50 political terms to know for the upcoming election
Words have the ability to evoke specific emotions and sway an electorate. Politicians and members of the media use carefully chosen words to present ideas, and the disparities between how the day’s major issues are described—and how voters respond—couldn’t be starker.
Virtually every wedge issue in today’s politics has its own set of words around it, co-opted by a specific political party with words that reframe debates around those issues. Whether tax relief, pro-choice, Socialism, Obamacare, or free college, the language we use to describe some of today’s most pressing issues helps determine how those issues are understood—or prove to cloud their true meanings.
Yet for how inundated we are with lightning-fast news cycles and a saturated media market, it’s striking how many political terms get batted around without the public having a clear understanding of what they all mean.
Take caucuses, for example. Every four years, Iowa kicks off the primary voting season with a caucus. The process involves people from a political party gathering to determine which candidate to vote for rather than individuals voting in booths. People go to assigned precinct locations and participate in hours-long meetings where cases are made for different candidates.
“Caucus” is just one of many political terms relevant to the 2020 election that eludes a good percentage of people in the electorate (a point only exacerbated by this year's debacle with the app used to report results). To simplify things ahead of the 2020 election, Stacker consulted recent headlines and polling on major issues to come up with 50 terms related to various policies, voting issues, and social reforms being discussed by the presidential candidates.
Whether you’re confused on what exactly socialism is or unclear on what a single-payer health care system would look like, we’ve got you covered with concepts affecting voters in this year’s election.
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Voting: Electoral college
Though Americans head to the polls every four years to choose the president, voters don't actually do so. Instead, each of the 50 states and Washington D.C. are allocated a certain number of electors based on a state's total number of senators and House members in Congress. On election day, voters actually vote for the electors that will later cast their ballots in the Electoral College for president (most states give all their electors to the winner of the popular vote in the state). Candidates must receive 270 of 538 votes in the Electoral College to win the presidency. This system was put in place to put an additional check on the decision-making of the American public and make sure that smaller states have their voices heard when choosing the president. However, the system is complicated and has its issues.
Five presidential elections in the U.S. have been won by a candidate who lost by the popular vote: John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. Votes in small states have more power than those in large states, and electors themselves can vote for a candidate that didn't win the vote in their state. Some critics have called for the Electoral College to be abolished due to these complicating factors.
[Pictured: Voting polling place in Arlington, Virginia.]
Voting: Voter fraud
Voter fraud is comprised of any form of illegal activity in election processes, from registration fraud (as a nonexistent person, forging for someone else) to impersonation. Fraudulent action also includes ballot-stuffing (illegal votes, casting multiple ballots), suppression of eligible voters, and vote-buying (candidates paying off voters). The most recent, notable example concerned allegations of systematic foreign interference from Russia in the 2016 presidential election, as outlined in the Mueller Report.
[Pictured: Multiple "I Voted" stickers with USA flag on blue jacket.]
Voting: Voter suppression
Voter suppression is a form of voter fraud related to attempts to prevent or limit registered voters from casting their ballots. Suppression efforts historically—particularly in Jim Crow southern states—included intimidation tactics to turn away and disenfranchise Black voters. More recently, Wisconsin’s voting rights came under fire during the 2016 election, when new voter ID laws led to an enormous decrease in turnout, especially among minorities and Democrats.
[Pictured: Voters on presidential election day in Arlington, Virginia.]
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Voting: Swing vote
Swing voters typically aren't members of either political party, their ballots can be hard to predict, and they are often vital in determining the outcome of an election. There are also congressional swing voters who cross party lines to ensure legislation passes, or—as in the case of the 2017 vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act—that it fails. The Supreme Court also tends to have a swing vote; a more moderate liberal or conservative justice will cross ideological lines to rule on important issues. Prior to his 2018 retirement, this was usually Justice Anthony Kennedy.
[Pictured: United States Supreme Court building.]
Gerrymandering is a practice that involves redrawing political boundaries on maps that benefit one party over another during elections. It's an old practice dating back to the founding of America and takes its name from Massachusetts governor and signer of the Declaration of Independence Elbridge Gerry; he signed a redistricting bill in 1812.
Critics pointed out that one of the districts that favored his political party (the Democratic-Republicans) looked like a salamander...or a “Gerry-mander.” Today, gerrymanders that disadvantage racial minorities have been deemed unconstitutional and voters on both sides of the aisle have taken to the Supreme Court in order to outlaw gerrymanders that favor one political party over the other.
[Pictured: Participants in the Women's March event holds a sign referencing voting suppression in San Francisco, California.]
Voting: Battleground state/swing state
The Electoral College has caused presidential elections to boil down to a handful of states with a large number of electoral votes and enough swing voters that either Democratic or Republicans could win them. These battleground states can change from election to election as a state's demographics change. Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan were key to President Donald Trump's ultimate victory in 2016.
Some speculate that Republican strongholds in the Sun Belt like Arizona and Texas could be 2020 battlegrounds due to rising numbers of millennial and Latino voters (who typically vote for Democratic candidates). Meanwhile, states like Virginia and Colorado which were previously swing states are now seen as solidly Democratic due to their recent voting history.
[Pictured: Donald Trump holds a sign during a rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.]
Voting: Voter ID
Thirty-six states have some form of voter ID laws, which supporters of the laws claiming they are the most direct and efficient response to fraud. Laws range from requiring photo IDs to voters providing signatures that the polling place checks against their files. Opponents of strict voter ID laws point out there is very little fraud of this type, no evidence of election “rigging,” and claim instead that voter ID laws are discriminatory practices that keep people—predominantly people of color—from casting votes.
Proponents see increasing requirements for identification as a way to prevent in-person voter impersonation and increase public confidence in the election process. Opponents say there is little fraud of this kind, and the burden on voters unduly restricts the right to vote and imposes unnecessary costs and administrative burdens on election administrators.
[Pictured: Woman shows her voter ID and picks up her ballot at the polling station.]
America is founded on the principle of government “by the people, for the people.” The American public votes for leaders they feel will represent their interests at the local, state, and federal levels. A politician's constituency is made up of all the people in the district who elected him or her, even those who might have voted for someone else. For example, a congressional representative's constituents might be residents of a city or a small part of their state while a senator is responsible for representing all the residents of their state.
[Pictured: U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends 3rd Annual Women's Rally and March on the streets of Manhattan.]
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Voting: Wedge issue
Though political parties are made up of people with similar views on important economic and social issues, the Democratic and Republican parties are made up of millions of voters of different states, races, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, and socioeconomic class. Not everyone is going to agree on everything. These differences of opinion can drive a wedge between candidates and the people they want to vote for them or even split the parties into factions. The Democratic Party famously lost huge numbers of white voters in the South due to the party's support for civil rights and integration in the 1960s. Today, immigration, gun control, reproductive rights, and government involvement in providing health care are huge wedge issues that divide members of each party from their voters and each other.
[Pictured: Georgia State Sen. Elena Parent speaks at a Moms Demand Action anti-gun, anti-NRA rally in Atlanta, Georgia on April 29, 2017.]
Voting: Super Tuesday
Super Tuesday, which occurs in 2020 on March 3, refers to the most active presidential primary election day. Though not officially a national primary day, Super Tuesday is significant in that the highest number of states hold primaries that day, representing about 40% of voters. Super Tuesday is seen as a strong indicator of who will be a party’s eventual nominee.
[Pictured: Super Tuesday primary election site in Arlington, Massachusetts.]2018 All rights reserved.