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 party members whose votes at the National Convention officially
determine the two parties' presidential candidates are known as
Most of the delegates at the convention
are obliged to vote for a candidate according to the result of primaries
or caucuses in their home state. They are referred to as "pledged" or "elected"
Some delegates, however, are "unpledged"
and are able to vote for any candidate at the convention.
In the Democratic Party, these unpledged
delegates are called "super-delegates". They include senior members of
the party hierarchy, and rank-and-file members elected to the Democratic
The donkey has become the established - although unofficial - political
symbol for the Democratic Party. Democratic Party historians say the
symbol was first used during Andrew Jackson's presidential campaign in
Labelled a "jackass" by his opponents, he
adopted the donkey himself for his campaign posters and it stuck with
him as a result of his stubborn reputation.
The cartoonist Thomas Nast later also
used the donkey - to represent a group of northern anti-civil war
Democrats, and more generally as a symbol for pro-Democrat editors and
By the presidential campaign of 1880 the
symbol was firmly established. A cartoon in the New York Daily Graphic
showed the losing Democrat candidate, Winfield S Hancock, leading a team
of party crusaders into battle on the back of a donkey.
Critics of the party regard the donkey as
stubborn, silly and ridiculous - while die-hard Democrats say it
represents the humble, homely, smart, courageous and loveable aspects of
The collective term for the 538 electors who officially elect the
president and vice-president of the United States. Presidential
candidates require a majority of 270 college votes to win the presidency.
The number of electors each state is allocated is equal to the combined
total of its senators and representatives in Congress.
The college system was originally
conceived before the existence of political parties and was designed to
allow the electors to act as independent voters. Electors are now
considered expected to follow the wishes of the majority of voters in
However, there have been a number of
cases in recent elections where at least one elector has voted for a
candidate other than the one they were pledged to.
Two states, Nebraska and Maine, have
eliminated the "winner takes all" process and instead now divide their
electors in accordance with the proportion of the popular vote given to
The traditional symbol for the Republican Party first appeared in a
cartoon in the 7 November 1874 edition of Harper's Weekly by the artist
Pro-Democrat newspapers were accusing the
Republican president of "Caesarism" for allegedly seeking a third term
in office. The New York Herald also ran a hoax story that all the
animals in the city's Central Park Zoo had escaped.
Nast drew an ass wearing a lion's skin to
represent the Herald, frightening away the animals in the forest
(Central Park). Among them was an elephant labelled "Republican Vote",
tripping up in its haste to escape the blown-up scare of "Caesarism".
After that year's mid-term elections, in
which the Republicans did particularly badly, Nast pictured an elephant
in a trap to illustrate how the Republican vote had been decoyed from
its normal allegiance. The image was picked up by other cartoonists and
quickly came to symbolise the party, not just Republican voters.
Supporters of the Democratic Party regard
the elephant as bungling, stupid, pompous and conservative. However
Republicans, who have adopted the animal as their official symbol, think
of it as dignified, strong and intelligent.
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) - an
independent regulatory agency - to administer and enforce the Federal
Election Campaign Act (FECA).
The FEC discloses campaign finance
information, enforces the provisions of the act, and oversees the public
funding of presidential elections.
By law, no more than three of the six
members of the commission can be members of the same political party.
During the election period, the
commission collects and publishes all the sources of finance of all the
Federal Election Campaign Act
First implemented in 1971, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) is a
US federal law that provides for the disclosure of financial
contributions to federal campaigns.
In 1974, amendments were made to the act
to toughen campaign laws after the Watergate scandal in 1972. The new
amendments established strict disclosure requirements for campaign
donations, set specific limits for those donations, instituted public
financing of presidential elections, and established the Federal
Election Commission (FEC) to govern the whole process.
Federal matching funds
Money supplied to campaign funds from public resources and administered
by the Federal Election Commission. Federal matching funds match
donations made by individual contributors dollar-for-dollar up to a
maximum of $250 per donation.
Candidates are not obliged to take
matching funds, but if they opt to do so they must restrict their
spending to a maximum of approximately $40m during the presidential
Funding is paid out in three stages:
Matching funds for the primaries
A block grant for the conventions
A further block grant for the general
Those who decline matching funds are free
from any spending limits (although they are still bound by contribution
limits including a $2,000 limit from each individual).
To qualify for funds, candidates need to
show they are viable by raising at least $100,000 in individual
donations, including at least $5,000 from 20 different states.
Candidates who fail to receive at least
10% of the popular vote in two successive primary elections lose their
eligibility for continued payments, unless and until they receive at
least 20% of the vote in a later primary.
The two major parties - the Democrats and
Republicans - are automatically entitled to a public grant to pay for
the cost of conventions. Minor parties are also entitled to a smaller
subsidy in proportion to the vote they received. New parties are not
An imprecise term used most often to describe those involved in the
framing and adoption of the constitution at the Philadelphia Convention
The convention brought together 55
delegates from what were then the 13 states.
Their decisions and the constitution they
drew up laid the groundwork for the country's political system as it is
The term is sometimes also used to
include influential figures in the struggle for independence and those
who fought the Revolutionary War.
"Front-loading" describes the tendency, which has become apparent in
recent years, for states to move their primaries and caucuses forward,
in an attempt to be among the first states holding a nominating contest.
State authorities believe that coming at
the front of the queue increases their influence on the nomination
process. However, if too many states hold their contests in a short
space of time, critics argue, candidates are unable to connect with
voters in each individual state.
A side-effect is that the process starts
earlier, and is drawn out over a longer period.
In 2008, both major parties attempted to
crack down on front-loading by ruling that only certain states were
allowed to hold contests before 5 February, and that any state that
broke the rules was to have its convention delegation either taken away
(the Democratic penalty) or halved (the Republican punishment).
Each of the 50 US states has a governor, who - as the state's chief
administrator - is responsible for the effective and efficient workings
of the state's various departments.
A governor's term of office lasts for
four years. The number of times a governor can be re-elected varies from
state to state.
Grand Old Party (GOP)
The traditional nickname for the Republican Party widely used in
American political reporting.
The party's official history traces the
term back to the late 19th Century citing an article in the Boston Post
headlined "The GOP Doomed."
The party website suggests the term Grand
Old Party may have evolved from the term used to refer to British Prime
Minister William Gladstone - the GOM or the Grand Old Man.
In Richard Nixon's 1964 presidential campaign the acronym
was used briefly as the basis for the slogan the "Go-Party", but by the
late 1970s it had become firmly associated with the term Grand Old Party
as it is today.
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