US & Canada

Glossary: US elections D-G


Delegates The party members whose votes at the National Convention officially determine the two parties' presidential candidates

Most of the delegates at the convention are obliged to vote for a candidate according to the result of primaries or caucuses in their home state. They are referred to as "pledged" or "elected" delegates.

Some delegates, however, are "unpledged" and are able to vote for any candidate at the convention. In the Democratic Party, unpledged delegates are called "super-delegates".

Discretionary spending The segment of the US government budget that Congress has the power to allocate is discretionary spending. The remainder of the budget is entitlement spending - funds mandated by legislation to be spent on programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Donkey, Democratic The donkey is the unofficial political symbol for the Democratic Party. Democratic Party historians say the symbol was first used during Andrew Jackson's presidential campaign in 1828.


Earmark A provision that directs federal funds to a specific project. An earmark is placed in either congressional legislation or committee reports. Members of Congress will typically seek to insert earmarks that benefit particular projects, locations or organisations in the district or state they represent. (See pork barrel politics).

Electoral College The collective term for the 538 electors who officially elect the president and vice-president of the United States. Presidential candidates require a majority of 270 college votes to win the presidency. The number of electors each state has is the same as the total number of its senators and representatives in Congress.

The college system was originally conceived before the existence of political parties and was designed to allow the electors to act as independent voters. Electors are now considered expected to follow the wishes of the majority of voters in each state.

Elephant, Republican The elephant is the traditional symbol for the Republican Party. It first appeared in a cartoon in the 7 November 1874 edition of Harper's Weekly by the artist Thomas Nast.


Federal Election Commission (FEC) In 1975, Congress created FEC as an independent regulatory body to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).

The FEC discloses campaign finance information, enforces the provisions of the act, and oversees the public funding of presidential elections.

By law, no more than three of the six members of the commission can be members of the same political party.

Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) First implemented in 1971, FECA is a US federal law that provides for the disclosure of financial contributions to federal campaigns.

In 1974, amendments were made to toughen campaign laws after the Watergate scandal in 1972. The new amendments established strict disclosure requirements for campaign donations, set specific limits for those donations, instituted public financing for presidential elections, and established the Federal Election Commission to govern the process.

Federal matching funds Public money supplied to campaign funds that match donations made by individual contributors up to a maximum of $250 per donation.

Candidates are not obliged to take matching funds, but if they do, they must restrict their spending to a maximum of approximately $40m during the presidential primary period.

Democrats and Republicans are automatically entitled to a public grant to pay for the cost of conventions. Minor parties are also entitled to a smaller subsidy in proportion to the vote they received. New parties are not eligible.

Filibuster This is a procedural tactic to block or delay legislation used predominantly in the United States Senate.

A filibuster usually involves a senator or group of senators talking for hours or days to prevent a final vote on a bill. Overcoming a filibuster requires a cloture motion, which must be passed by three-fifths of the senate - usually 60 senators. These days, actual filibusters are rarely carried out, but the threat of them is enough to force a cloture vote.

Founding fathers An imprecise term used most often to describe those involved in the framing and adoption of the Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787.

The convention brought together 55 delegates from the then-13 states.

Their decisions and the constitution they drew up laid the groundwork for the country's political system as it is today. The term is sometimes also used to include influential figures in the struggle for independence and those who fought the Revolutionary War.

Front-loading "Front-loading" describes the tendency for states to move their primaries and caucuses forward in an attempt to be among the first states holding a nominating contest.

State authorities believe that coming at the front of the queue increases their influence on the nomination process. However, critics argue that if too many states hold their contests in a short space of time, candidates are unable to connect with voters in each individual state.

A side effect is that the process starts earlier, and is drawn out over a longer period.


Governor Each of the 50 US states has a governor, who is the state's chief administrator. The governor is responsible for the effective and efficient workings of the state's various departments.

A governor's term of office lasts for four years. The number of times a governor can be re-elected varies from state to state.

Grand Old Party (GOP) The traditional nickname for the Republican Party widely used in American political reporting.

The party's official history traces the term back to the late 19th Century citing an article in the Boston Post headlined "The GOP Doomed."

The party website suggests the term Grand Old Party may have evolved from the term used to refer to British Prime Minister William Gladstone - the GOM or the Grand Old Man.