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Civics 101: Election Jargon

Do you know your beltway from your bellwether? Blue dogs from red states?

Air war: The battle between candidates to get as much advertising on television and radio as possible. In recent years, online adverts, which are cheaper and can be more carefully targeted, have grown increasingly important.

Battleground state: A large state with an electorate split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans, so named because candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time and money campaigning there.

Bellwether state: A state that historically tends to vote for the winning candidate, perhaps because it is, demographically, a microcosm of the country as a whole. The term derives from the name for a sheep which shepherds would fit with a bell. By listening out for this sheep, the bellwether, shepherds were able to locate the position of the entire flock.

October surprise: A news event deliberately created or timed or sometimes occurring spontaneously to influence the outcome of an election, particularly one for the U.S. presidency. The reference to the month of October is because the date for national elections is in early November. Therefore, events that take place in late October have greater potential to influence the decisions of prospective voters.

Purple state: Another term for a swing state. A state which could vote Democratic (blue) or Republican (red).

RINO: Republican In Name Only; pejorative term used by conservative members of the Republican Party of the United States to describe Republicans whose political views or actions they consider insufficiently conservative.

Stump speech: A candidate’s routine speech outlining a core campaign message. The phrase stems from the days when candidates would make speeches standing on tree stumps. SuperPac: An independent political action group allowed to accept and spend unlimited amounts of corporate, individual or union cash on behalf of a candidate without disclosing its sources.

Yellow Dog: Yellow Dog Democrat is a name applied to voters in southern states who voted solely for candidates who represented the Democratic Party. These voters would allegedly “vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican”.

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