US presidential election 2020 jargon: 34 terms you’ll hear on results night and their meanings - from ‘Electoral College’ to ‘Gerrymandering’

For anyone following the U.S. election in the UK, there are a number of key terms used when discussing the Presidential election. Here, we have listed each term and explained what they really mean

With the US election taking place in just four days’ time, you may be gearing up for an all-nighter to watch the American map light up Blue and Red.

If you’ve been following along this far, you may be confused by a number of American terms not shared in UK politics.

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Here, we have listed terms you can expect to hear of election night and what they refer to.

Absentee ballot

US citizens can receive an absentee ballot by email, fax, or internet download, depending on the state they are eligible to vote in.

This style of ballot allows eligible voters to cast their vote if unable to attend their precinct on election day to vote.


A change to the Constitution.

Battleground state

Similar to a swing state, these states usually have a larger electorate, split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans, therefore presidential candidates will spend a larger amount of time and money campaigning there.

Usually, battleground states include Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.


A bellwether district or state usually serves as an indicator of a larger trend across the US or specific state.

If a bellwether district goes to Republicans or Democrats, so might many other districts, for example.

Blue State

A state where people tend to vote for the Democratic Party.


A gathering of political leaders to make decisions, such as which candidate to nominate for an office, setting policy, or developing a strategy.


The branch of the US government which legislates and drafts new laws in line with the American Constitution.

The Congress is made up of the two elected houses - the House of Representatives with 435 members, and the 100-member Senate.

A congressional period lasts two years (or sessions) and begins at noon on 3 January of odd-numbered years.

Congress also has the power to oversee federal agencies, approve and impeach federal officials including the president and vice-president, declare war, sign and ratify treaties, and increase and decrease taxes and print money.

District (Ward)

A geographical area that an elected official serves or represents.

Election Fraud/Voter Fraud

Criminal activity including bribery, tampering with ballots and other illegal ways to interfere with the result such as voter impersonation and vote buying, which affects the number of votes per citizen or the ability of a US citizen to authentically cast their vote.

Electoral College/Electoral Vote

The electoral vote decides who will become president and vice president.

The number of electors from each state mirrors the population within the state.

Each state has a minimum of three, while larger states have more and California, the largest, has 55.

Electors are chosen by the electorate, they then cast their vote in the electoral college, in line with the party they represent, to elect the new president.

Each elector represents one electoral vote, and the presidential candidate needs to gain a majority of the votes - 270 or more - to win the presidency.

The House of Representatives

The House of Representatives has 425 elected members and is the larger of the two houses which make up the congress.

Congressmen and Congresswomen serve two-year terms and the presiding member, the speaker of the house, is elected by a majority vote of members of the House at the beginning of each new Congress.

In theory, this should be the leader of the majority party.

House members each represent approximately half-a-million citizens in their districts.

Districts within each state are decided each decade, allocated based on the federal census.


The process of removing a high-level government official such as a president, vice president, federal judge, representative or senator.

The House of Representatives investigates and brings impeachment charges upon federal-level elected members.

The Senate holds the impeachment trial. Some states and cities use impeachment to remove governors, mayors, or other state or local elected officials.


The event during which the elected president takes office. The ceremony usually involves the swearing-in of the newly-elected president, as well as speeches, and celebrations.

This usually takes place some months following election day.


The person currently in a particular job or political office.


The practice of drawing political constituency maps to increase a particular candidate's or party's advantage.

The redrawing of maps takes place once a decade and the leading party has the advantage of mapping out state districts to serve their party in a subsequent election.

Effectively, through statistical data analysis, politicians choose their voters, rather than voters choosing their politicians by enhancing their electoral strength with carefully allocated districts.


The elected official of a state who is responsible for the effective and efficient workings of its government. There is no definitive number of times a governor can run for office, with each term lasting four years.


Left wing politics defines those who have liberal views. In turn, they tend to support progressive reforms such as social and economic equality - this may include higher taxes and nationalised services.

Far left views are often attributed to beliefs of socialism, or more extreme - communism.


A person hired to represent the interests of a company, industry, political cause or foreign government in the Congress, regulatory agencies or other parts of the US government.

Lobbyists may be previous congressmen or women who now work for specific companies, pressurising or informing the government.


A health insurance programme which was intended to provide healthcare for lower income and disabled citizens who could not afford private health insurance.

It was somewhat nationally owned, funded jointly by states and the federal government and administered at the state level.

States decided their level of coverage and who is eligible following broad federal guidelines.


The national health insurance programme designed to help protect people aged 65 and over from the high costs of healthcare.

It also provides coverage for patients with permanent kidney failure and people with certain disabilities.

Oval Office

The presidential office, located in the West Wing of the White House.

The Oval Office can be used to mean the presidency itself.

Primary Election

An election held to choose which of a party's candidates will be nominated for the general election. In an open primary, all voters can vote for any candidate they prefer, regardless of the voter’s or candidate's party affiliation. In a closed primary, voters can only vote for a candidate from the party that the voter belongs to.

Purple state

Another term for a swing state. A state which could vote Democratic or Republican.

These states are less predictable and often receive more campaigning and money from presidential candidates.

Recall election

A recall election cannot take place at a federal level, therefore sitting presidents and vice presidents, senators, representatives and judges can only be impeached.

This type of election allows voters to choose whether to remove an elected official from office before the end of the official's term.

Rules on the number of voters needed and the officials who can be recalled are different from state to state.


Counting the votes again because of a suspected error in totaling them the first time.

Red state

A state where people tend to vote for the Republican Party.

Right wing

People or groups defined as right wing share conservative views. Generally they are more individualistic in their approach, preserving existing conditions and institutions which may limit those who benefit from them.

The far right can refer to more extreme ideologies such as oppression and fascism.

Running mate

This is the person who runs as the vice or lieutenant governor alongside a governor candidate.


The upper house of Congress, although members of the other house - the House of Representatives - traditionally regard it as an 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 or she does not serve on any committees and is restricted to voting only in the event of a tie.

Speaker of the House

The leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives - not to be confused with the House Majority Leader.

The Speaker of the House must lead his or her party in the House, as well as controlling debate and setting the legislative agenda.

Swing seat

Similar to a battleground state or seat, this is an area where both candidates have a strong chance of winning and can swing back and forth between the parties.


The set length of time for someone to serve in an elected office. The president can be in office for four years and can be elected twice.

Representatives serve two years and Senators serve six years.


The governor candidate and their running mate make up a "ticket."


The presiding officer of the US Senate and the person who assumes the office of the president in the event of the resignation, removal, incapacitation or death of the incumbent president.

The vice-president only casts a vote in the Senate in the event of a tie.