the absentee ballot before election day and it is counted on election day.
Accessible voting station: Voting station equipped for individuals with disabilities.


Balancing the ticket: When the presidential candidate chooses a vice-presidential candidate whose qualities balance out the nominee’s perceived weaknesses.
Ballot image:  The ballot as it appears on a direct recording electronic (DRE) voting system.
Ballot initiative: A procedure allowed in a number of states under which citizens are able to propose a change in the law.
Battleground state: A large state with an electorate split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Bellwether state: A state that historically tends to vote for the winning candidate.
Beltway: Business undertaken inside the Interstate 495 highway surrounding Washington DC. Those considered to have a beltway mentality are seen as being out of touch with the ordinary voters.
Blue state: A state where people tend to vote for the Democratic Party.
Bundler: A person who gathers (“bundles”) campaign contributions to a candidate from his or her network of friends and business associates.
Bundlers, who are often wealthy and well-connected, play a crucial role in contemporary campaign finance.


Caucus: A meeting of party members and activists to choose the candidate to back for the party nomination.
Just under a dozen states use the system — the number is different according to party.
Challenger: A candidate who runs for political office against a person who currently holds that office (the incumbent).
Citizens United: A 2010 Supreme Court ruling that overturned restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns.
Congress: The legislative branch of the US government as prescribed in Article I of the US constitution.
It is made up of two houses — the 435-member House of Representatives and 100-member Senate.
Congressman/woman: A member of the House of Representatives, typically. The term can refer to a member of the Senate.
Coattails: The ability of a popular officeholder or candidate for office to increase the chances for victory of other candidates of the same political party.


Delegates: The party members whose votes at the national convention officially determine the two parties’ presidential candidates.
Donkey, Democratic: The donkey has become the established — although unofficial — political symbol for the Democratic Party. The symbol was first used during Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1828.


Early money: Campaign money given before or during the early presidential primaries.
Electoral College: The collective term for the 538 electors who officially elect the president and vice-president of the United States.
Elephant, Republican: The traditional symbol for the Republican Party, believed first to have been used in that context by an Illinois newspaper during 1860 election.
Endorsements: These are when a prominent politician or influential figure declares his or her support for a candidate.


Federal Election Commission (FEC): In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission as an independent regulatory agency to enforce federal election law.
Front-loading: The tendency for states to move their primaries and caucuses forward, in an attempt to be among the first states holding a nominating contest.


Gaffe: A verbal error or slip-up made by a politician or other political figure.
Gerrymandering: The practice of drawing political constituency maps to increase a particular candidate’s or party’s advantage in a subsequent election.
Grand Old Party (GOP): The traditional nickname for the Republican Party widely used in American political reporting.


Hard money: Money contributed by an individual directly to a particular campaign.
The House of Representatives: The House is the larger of the two houses of Congress which are the law-making branches of government.
House Majority Leader: The House Majority Leader is the second most powerful member of the majority party in the House of Representatives.
House Minority Leader: The leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives.


Inauguration: The ceremony that marks the start of the new president’s term of office. Under the US constitution, this happens on 20th January of the year following the election.


Libertarian: A voter whose concerns are driven by belief in a small government, fierce support for fiscal conservative ideas and notions of individual liberty.


Matching funds: Public money that is given to presidential candidates in an amount equal to the amount that they have raised privately.
McCain-Feingold: A 2002 campaign finance reform law named after its main sponsors, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold. It was designed to limit the system of fundraising and corporate spending in federal election campaigns.


National convention: The party assembly held every four years at which state delegates from across the country gather to nominate the party’s candidates for president and vice-president.
Negative ads: Political advertisements that attack a candidate’s opponent.


Oval Office: The office traditionally occupied by the president in the West Wing of the White House.


Political Action Committee (PAC): An organisation formed to promote its members’ views on selected issues, usually by raising money that is used to fund candidates who support the group’s position.
Pork barrel politics: The appropriation of government spending pursued by a lawmaker for projects that benefit his or her constituents or campaign contributors.
Primary: A state-level election held to nominate a party’s candidate for office.
Platform: Platform refers to a political party’s formal written statement of its principles and goals.
Poll: A survey of people (usually voters) that is taken to find out which candidate or issue they might vote for.
Precinct: The smallest geographic area in US voting subdivisions, in which local party officials are elected.
Protest vote: A vote for a third-party candidate made, not to elect that candidate, but to indicate displeasure with the candidates of the two major political parties.
Public funding: Money supplied to campaigns from government coffers and administered by the Federal Election Commission.
To qualify for primary election matching funds, candidates need to raise at least $100,000 in individual donations, including at least $5,000 from 20 different states. In 2008, Mr Obama became the first candidate to decline public funds for the general election.
Purple state: Another term for a swing state.


Reagan Democrat: Working-class Democratic voter who defected from the party to vote for Republican candidate Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.
Red state: A state where people tend to vote for the Republican Party.
Redistricting: The process of redrawing the geographic boundaries of congressional districts.
Running mate: The presidential nominee’s candidate for the vice-presidency.


Senate: The upper house of Congress. The Senate has 100 elected members, two from each state, serving six-year terms with one-third of the seats coming up for election every two years. The vice-president serves as the presiding officer over the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader: The leader of the majority party in the Senate, and the most powerful member of the upper house of Congress.
Senate Minority Leader: The leader of the minority party in the Senate.
Senator: Member of the Senate. Each US state has two Senators — a junior and a senior.
Soft money: Money that is given to a political party but is not given specifically to support a particular candidate.
Spin doctor: A media adviser or political consultant employed by a campaign to ensure that a candidate receives the best possible publicity
Stump speech: A candidate’s routine speech outlining his or her core campaign message.
Suffrage: The right or privilege of voting.
Supermajority: The vote margin of two-thirds or three-quarters of the quorum, as opposed to a simple majority of 50% plus one.
SuperPac: A category of independent political action group established by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Super Tuesday: The day in the campaign calendar, usually in February or early March of an election year, when a large number of states hold primary elections.
Swing states: States in which the electorate is relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.


Tea Party: A populist conservative movement known for its uncompromising stance on fiscal issues.
Third-party candidate: A candidate who does not belong to one of the two main US political parties, the Republicans or the Democrats.
Examples of third-party candidates who are running in 2016 are Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party’s Jill Stein.
Ticket: Usually preceded by the name of a party, the “ticket” refers to the candidates running together. Candidates for the presidency and vice presidency run on the same “ticket”.


Vice-President: The presiding officer of the US Senate and the person who assumes the office of the president in the event of the resignation, removal, incapacitation or death of the incumbent president.
The vice-president only casts a vote in the Senate in the event of a tie.


Wedge issue: An issue on which a candidate campaigns in order to divide factions within his opponent’s supporter base.
Winner-takes-all states: States in which each delegate supports the candidate who received the most votes. Examples of winner-takes-all states are Florida and Ohio.
Wonk: A political figure or pundit seen as having a studied and detailed command of public policy.

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