US & Canada

Glossary: US elections N-P


National convention The party assembly held every four years at which state delegates from across the country gather to vote on the party's candidate for president and vice-president.

National conventions serve mainly to formalise the will of the majority of voters, expressed during the earlier state primaries and caucuses. Usually the winner of the greatest number of delegates from the primary and caucus states will receive the party's nomination.

Today the event is largely a platform for the prospective candidate to present their choice of vice-presidential running mate and to draw up their policy agenda.

Netroots Left wing online activists and bloggers. Their annual convention, originally organized by liberal website Daily Kos, is now considered an important stop for aspiring Democrat politicians. The netroots provided pivotal early support for the campaigns of Howard Dean and Barack Obama, and helped oust Joe Lieberman from the Democratic senate ticket in 2006.


Open primary A primary election (to select a candidate for the general election) in which people are allowed to vote regardless of party affiliation or registration. However, in an open primary, voters are obliged to vote for candidates who all belong to the same political party.

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

The room did not exist until the 1930s when it was added on as part of expansion work to the building. The term is often used to describe the presidency itself, for example: "This order comes straight from the Oval Office."


Patriot Act A controversial law enacted in response to the September 11 attacks giving government agencies new powers to tackle terrorism. The law permits the indefinite imprisonment without trial of foreigners deemed to be a threat to national security.

The government is not required to provide detainees with a lawyer or make any announcement regarding the arrest. The law also extends police powers to wiretap and search a suspect's home.

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.

PACs monitor candidates' voting records, question them on their beliefs on issues of interest to their membership and pass the collected information along to their contributors.

Because federal law restricts the amount of money an individual, corporation or union can give to candidates, PACs have become an important way of funnelling large funds into the political process and influencing elections.

Pork barrel politics The appropriation of government spending - or "pork" - by a lawmaker for projects that are likely to benefit his or her constituents or campaign contributors. (See earmark).

Primary A state-level election held before a general election to nominate a party's candidate for office.

Primaries are held for both the presidential and congressional races, although the exact regulations governing them and the dates on which they are held vary from state to state. In some states voters are restricted to choosing candidates only from the party for which they have registered support.

However 29 states permit "open primaries" in which a voter may opt to back a candidate regardless of their nominal affiliation.

Pro-choice The term used for those who support a woman's right to choose abortion if she so wishes.

Supporters of the pro-choice agenda do not necessarily support abortion itself, only the position that women are entitled to make the decision themselves.

Pro-life The term used to describe politicians and pressure groups opposed to abortion or allowing women to opt for abortion.

Some American advocates of the pro-life position believe abortion should only be allowed in cases where a pregnancy results from rape or incest. Others believe that abortion should be ruled out altogether.

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

Push polling The controversial practice where voters are contacted over the telephone by campaign workers, who talk up their own candidate and criticise opponents.

Voters often say they feel deceived by the technique, particularly as a typical call often begins with the kind of questions that a normal, independent survey would ask. Some observers say the technique undermines voter confidence in the electoral system and risks deterring yet more voters from turning out on polling day.