US & Canada

Glossary: US elections R-W


Reagan Democrat Democratic voters who defected from their party to vote for Republican candidate Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections, largely because of his social and fiscal policies.

The term is used these days to denote moderate Democrats who are more conservative than other Democrats on issues such as national security or immigration.

Redistricting The redrawing of political boundaries at local, state, and federal levels every decade following the US census.

This is done to reflect changes in the population and to keep the population within each district more or less equal. The process can be controversial because of the fear that the dominant party may intentionally manipulate boundaries for its own political advantage in the next election.

Red state A state where people tend to vote for the Republican Party.

Rino An acronym for Republican In Name Only. A derogatory term mostly used by conservatives to refer to Republicans closer to the centre of the political spectrum.

Robocall An automated phonecall dialled by a machine that delivers a pre-recorded message from a politician or candidate to voters.

Roe vs Wade The landmark 1973 Supreme Court judgement making abortions legal in the US.

By a vote of 7-2 the court justices ruled that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions. The court's judgement was based on the decision that a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in family matters as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Running mate Once a party has selected its presidential nominee, the chosen candidate picks a political colleague, known as a "running mate", to run with him or her in the presidential election and who - if elected - will become vice-president.


Second Amendment The so-called "right to bear arms" amendment to the US constitution, ratified in 1791.

The preamble reads: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the protection of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." But the wording is open to interpretation and as a result it has become the focus of fierce debate between supporters and opponents of gun control.

Senate Generally considered to be the upper house of the United States Congress, although members of the other house - the House of Representatives - traditionally regard it as a co-equal body.

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, although he does not serve on any committees and is restricted to voting only in the event of a tie.

Senate Majority Leader The leader of the majority party in the Senate, the Senate Majority Leader, is the most powerful member of the upper house of Congress.

He or she controls the daily legislative programme and decides on the time allowed for debates.

Senate Minority Leader The leader of the minority party in the Senate.

He or she acts as a figurehead for the minority party in the Senate, articulating its policy positions and attempting to deliver its legislative priorities.

Senator Member of the senate, the upper house of congress. Each US state has two (a junior and a senior senator, distinguished by length of service). In 2008 the presumptive nominees from both main parties are senators. The last time a senator was directly elected to the White House was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy won the presidency.

Soft money "Soft money" refers to political funds raised outside the regulations and laws of the Federal Election Campaign Act, and has been the main target for advocates of campaign finance reform.

Soft money had to be deposited in non-federal party accounts at state level and could not be used in connection with federal elections. A series of legal loopholes were used to get around this technicality, until the practice was banned by the McCain-Feingold law in 2002.

Speaker of the House The House Speaker is the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives (not to be confused with the House Majority Leader).

He or she has a dual role as both the leader of his or her party in the House, and as the presiding officer in the chamber, with responsibility for controlling debate and setting the legislative agenda.

Under the terms of the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the speaker is the second in line to the presidency after the Vice-President.

Stump speech On the campaign trail, candidates often deliver a generic speech, known as their "stump speech", outlining their core campaign messages.

Supermajority Some important votes require more than a simple majority - 50%-plus-one of those voting - to be carried. This is known as a supermajority.

In the Senate, a supermajority of 60% is required to pass a motion of cloture ending a filibuster.

Super Tuesday Refers to a critical date in the campaign calendar - usually in early March - when a large number of states hold primary elections.

The hope was that by holding their votes on the same day, states would increase their influence and downplay the importance of other primaries.

The idea that Super Tuesday would be the decisive event in the primary season was disproved in the 2008 election cycle, when Senator Hillary Clinton failed to break through despite victories in some big states on that date.

Suspending a campaign Candidates seeking the Democratic or Republican nomination can suspend their campaign.

Candidates who have suspended their campaigns are able to direct their pledged delegates to support one of the other candidates for the nomination at the convention.

These delegate-votes may serve as a bargaining chip if the candidate wants the promise of a job in the eventual nominee's possible future administration.

Swag The merchandising created by campaigns and political organisations - buttons, hats, t-shirts etc. Swag can be purchased, but it is often given to volunteers, supporters and journalists as a gesture of goodwill.

Swift-boating If politicians on the left of the US political spectrum believe they are being unfairly attacked or smeared, they will often refer to the attacks as "swift-boating", in reference to the series of anti-John Kerry adverts aired in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election by a 527 group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The adverts featured veterans who - like Mr Kerry - served on naval craft known as "Swift Boats" in Vietnam and who were critical of Mr Kerry's record in the war.

Swing states Swing states are states in which the outcome of the vote is uncertain or close.


Third-party candidate A candidate who does not belong to one of the two main US political parties, the Republicans or the Democrats.

No third-party candidate has ever won the presidency, but they have may have strongly influenced the result. For example, in 1992, Ross Perot took votes away from incumbent George HW Bush and helped Bill Clinton gain victory.

Tracker People or volunteers used by political candidates or parties to document the activities of their rivals. Trackers usually follow opposing candidates with recording equipment - video cameras, audio recorders etc - so they can inform their own candidate of what's being said or promised, and document any gaffes, slip ups or lies.


Vice-president The vice-president's primary duty is to succeed to the presidency in the event of the resignation, removal or death of the incumbent president.

The vice-president's only other constitutional responsibility is to preside over the US Senate and to use his vote as the decider in the event of a tie. This is only overridden when the senate is conducting an impeachment trial against the president.

In recent years, vice-presidents have taken on an increasingly prominent role managing a range of high-profile foreign and domestic policy programmes.

Voting machine An apparatus for use by voters at polling stations that mechanically records and counts votes.

Voting machines have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with critics expressing concerns that electronic machines offer inadequate safeguards against fraud.


War chest Money a politician is saving for a campaign.

Wedge issue An issue that a politician might raise in order to drive a wedge between different groups within his opponent's supporter base.

An example of a wedge issue might be same-sex marriage: Republicans might propose to ban it in order to attract voters who support the Democrats on most economic issues, but who feel strongly about social issues.

Conversely, Democrats might highlight their more liberal position on abortion, in an attempt to win over pro-choice Republicans.

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527 Organisations Named after a section of the US Tax code, 527 organisations are political campaign groups officially unaffiliated to individual parties or candidates, and therefore not subject to campaign spending restrictions.

The groups have gained in prominence since 2002, when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms were passed, cracking down on the use of "soft money" in election campaigns.

Critics of 527 groups say they are little more than front organisations allowing official campaigns to run expensive attack adverts without having to adhere to campaign finance restrictions.