How to Talk About Elections in English

Election is a core element in today’s democratic society. The dictionary meaning of the word is:

“a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office.”

The basics of the process actually date back to ancient Greece and Rome but have changed quite a lot to reach their current form.

With the presidential election taking place in the United States, it's a good time to talk about special words and phrases that would help you to understand English coverage of the event. Read on for some vocabulary that will help you learn to talk about and understand elections in English.

candidate
A person who seeks or is nominated for an office. In any election, there is a minimum of 2 candidates facing off against each other.

“The Democratic party’s candidate is the current president, Barack Obama.”

party
A political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy. Like the Torys in the UK or the Republicans in the US.

"The Conservative party had their annual meeting the last weekend.”

campaign (pronounced: kæmˈpeɪn)
When people act together to try to get a candidate elected to a position. It essentially means the process of trying to convince as many people as possible to vote for a certain candidate.

“During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney raised around $10 million by the end of April.”

to cast ballots
The act, process, or method of voting, usually in secret. A ballot itself is the device you use to cast your vote. It can be done with a piece of paper or on a machine.

“Barack Obama casted his ballot in Chicago in a push to secure early voters.”

elector
This term is specific to the United States. An elector is a member of the Electoral College, which formally chooses the President of the United States. This means that the citizens of the US do not vote for the candidates directly, but rather chosen people are doing it for them.

“Voters in each state and the District of Columbia cast ballots selecting electors pledged to presidential and vice presidential candidates.”

presidential debates
In short, these are conversations between the candidates about certain public matters.

Since the 1976 general election, debates between presidential candidates have been a part of U.S. presidential campaigns.

Presidential debates are a modern television age creation. Debates can rarely change the momentum of a campaign, but they can help candidates exploit an opponent's weakness, help deflect attacks and provide a national audience with some new ideas.

coalition
If there's no outright winner in an election, a government can be formed in which several parties cooperate. That is called a coalition.

“Britain’s coalition government is getting fractured.”

lame duck
In U.S. politics, the period between (presidential and congressional) elections in November and the inauguration (see below) of officials early in the following year is commonly called the lame duck period.
A lame duck is an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her term, and especially an official whose successor has already been elected.

“I'm curious as to what will happen in the lame duck session if Obama gets re-elected.”

inauguration (pronounced: ɪˌnɔːɡjəˈreɪʃn)
The ceremonial induction into a position. The event when the elected candidate comes to power.

“The American presidential inauguration occurs every four years and invites a spectacular amount of fanfare.”

term
The amount of time someone is elected for. It is 4 years in the US, 5 years in the UK and 6 years in Venezuela. Each place has its own term rules.

“Can a president serve more than two terms if they are not consecutive?“
(The answer is no, according to US laws.)

After all this I hope you are confident enough to check out some coverage of the US elections and discuss it with your English speaking friends!

For a good overview of this year's US election and the history behind it, see this graphic novel from the Guardian, a newspaper in the UK.

Have you been watching any of the US election coverage? What have you learned? Share it with us in a comment or on our facebook!

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