US elections

What do these words mean?

There are currently 0 days left till the US presidential election, in which Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are vying for the White House.

 Americans are also voting for other elected offices, including and senators and city councils.


The US electoral system can seem complex for the uninitiated. Use the glossary below to decipher the political jargon.

Absentee Voting

Typically, absentee voting occurs by mail. Some states require voters to provide a valid excuse to vote absentee - such as living overseas - while others allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot.


Ballot initiative

A means by which a petition signed by a certain minimum number of registered voters can bring about a public vote on an issue on a local level.


Battleground state

Also called a swing state or purple state. It is a large state with an electorate split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans and the outcome of the vote is difficult to predict. Candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time and money campaigning there. Traditional battleground states include Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.


Bellwether state

 A state, such as Missouri, which almost always votes for the eventual winner in the presidential election. Analysts use these states as indications of what will happen nationally.


Blue state

 A state where the majority tends to vote for the Democratic Party.



 A meeting of registered party members at which they choose which candidate to back for the party nomination.


Commander in chief

 The role granted to the president as head of the United States' armed forces.



 The legislative branch of the US government. It is made up of two houses - the 435-member House of Representatives and the 100-member Senate.



 The meeting of the entire Democrat or Republican Party at which a presidential nominee is chosen based on who has the most delegates’ support.



People designated by the state to nominate a presidential candidate for a specific party after a primary or caucus. States have different numbers of delegates depending on their size.


Election Day

 National elections, including presidential elections, are traditionally held on the first Tuesday of November. This year’s election will take place on November 8.


Electoral college

 In the presidential election, each state is allocated a certain number of votes based on population.

For example, California has 55 electoral votes while Vermont has three. Each state is winner-take-all (except Maine and Nebraska), so whichever candidate gets more individual votes gets all the electoral votes of the state. Therefore, it is possible to win the majority of individual votes and lose the race,

and vice versa. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes of the total 538 to win.



 These are when a prominent politician or influential figure declares his or her support for

a candidate. They can help increase a candidate’s credibility and attract more media attention.



The elected chief executive officer in each of the 50 states and in the five permanently inhabited territories.


The House of Representatives

 The House is the larger of the two houses of Congress which are the law-making branches of government.



Voter or candidate who has not declared a party affiliation.



Stands for political action committee. An organisation that raises money privately to influence elections or legislation, especially at the federal level. PACs frequently donate money to presidential campaigns There are limits to how much money can be included in each donation.



A state-level election held to nominate a party's candidate for office. Primaries are operated by the state rather than a political party, and the results are calculated with standard secret ballots, similar to general elections. There are two types of primaries: closed elections, in which people can only vote for the party they are registered with, and open primaries, in which people can vote for any party they want, but can still only vote for one party.


Purple state

Another term for a swing state or battleground state. A state which could vote Democratic (blue) or Republican (red).


Red state

 A state where the majority tends to vote for the Republican Party.


Running mate

The person a presidential candidate chooses to be his or her vice president if elected. Always announced after a nomination so only the person who is actually running for president chooses. Clinton’s running mate is Tim Kaine; Trump’s is Mike Pence.



The body that together with the House of Representatives makes up the US Congress. The Senate has 100 elected members, two from each state.


Super PAC

An independent PAC that can raise unlimited sums of money. They are forbidden from being officially associated with a campaign, but this rule is easy to get around. Super PACs back specific candidates and are frequently run by their allies.



 A surrogate campaigns on behalf of a candidate. The surrogate often appears at public events that

the candidate cannot make it to, or alongside a candidate to bolster support. Spouses, celebrities or allied politicians commonly act as surrogates.


Swing state

 A large state in which the electorate is relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and the outcome of the vote is difficult to predict. Candidates typically campaign aggressively in such states. Traditional swing states include Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Also known as battleground states or purple states.


 Third-party candidate

 A candidate who does not belong the Republicans or the Democrats.

Examples of third-party candidates in 2016 are the Green Party's Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson. No third-party candidate has ever won the presidency.