Midterm elections glossary: From purple state to beltway – the terms you need to know to understand American politics

The midterms take place today

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 05 November 2018 22:18 GMT
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With the 2018 midterm elections taking place today, the casual reader may be coming across some strange terms in the American political lexicon.

For anyone confused by reports on the battle between Democrats and Republicans to control Congress, The Independent has compiled a handy list of some common terms.

Here are some of the most common used terms, and what they mean.

Battleground State: A state is considered a battleground state if its electorate is split relatively evenly between Republicans and Democrats, making state-wide races especially competitive and hard to predict. Similarly, a battleground district would have the same characteristics, but at the district level divvied up within states.

Bellwether State: A bellwether state is one that has historically indicted the way in which the country will be voting — in this year’s midterms, that means the state that will likely vote for the party that retains or gains control of Congress. The states are often considered to be a microcosm of the country as a whole.

Beltway: The Beltway refers to the Washington, DC area. Generally speaking, the term is used to note that an issue or concern is one that is brought up only in Washington and perhaps not of great importance to voters across America. The term is also used to knock politicians thought to be out of touch with regular Americans.

Bill of Rights: The bill of rights is the collective term for the first 10 amendments of the US Constitution. They include some of the most popular and notable, like the First Amendment and Second Amendment.

The Bill of Rights was added after the original Constitution, in part to protect individuals in the country.

Blue State: A blue state is one that generally votes Democrat, and generally has a Democrat currently in statewide office.

Red State: A red state is one that generally votes Republican, and generally has a Republican currently in statewide office.

Purple State: A purple state is one that has a good mix of Republicans and Democrats, and has historically voted for both parties.

House of Representatives: The House of Representatives is one of two chambers in the US Congress, and is made up of 435 voting members. Representatives are divvied up between states based on population, and Republicans currently control the legislative body.

Senate: The Senate is one of two chambers in the US Congress, and is made up of 100 voting members. Each of the 50 states has two states, regardless of population. Gaffe: A gaffe is a slip-up, or verbal error, uttered by a politician.

House Majority/Minority Leader: These are technically the leaders of the two parties in the House (although the House majority leader is technically second to the speaker of the House). They generally devise strategy for their parties in the House.

Independent: An independent is a politician who does not belong to the Republican or Democratic Parties. They will sometimes work alongside one those parties, though, while in Congress.

Political Action Committee (Pac): These are legal organisations formed to promote a candidate’s views on issues. These organisations are allowed to raise and spend money to elect or defeat a candidate, but the total people are allowed to donate to pacs is restricted by the Federal Election Commission. Pacs are also allowed to give limited amounts to national party committees, to a candidate’s committee, and to other pacs.

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SuperPAC: SuperPacs are organisations that are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from corporations, individuals, and unions to spend in support or against a candidate. SuperPacs were upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision.

Pro-choice: Pro-choice refers to the idea that women should be allowed to choose to have an abortion, and the belief that safe and affordable abortion access should be a right of individuals in America.

Pro-life: Pro-life refers to the idea that abortion should be highly restricted if not outright illegal in America.

Roe v Wade: Roe v Wade refers to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that barred states from banning abortion. The ruling essentially found that a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy was a constitutionally protected right under the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision is thought to be under fire recently as Republicans — often the more pro-life of the two parties — have made gains and footholds in federal offices.

Second Amendment: The Second Amendment ensures an individuals right to keep and bear arms in the United States. The amendment has become highly controversial, especially following recent high profile mass shootings in the country. Gun control advocates have argued that the Second Amendment is not a blanket right allowing access to any firearms under any circumstances, while gun control advocates say that the amendment shows they have a constitutional right to firearm possession and ownership free of governmental control.

Senate Majority/Minority Leader: These are the leaders of the two parties in the Senate. The Senate majority leader holds wide power to determine what legislation goes to the floor for a vote.

Speaker of the House: The speaker of the House is the top member of the House of Representatives, and generally guides overall legislative priorities in the body. The speaker is also the third in line of succession to become president if something happens to both the president and vice president.

Stump Speech: A stump speech is a candidate’s go-to speech on the road, and generally encompasses their policy platform as well as general demeanor. Candidates can have multiple versions of their stump speech tailored for different audiences and attitudes.

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