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 politics.
Democratic voters who defected from their party to vote for Republican
candidate Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections,
largely because of his social and fiscal policies.
The term is also used these days to
denote moderate Democrats who are more conservative than other Democrats
on issues such as national security or immigration.
A state where people tend to vote for the Republican Party.
Roe vs Wade
The landmark 1973 Supreme Court judgement making abortions legal in the
By a vote of seven to two the court
justices ruled that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions.
The court's judgement was based on the decision that a woman's right to
terminate her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in
family matters as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
The decision remains one of the most
controversial ever made by the Supreme Court.
Once a party has selected its presidential nominee, the chosen candidate
picks a political colleague, known as a "running-mate", to run with him
or her in the presidential election and who - if elected - will become
The so-called "right to bear arms" amendment to the US constitution,
ratified in 1791.
The preamble reads: "A well-regulated
militia being necessary to the protection of a free state, the right of
the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." But the
wording is open to interpretation and as a result it has become the
focus of fierce debate between supporters and opponents of gun control.
Gun control opponents such as the
National Rifle Association argue that the amendment gives Americans the
constitutional right to bear arms free from any form of government
control. But advocates of gun control say the amendment was written in
the days of the "Wild West" - which are now long gone - and only
guarantee a right to bear arms as part of a collective militia.
Generally considered to be the upper house of the United States Congress,
although members of the other house - the House of Representatives -
traditionally regard it as a co-equal body.
The Senate has 100 elected members, two
from each state, serving six-year terms with one-third of the seats
coming up for election every two years. The vice-president serves as the
presiding officer over the Senate, although he does not serve on any
committees and is restricted to voting only in the event of a tie.
Senate Majority Leader
The leader of the majority party in the Senate, the Senate Majority
Leader, is the most powerful member of the upper house of Congress.
He or she controls the daily legislative
programme and decides on the time allowed for debates.
Senate Minority Leader
The leader of the minority party in the Senate.
He or she acts as a figurehead for the
minority party in the Senate, articulating its policy positions and
attempting to deliver its legislative priorities.
Member of the Senate, the upper house of Congress. Each US state has two
(a junior and a senior senator, distinguished by length of service). In
2008 the presumptive nominees from both main parties are senators. The
last time a senator was directly elected to the White House was in 1960,
when John F. Kennedy won the presidency.
"Soft money" refers to political funds raised outside the regulations
and laws of the Federal Election Campaign Act, and has been the main
target for advocates of campaign finance reform.
Soft money had to be deposited in
non-federal party accounts - at state level - and could not be used in
connection with federal elections. A series of legal loopholes were used
to get around this technicality, until the practice was banned by the
McCain-Feingold law in 2002.
Many states allow individuals - as well
as companies and unions (who are prohibited from giving directly to
federal candidates) - to give unlimited amounts direct to state parties.
Prior to McCain-Feingold this could be spent on grassroots organising,
advertising and voter drives that indirectly helped all the party's
candidates, including presidential candidates.
In the 2000 presidential campaign, the
two parties raised nearly $500m, mostly from corporations, unions and
Speaker of the House
The House Speaker is the leader of the majority party in the House of
Representatives (not to be confused with the House Majority Leader).
He or she has a dual role as both the
leader of his or her party in the House, and as the presiding officer in
the chamber, with responsibility for controlling debate and setting the
Under the terms of the Presidential
Succession Act of 1947, the speaker is the second in line to the
presidency after the Vice-President.
On the campaign trail, candidates often deliver a generic speech, known
as their "stump speech", outlining their core campaign messages.
The speech can be tailored to suit
specific audiences, and may change as voter's concerns evolve over the
course of the campaign.
The phrase stems from the days when
candidates would make speeches standing on tree stumps. Campaigning
politicians were said to be "on the stump".
Some important votes require more than a simple majority - 50%-plus-one
of those voting - to be carried. This is known as a supermajority.
For example, for an amendment to be added
to the US constitution, it must be approved by a supermajority of two-thirds
in both houses of Congress.
In the Senate, a supermajority of 60% is
required to pass a motion of cloture ending a filibuster.
First established during the 1988 campaign, Super Tuesday refers to a
critical date in the campaign calendar - usually in early March - when a
large number of states hold primary elections.
Originally Texas, Florida, Tennessee,
Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia held
their primaries on Super Tuesday.
