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 assembly held every four years at which state delegates from
across the country gather to vote on the party's candidate for president
National conventions now serve mainly to
formalise the will of the majority of voters, expressed during the
earlier state primaries and caucuses. Usually the winner of the greatest
number of delegates from the primary and caucus states will receive the
Nonetheless the processes remain in place
in case the decision over the party's candidate has to be brokered by
the various party leaders. In 1924, a bitterly divided Democratic Party
took no less than 103 ballots to decide on their presidential candidate.
Today the event is largely a platform for
the prospective candidate to present their choice of vice-presidential
running mate and to draw up their policy agenda.
The office traditionally occupied by the president in the West Wing of
the White House.
The room did not exist until the 1930s
when it was added on as part of expansion work to the building. The term
is often used to describe the presidency itself, for example: "This
order comes straight from the Oval Office."
A law enacted in response to the 11 September attacks giving government
agencies new powers to tackle terrorism. The law permits the indefinite
imprisonment without trial of foreigners deemed to be a threat to
The government is not required to provide
detainees with a lawyer or make any announcement regarding the arrest.
The law also extends police powers to wiretap and search a suspect's
These and other tough measures included
in the law have sparked severe criticisms from liberals who argue that
it endangers civil liberties and that its search and detention
provisions are unconstitutional. Critics also say the law was passed
without proper review in a climate of fear - only one senator voted
Supporters of the law argue that these
new powers are essential to prevent the loss of thousands of lives in
another terrorist attack on US soil, and that any loss of rights is
justified in order to protect the basic right to security.
Political Action Committee (PAC)
An organisation formed to promote its members' views on selected issues,
usually by raising money that is then passed on to fund candidates who
support the group's position.
PACs monitor candidates' voting records,
question them on their beliefs on issues of interest to their membership
and pass the collected information along to their contributors.
Because federal law restricts the amount
of money an individual, corporation or union can give to candidates,
PACs have become an important way of funnelling large funds into the
political process and influencing elections.
PACs have their origins in the 1940s as a
response to restrictions on unions using their money to contribute to
federal election campaigns.
The number of PACs exploded following the
campaign funding laws introduced in the 1970s, from 608 in 1974 to 4,009
in 1984. Over the same period contributions from PACs rose from $12.5m
In the run-up to the 2000 general
election, PACs contributed $259.8m to candidates for Congress.
Pork barrel politics
The appropriation of government spending - or "pork" - by a lawmaker for
projects that are likely to benefit his or her constituents or campaign
A state-level election held before a general election to nominate a
party's candidate for office.
Primaries are held for both the
presidential and congressional races, although the exact regulations
governing them and the dates on which they are held vary from state to
state. In some states voters are restricted to choosing candidates only
from the party for which they have registered support.
However 29 states permit "open primaries"
in which a voter may opt to back a candidate regardless of their nominal
affiliation. In this case strategic voting may take place with, for
example, Republicans crossing over to back the perceived weaker
Primaries first emerged as a result of
the so-called "progressive movement" of the early 20th Century, which
argued that leaving the nomination process purely to party bosses was
The term used for those who support a woman's right to choose abortion
if she so wishes.
Supporters of the pro-choice agenda do
not necessarily support abortion itself, only the position that women
are entitled to make the decision themselves. Most pro-choice
politicians will usually seek to avoid the emotive issue of abortion
itself, following instead the libertarian line that government has no
place interfering in what should be a private decision.
The Democratic Party has been broadly
supportive of the pro-choice movement. President Clinton summed up his
party's stance by saying abortions should be "safe, legal and rare".
Republicans, however, have been divided.
The religious right-wing of the party still calls for a total ban on
abortion, while moderates are wary that a strong stance will deter
female voters from the party. Under George W Bush, the right-wingers
have scored an important victory in getting Congress to pass a ban on "partial
The term used to describe politicians and pressure groups opposed to
abortion or allowing women to opt for abortion.
Some American advocates of the pro-life
position believe abortion should only be allowed in cases where a
pregnancy results from rape or incest. Others believe that abortion
should be ruled out altogether.
The 1973 Roe vs Wade verdict by the US
Supreme Court, in effect legalising abortion in the US, is viewed by
pro-life supporters as in contravention of the fundamental rights of the
Another term for swing state. A state which could vote Democratic (blue)
or Republican (red).
The controversial practice where voters are contacted over the telephone
by campaign workers, who talk up their own candidate and rubbish
Push polling became a prominent feature
of the 2000 Republican primary campaign, with candidates George W Bush
and John McCain each accusing the other of descending into increasingly
dirty campaign tactics.
Voters often say they feel deceived by the technique,
particularly as a typical call often begins with the kind of questions
that a normal, independent survey would ask. Some observers say the
technique undermines voter confidence in the electoral system and risks
deterring yet more voters from turning out on polling day.
- N-P -