Political Speak Got You Confused? Don’t Worry, Here’s Your Translation Guide

By | September 25, 2012

Looking Confused: Mitt Romney (top left), President Obama (top right), former President Clinton (bottom left), and former President G.W. Bush (bottom right)

The Associated Press has compiled a dictionary, of sorts, to help you understand all the words, phrases, and other jargon that is used during the election season.

With such extreme focus on so many races this election cycle – from the White House down to state-level races – readers can use this, not only as a dictionary, but as a reference to better understand the lingo that has become second nature to so many journalists.

 

  • Democratic nominees – President Barack Obama, or Obama or the president. Obama will accept the nomination for a second term at the Sept. 4-6 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.  Vice President Joe Biden, or Biden or the vice president, will be the Democratic nominee for the same office as Obama’s running mate.
  • Republican nominee – Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, will become the Republican Party nominee when his delegates’ votes are tallied at the Republican National Convention Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, is Romney’s vice presidential running mate.
  • presidency, presidential – The terms are lowercase, except in a title: Commission on Presidential Debates.
  • House and Senate – At stake are all 435 House seats from all 50 states, currently with a 240-191 Republican majority. In the 100-seat Senate, 33 seats are being contested. Democrats currently hold a 51-47 majority, plus two independents. In the House, seats held by nonvoting delegates from the District of Columbia and other U.S. territories are also at stake.
  • Congress, congressional – Capitalize when referring the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives together. The adjective is lowercase unless part of a formal name.
  • congressman, congresswoman – Not formal titles, spelled lowercase. Rep. is the preferred title before the name of a U.S. House member: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
  • majority leader, minority leader – Capitalize as formal legislative title before a name: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, otherwise lowercase.

ELECTION TERMINOLOGY, ISSUES 

  • battleground states – Hotly contested states where one or both campaigns are spending money and polls show the electorate is split.
  • swing states – States where voters have vacillated between Republican and Democrat candidates in the last three or four presidential elections.
  • close race – Don’t describe a political race as close unless polls show it is and you reference polls.
  • conservative – Lowercase for a political philosophy, capitalize in a formal name: the Conservative Party.
  • convention – Lowercase except in formal name: the Democratic convention, the Democratic National Convention.
  • Democrat, Democratic Party – Both are capitalized. Don’t use Democrat Party.
  • the economy – Weak U.S. growth, the U.S. unemployment rate topping 8 percent and tax policies are the key issues.
  • Election Day, election night – The first is capitalized, the second is lowercase. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
  • “fair shot,” “fair share” – Obama’s belief that the government has a role in creating conditions for prosperity, that the income gap is hazardous to the nation. His belief is that a stable middle class gives everyone a fair chance to succeed. The terms are in quotes on first reference.
  • first lady – Not an official title, spelled lowercase (except when starting a sentence: First lady … )
  • fundraiser, fundraising – Single words in all uses.
  • front-runner – Candidate who leads a political race; the term is hyphenated.
  • leftist, ultra-leftist – Avoid these terms in favor of more precise descriptions of political leanings.
  • liberal, liberalism – Lowercase for a political philosophy. Capitalize in a formal name: the Liberal Party.
  • majority, plurality – A majority is more than half the votes cast; a plurality is the largest number of votes, but less than a majority.
  • middle class (n.), middle-class (adj.) – Key voting group encompassing about 42 percent of U.S. households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 annually, according to White House Council of Economic Advisers.
  • money bomb – A rush of small political contributions collected via the Internet. In quotes on first reference.
  • “Obamacare” – Informal term for the Affordable Care Act. Often used derisively by Republicans, so avoid it unless quoting someone. If the term is essential, say something like “also known as ‘Obamacare,’ ” with quotes around the word.
  • “opportunity society” – Used by Romney to describe a society in which people and businesses succeed based on merit and free enterprise, not government doling out benefits. Reducing the size of federal government is essential, he says. In quotes on first reference.
  • PAC, super PAC – Political action committee raises money for candidates or parties from donations by individuals, but not businesses or labor unions. A super PAC may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, including from corporations and unions, to support candidates for federal office but must operate independently.
  • political affiliation – The party of a candidate or officeholder is essential in any election or issue story.
  • policymaker, policymaking – Both are compounds.
  • polls and surveys – Consult the detailed entry in the AP Stylebook — print and online — on how to use results of public opinion surveys and avoid exaggerating the meaning.
  • populist – Supports the rights and power of the common people; advocates unorthodox solutions; often critical of establishment politicians and political parties.
  • presidential debates – Three national TV debates between Obama and Romney are scheduled Oct.  3, 16 and 22.
  • press secretary – Seldom a formal title and thus lowercase.
  • re-elect, re-election – Both are hyphenated.
  • Republican, Republican Party – Both terms are capitalized. GOP (Grand Old Party) may be used on second reference.
  • rightist, ultra-rightist – Avoid these terms in favor of more precise descriptions of political leanings.
  • small parties – Groups that often form around an issue, such as taxation, or support outsider candidates.  Also known as third parties, splinter parties.
  • tea party – Lowercase the populist movement that opposes the Washington political establishment. Adherents are tea partyers. Formally named groups in the movement are capitalized: Tea Party Express.

CLICHES AND ALTERNATIVES

  • ahead of – before
  • rainbow colors –  avoid  red, blue or purple for the political leanings of states. Use Democratic-leaning, Republican-tilting or swing-voting, etc.
  • barnstormed –  traveled across a state campaigning or campaigned across XYZ.
  • hand-to-hand campaigning – seeking support in face-to-face meetings with voters.
  • hat in the ring – a candidate decided to run for an office.
  • horse race – closely contested political contest.
  • laundry list – the candidate has ideas, proposals, etc.
  • messaging – the candidate’s pitch to voters.
  • pressing the flesh – shaking hands is preferred.
  • rope line – the physical barrier that separates a candidate from the audience. Instead, the candidate shook hands and posed for photographs with the audience.
  • state nicknames – avoid them in favor of the state name.
  • stump speech – campaign speech at a routine appearance (or standard or regular campaign speech)
  • testing the waters – considered entering the race or considered running for XYZ.
  • took his/her campaign to – specify what the candidate did.
  • veepstakes – the competition to be a candidate’s running mate.
  • war lingo - use criticized instead of attacked, or choose a better verb to describe what the candidate is doing, i.e., challenging, doubting, etc. Also avoidable: launch an assault, take aim, open fire, bombard.
  • war chest – use campaign bank account or stockpile of money.
  • white paper – a document of policy positions distributed by a campaign.

ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

  • National context to show the significance.
  • Sense of place. Atmosphere illustrates why people in any locale vote as they do.
  • Quotes from voters. Comments from named individuals help gauge voter sentiment.
  • Rely on polls sparingly. Determine whether an opinion survey is reliable before including it.

 

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