The hope was that by holding their votes
on the same day they would increase the influence of the South and
downplay the importance of the earlier New Hampshire primaries and Iowa
caucuses. Since then a number of other states have chosen to hold their
primaries on the same day.
In the 2004 campaign, Super Tuesday falls
on 2 March when 11 different states are holding primaries and two states
are holding caucuses. They include the big states of New York and
California, which send some of highest numbers of delegates to the party
conventions later in the year.
Suspending a campaign
Candidates seeking the Democratic or Republican nomination can suspend
their campaign, if they want to keep open the option of reviving it at a
later date or play the role of power-broker at the party convention.
Candidates who have suspended their
campaigns are able to direct their pledged delegates to support one of
the other candidates for the nomination at the convention.
These delegate-votes may serve as a
bargaining chip, if the candidate wants the promise of a job in the
eventual nominee's possible future administration.
If politicians on the left of the US political spectrum believe they are
being unfairly attacked or smeared, they will often refer to the attacks
as "swift-boating", in reference to the series of anti-John Kerry
adverts aired in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election by a 527
group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
The adverts featured veterans who - like
Mr Kerry - served on naval craft known as "Swift Boats" in Vietnam and
who were critical of Mr Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam War.
Swing states are, in the most simple terms, states in which the outcome
of the vote is uncertain.
The most remarkable swing state is
Missouri, which has backed every successful presidential candidate in
the 20th Century except Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.
It carries only 11 votes in the electoral
college, however, whereas larger states carry more weight, bringing
candidates closer to the 270 votes needed to win.
In 2000, Florida was the crucial swing
state. Its 25 electoral college votes went to George W Bush, with a
margin of victory of just 537 votes. The race in Florida - this time
worth 27 votes - is expected to be extremely close in 2004.
Bush won Arizona, Ohio, Tennessee and
West Virginia narrowly in 2000. These, along with Pennsylvania, Michigan,
Iowa, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Mexico and Minnesota, are expected to be
competitive again in 2004.
Republicans also hope that the largest
state, California, which Al Gore won comfortably in 2000, could also be
competitive for the first time. It has 55 votes in the electoral college.
A candidate who does not belong to one of the two main US political
parties, the Republicans or the Democrats.
Examples of third-party candidates
running in 2008 are independent Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, the
The vice-president's primary duty is to succeed to the presidency in the
event of the resignation, removal or death of the incumbent president.
The vice-president's only other
constitutional responsibility is to preside over the US Senate and to
use his vote as the decider in the event of a tie. This is only
overridden when the Senate is conducting an impeachment trial against
Early vice-presidents had little else in
the way of official responsibilities. In 1885 Woodrow Wilson, who would
later become president, commented that there was "little to be said
about the vice-president... His importance consists in the fact that he
may cease to be vice-president."
In recent years, though, vice-presidents
have taken on an increasingly prominent role managing a range of high-profile
foreign and domestic policy programmes.
An apparatus for use by voters at polling stations that
mechanically records and counts votes.
The machines come in many different forms
and use various mechanisms to record votes, including punch cards,
mechanical levers, optical scanning, and direct electronic recording.
Voting machines have come under intense
scrutiny in recent years, with critics expressing concerns that
electronic machines offer inadequate safeguards against fraud.
One leading company of voting machines,
Diebold Election Systems, became a focus of controversy when it emerged
that its chief executive, Walden O'Dell, had been a fundraiser for the
Republican Party. He left the company (now known as Premier Election
Solutions) in 2005.
An issue that a politician might raise in order to drive a wedge between
different groups within his opponent's supporter base.
An example of a wedge issue might be same-sex
marriage: Republicans might propose to ban it in order to attract voters
who support the Democrats on most economic issues, but who feel strongly
about social issues.
Conversely, Democrats might highlight
their more liberal position on abortion, in an attempt to win over pro-choice
Named after a section of the US Tax code, 527 organisations are
political campaign groups officially unaffiliated to individual parties
or candidates, and therefore not liable for campaign spending
The groups have gained in prominence
since 2002, when the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms were
passed, cracking down on the use of "soft money" in election campaigns.
Examples of 527 groups include the Swift
Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran a series of adverts during the 2004
presidential election attacking John Kerry's Vietnam War record, and
MoveOn.Org's Voter Fund, which targets Republican candidates.
Critics of 527 groups say they are little more than front
organisations allowing official campaigns to run expensive attack
adverts without having to adhere to campaign finance restrictions.
N-P - R-W