What is the difference between hard
money and soft money? Or between Medicare and Medicaid? These are just a
few of the many well-used - but often misunderstood - terms in US
The battle between candidates to get as much advertising on television
and radio as possible.
Balancing the ticket
When a candidate has won his or her party's presidential nomination, he
or she is then obliged to pick a "running-mate", who - if the pair win
the election - will become vice-president. The two candidates are then
often referred to as "the ticket".
Candidates are often advised to pick a
running-mate who "balances the ticket" - that is, one whose qualities
make up for the candidate's perceived weaknesses.
So in 2000, George W Bush - who was
thought to be relatively young and inexperienced - selected veteran
Republican operator Dick Cheney. And in 2004, John Kerry, a New England
liberal, picked John Edwards, a southerner with a populist streak.
A number of US states allow for a procedure known as a ballot initiative,
whereby citizens are able to draw up a petition for a proposed change in
the law, which - if it gathers enough signatures - is placed before
voters in a referendum.
If the change is approved by the voters
it then becomes law.
Sometimes, political parties may organise
ballot initiatives on controversial issues in an attempt to drive up
turnout among their core supporters. For example, in 2004, a number of
states held referendums on Republican-initiated ballot initiatives to
ban gay marriage.
Ballot initiatives are sometimes referred
to as "ballot measures" or "propositions".
A state which, historically, tends to vote for the winning candidate,
perhaps because it is - demographically - a microcosm of the country as
The classic example of a bellwether state
is Missouri, which has voted for the winner in every US presidential
election since 1904 - except 1956.
The term derives from the name for a
sheep which shepherds would fit with a bell. By listening out for this
sheep, the bellwether, shepherds were able to locate the position of the
An American term for the orbital highway or ring-road that often
surrounds major cities. In political reporting the term generally refers
to congressional business undertaken inside the highway surrounding
Washington DC - Interstate 495. For example, "a beltway issue" refers to
a political issue or debate considered to be of importance only to the
political class and of little interest to the general public.
Alternatively, those considered to have a
"beltway mentality" are seen as being out of touch with the ordinary
voters elsewhere in the country.
Bill of rights
The collective term for the first 10 amendments of the US constitution
establishing the fundamental rights of individual citizens.
The amendments act as a mutually
reinforcing set of rights and limit the powers of federal and state
governments. Acts of Congress or laws ruled to be in conflict with these
rights - and therefore unconstitutional - may be declared void by the US
The Bill of Rights arose because only a
very few individual rights were specified in the original main body of
A state where people tend to vote for the Democratic Party.
If a single candidate for a party's presidential nomination does not
obtain the majority of the votes during the primary and caucus process,
or during the first round of voting of the party convention, the
convention is described as brokered.
The nomination is decided through further
There may also be an element of political
horse-trading behind closed doors, where a deal is done to nominate a
candidate and the brokers of the deal urge their supporters to support
this candidate in the next ballot.
Buckley vs Valeo
The 1976 Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited spending by
individuals or groups who are not standing for election themselves but
who wish to support or oppose particular candidates.
The provision does not apply to
contributions made by corporations or unions and rules that in any donor
situation there must be no co-ordination or consultation with any
The court's decision in effect overruled
two major parts of the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act which imposed
mandatory spending limits on all federal races, and limited independent
spending on behalf of federal candidates.
The court ruled that such restrictions
violated an individual's First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.
The subsequent rise in "soft money"
campaign contributions and "issue ads" led to growing concerns about
corruption and the influence of pressure groups in federal election
campaigns, culminating in the McCain-Feingold legislation of 2002.
The seat of Congress in Washington DC.
The Capitol, constructed largely of white
marble, is home to both the Senate and House of Representatives as well
as various committee and hearing rooms and an art gallery.
The steps of the Capitol building are
traditionally the stage for the formal inauguration of presidents in the
January following an election year.
The building's famous white dome is
crowned with a statue of Freedom.
Most states have their own capitol
buildings in the state capital, many of which have a similar design to
the building in Washington.
A private meeting of party members designed to seek agreement on
delegates for a state or national nominating convention based on which
candidate they wish to support.
Participants in presidential caucus
meetings generally elect delegates to county conventions who in turn, at
a later date, choose delegates for a state or local congressional
convention. The delegates selected are not bound, but usually follow the
wishes of caucus-goers. It is at these later meetings that the delegates
will usually be chosen for the party's national nominating convention at
which the presidential candidate will be declared.
Critics of the caucus system argue that
its laborious nature tends to mean it is dominated by political
activists, unrepresentative of popular feeling, who will nominate
candidates with little real chance of winning.
Just under a dozen states use the system
- the number is different according to party.
The procedure to place a time limit on consideration of a bill in the US
Senate is known as a cloture.
Under this procedure, the Senate may
limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only
by 60 votes of the full (100-member) Senate.
The use of a cloture thus prevents a
filibuster - an attempt to infinitely extend debate upon a proposal by
making a never-ending speech.
Commander in chief
The constitutional role granted to the president as head of the United
States' armed forces.
Under Article III of the constitution the
president is given authority to lead "the army and the navy of the
United States and of the militia of the several states when called into
the actual service of the United States."
No president since James Madison in the
War of 1812 has personally led troops into battle.
forms the law-making or legislative branch of the US Government as
prescribed in Article I, Section I of the US constitution.
It is made up of two houses - the 435-member
House of Representatives and 100-member Senate - each of which
officially has equal power, if not prestige.
A congressional period lasts two years (or
sessions) and begins at noon on 3 January of odd-numbered years.
As well as drafting and implementing laws,
Congress can also:
investigate matters of public concern;
oversee federal agencies and their
approve and ratify treaties;
increase and decrease taxes;
print and appropriate money;
confirm/approve judicial and federal
appointments and nominations;
impeach federal officials including
the president and vice-president;
and override presidential vetoes
based on a two-thirds majority in each chamber.
This term is most often used to refer to a member of the House of
Representatives, but it can be used to refer to a member of either of
the Houses of Congress - the House of Representatives or the Senate.
Constitution of the United States
The fundamental law of the US federal system of government, the US
constitution defines the principal organs of government, their
jurisdictions and the basic rights of citizens.
It is upheld as the supreme law of the
land, meaning all federal and state laws, executive actions and judicial
decisions must be consistent with it.
The US constitution is the oldest written national
constitution in operation.