US ELECTION 2020: the jargon-buster

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POLITICS is full of jargon; weird words and confusing acronyms which politicians, pundits and commentators seem to love (perhaps because it makes them feel part of an ‘in-the-know elite’) but which leave the rest of us scratching our heads.

So here – compiled out of tonight’s events – is a list of the jargon you might have found hard to follow or confusing.


Battleground/Swing States

‘Battleground state’ (also known as ‘swing states’, or ‘tipping point states’) is a term thrown around a lot in the election period, and with good reason; swing states are states where equally Democrat or Republican candidates can gain an advantage and win the vote for the state.

Typically, these states are usually states that have a high amount of electoral college votes (Pennsylvania, Texas, etc), and a history of ‘swinging both ways’ politically. Swing states are not fixed, and new battlegrounds are not an anomaly, though this year has seen states previously thought to be safe become tipping points, such as Texas and Arizona.

Exit Poll

Polls can often provide a picture of the election before it happens, although they may not always be accurate – that is where exit polls come in.

Exit polls are taken from a selection of people who have just left the voting booth, and is used to gain a more accurate picture of the votes cast before they are revealed.

Eligible Voter

The pool of eligible voters doesn’t really ever equal the actual voter turnout, but, with the high turnout of eligible voters this election, some may wonder what the criteria actually are:

  • You must be 18 years of age;
  • You must meet the state standards of residency (this doesn’t always include home ownership);
  • You must meet the state standards of registration (these can vary. North Dakota, for example, doesn’t require registration).

An eligible voter is someone who meets the state’s criteria for being qualified to vote (or reasonably could), regardless of whether they actually do.

Bellwether State

A term less often used but which often leads to confusion, a ‘Bellwether state’ is a state that typically votes one way or another in elections. Much like British ‘heartlands’, these states often stick to either Democrat or Republican.

Examples include California and New York, which are typically Democrat leaning, and Oklahoma and Utah, which mostly lean Republican. Bellwether states aren’t exempt from becoming swing states (Arizona for example), but it is much less common.

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is the collection of the first 10 amendments to the American Constitution, and are the most often touted part of the constitution.

They solidify certain rights of citizens in the US: some of these rights are more typical of the tumultuous period in which the bill was ratified, but others have more scope into the modern day.

These rights include:

  • Protection of the freedoms of speech, religion, the press, of assembly and of peaceful protest.
  • The right to keep and bear arms.
  • Prevention of the government forcing private citizens to provide residency to soldiers.
  • The prevention of undue search and seizure of an individual or private property.
  • Protections of those under legal scrutiny, such as against self-incrimination, double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime), property seizure without just compensation, and imprisonment without due process.
  • The ensuring of a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.
  • An extension of the right to a jury trial.
  • The prevention of excessive bail or ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.
  • The ensuring that listing specific rights doesn’t mean that other rights are forfeit.
  • The government only has the powers the constitution says it does, any other powers are vested in the states and the people.

Rust Belt

The ‘Rust Belt’ is a line of states around the northern US, named as such in the 1970s after economic decline left the heavily manufacturing-based economies of the region in decline, with the name specifically coming from the rusting industrial property that was abandoned.

The states of the rust belt stretch from New York state through Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, touching parts of Wisconsin, Illinois and West Virginia.


Gerrymandering, while somewhat funny sounding, is a serious electoral offence, which can have an effect on the results of states in one way or another.

Essentially, it is the practice of redrawing electoral districts (a practice which is necessary to ensure that the boundaries of electoral districts are in line with populations and where people are living) in a way that favours a specific outcome.

The effects of gerrymandering can be different depending on the demographics of certain areas, and can lead to the suppression of certain voters by dividing votes among more opposing outcome areas.


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