US & Canada

Glossary: US elections H-M

What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid? What are blue dogs and red states? These are just a few of the many well-used but often misunderstood terms in US politics.



Hard money Money contributed by an individual directly to a particular campaign.

Individuals can currently contribute $2,500 to a candidate's primary campaign, and an additional $2,500 to a candidate's general election campaign. They can make these donations to multiple candidates.

The first $250 an individual donates to a candidate's primary campaign can be matched dollar-for-dollar from federal matching funds.

Limits on state-wide elections vary according to state laws.

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

Image caption House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has proven to be one of Barack Obama's staunchest opponents

The 435 members of the House - generally known as Congressmen and Congresswomen - serve two-year terms.

The presiding member, the speaker of the house, is elected by a majority vote of members of the House at the beginning of each new Congress. In practice, this is the leader of the party holding the majority.

House members each represent approximately half-a-million citizens in their districts. The number of districts for each state is determined each decade by a proportional allocation based on the federal census.

House Majority Leader The House Majority Leader is the second most powerful member of the majority party in the House of Representatives.

Image caption Nancy Pelosi was House Speaker before the Democrats lost their majority in 2010

Unlike the speaker, he or she has no responsibility for the House as a whole, and focuses purely on advancing the interests of his or her party - for example, by organising members to support the party's policy agenda.

House Minority Leader The leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives.

He or she acts as a spokesperson for the minority party's policy position and organises its legislative strategy.

In practice, the minority leader has very little legislative influence, because the House rules essentially allow the majority party to pass bills unilaterally.


Independent Registered voters who have not declared a party affiliation.

Because most voters registered for a particular party will vote for that party's candidate, general election campaigns have tended to focus on winning over these groups.

Nationwide about a third of all voters consider themselves independent, however some key states have a higher proportion of independent voters than others. New Hampshire, for example, traditionally has a large number of independents and as a result has a reputation for producing unexpected results during its primary elections.


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

Image caption Ron Paul is a favourite of US libertarians, some of whom like his call for a return to the gold standard

US libertarians tend to vote Republican, attracted to the party's advocacy for lower taxes and government spending and opposition to regulation of business and to the welfare state.

But many libertarians disagree with the party's stances on social issues and the war on drugs.

For example, while opposition to same-sex marriage is a key plank in the national Republican Party platform, staunch libertarian voters might argue the government has no business restricting two individuals'' right to enter into a marriage compact.

In 2008 and 2012, libertarians have backed Ron Paul's candidacy for the Republican nomination.

Lobbyist A person hired to represent the interests of a company, industry, political cause or foreign government in the Congress, regulatory agencies or other parts of the US government.

Effective lobbyists are very well-connected and are often former members of Congress or the Congressional staff or had other high-level jobs in the US government.

On the campaign trail, cosy connections with lobbyists - or worse, a background advocating for paid clients - can be a liability.

In the 2012 race, Newt Gingrich has had to defend himself against allegations he took millions of dollars over the past decade to advocate on behalf of healthcare companies and a government-sponsored mortgage company.


McCain-Feingold A 2002 campaign finance reform law named after its main sponsors, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.

Image caption The campaign finance law was sponsored by John McCain, left, and Russ Feingold, right

The law was designed to limit the system of fundraising and corporate spending in federal election campaigns that existed outside the highly regulated infrastructure of public funding and hard money contributions to political candidates.

Much of the law was subsequently overturned by the US Supreme Court, which found restrictions on corporate spending in elections to be an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech.

Among the parts that remain intact are a ban on unlimited soft money donations to national political parties.

Medicaid A health insurance programme for the poor and some disabled people that is funded jointly by the states and the federal government and administered at the state level.

It is up to states to determine matters of coverage, eligibility and the administration of the programme, but they must conform to broad federal guidelines.

Medicare The national health insurance programme designed to help protect people aged 65 and over from the high costs of healthcare.

It also provides coverage for patients with permanent kidney failure and people with certain disabilities.