#190: Advanced English Vocabulary for Elections and Politics

by | Oct 14, 2020 | 12 comments

I know that talking about politics and elections can be a little prickly. The way that a cactus is prickly with those long needles that prick our skin.

You may even have a love/hate relationship with politics, but the truth of it is politics and elections have an enormous impact on our lives. It’s important for us to understand what’s happening around us and be able to participate in conversations as well.

If you live in the United States, then you definitely know we’re in election season. And that means it’s the number one hot topic that everyone is discussing.

Whether you are following the US election or an election where you live, in this lesson today, I want to focus on 20 advanced level vocabulary words so that you understand exactly what you’re reading or hearing in the news. And you can participate in conversations with confidence in English.

Today, you’ll learn the meaning of words like

  • battleground state
  • swing state
  • dog whistle
  • lame duck

Plus, how they relate to politics.

While most of the words on this list today relate to elections that are happening anywhere in the world, there are a few that specifically relate to the US election process.

For that reason, at the beginning of this lesson, I’ve included an overview of how the election process works in the United States.

I hope you’ll find this helpful to you and feel more comfortable discussing this topic with friends, family, and coworkers.

Advanced English Vocabulary on Elections and Politics — Full Transcript

I know that talking about politics and elections can be a little prickly. The way that a cactus is prickly with those long needles that prick our skin.

You may even have a love/hate relationship with politics, but the truth of it is politics and elections have an enormous impact on our lives. It’s important for us to understand what’s happening around us and be able to participate in conversations as well.

If you live in the United States, then you definitely know we’re in election season. And that means it’s the number one hot topic that everyone is discussing.

Whether you are following the US election or an election where you live, in this lesson today, I want to focus on 20 advanced level vocabulary words so that you understand exactly what you’re reading or hearing in the news. And you can participate in conversations with confidence in English.

Today, you’ll learn the meaning of words like

  • battleground state
  • swing state
  • dog whistle
  • lame duck

Plus, how they relate to politics.

While most of the words on this list today relate to elections that are happening anywhere in the world, there are a few that specifically relate to the US election process.

For that reason, at the beginning of this lesson, I’ve included an overview of how the election process works in the United States.

But if you’re not interested in that, if you don’t need an overview of how the election process works in the United States, that’s no problem. You can skip ahead and go directly to the first of our 20 vocabulary words related to elections and politics and English.

All right. As I mentioned, some of the vocabulary in today’s lesson relates specifically to the US election process. And I want to make sure that you have a clear picture of how it works so that you understand all the terms in today’s Confident English lesson. Plus, it will help you understand why you might hear about the importance of States like Florida, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin.

Once we have our final candidates for the US presidential election, here are the steps that we follow:

First, election day is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This year in 2020, that means November 3rd is our election day.

People in every state, across the country vote for their choice of a president and vice president. And this is where it gets a little tricky.

Those votes from across the country do not go directly to a president or vice-presidential candidate.

Instead when people in a particular state vote like in Florida, they are actually voting for a group of people called electors. The electors make up what we call the electoral college. Now that isn’t a college where people go to study and that makes it a little bit confusing. The electoral college is a body or a group of electors, and they form every four years to elect our president and vice president.

So when everyone in a state like Florida votes, at the end of that process, all of the votes are counted. And in the end, the Florida electors will vote for the president and vice president who received the majority of votes from people inside that state.

Now, before I continue, let’s pause here for a moment because every state has a different number of electors. Ultimately, the number of electors that a state has is based on its population.

So in Florida, there are 29 electors. What that means is after all the votes in Florida are counted, those 29 electors will vote for the president and vice president who received the majority in that election.

The same is true in California. Once every eligible voter in California has voted and those votes are counted, the electors in California will vote for the president and vice president who won the majority.

In California, there are 55 electors. So that means the winning candidate in California gets 55 votes from California.

The same is true in Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and every state in the nation. There are just two states that do not follow that exact process. Nebraska and Maine have their own rules for how they use their electoral votes.

But in the end, the president and vice president with the most electoral votes is the winner in the US presidential election.

And that’s why every state is so important in the US election process. And it’s why you hear some states talked about more often (we’ll come back to that in just a moment when we begin reviewing our list of 20 advanced-level vocabulary words on politics and elections).

So with that, let’s go ahead and dive in. The first word on our list today is the word poll. And this one is tricky because it has two different meanings.

The first meaning of poll is the actual process of voting. This is when you physically go to your voting location and vote for your candidates. You’ll often hear the collocation going to the polls. For example, on November 3rd, a majority of voters will be going to the polls.

The second meaning of the word poll is a survey or record of people’s opinions or who they plan to vote for. You might hear statistics like 52% of Americans support candidate A while 46% of Americans support candidate B.

The second word on our list today is the ballot.

A ballot is the process of voting in writing and in secret, it’s also the actual piece of paper on which someone marks their vote. So if you vote in person, if you go to the polls, you will receive a ballot, a piece of paper. And that is what you mark your vote on.

The third term on our list today is voter fraud.

This is a broad general term that relates to any illegal activity in the election and voting process.

For example, if someone pretends to be someone else when voting or if someone pays another person to vote for a specific candidate, that’s voter fraud. If an individual or a group tries to suppress or intimidate voters, which we’ll talk more about in a moment, that is also voter fraud.

If voter fraud is present in an election, the individual or group who is guilty of voter fraud may be accused of stealing an election.

Now for term number four, let’s go back to that word suppression. Voter suppression.

This is one form or a type of voter fraud of illegal activity. To suppress means to prevent someone from taking action or to forcibly put an end to something.

So voter suppression is an illegal effort to prevent certain individuals or groups from voting in the United States.

For example, there have historically been efforts to suppress black voters.

A similar term is voter intimidation.

And again, this is a form of voter fraud or illegal activity. To intimidate means to threaten or frighten someone.

By law, voter intimidation is any effort to intimidate, threaten, or frighten voters and interfere with the election process. Some examples of voter intimidation include blocking people from going to the polls, which means you physically make it impossible for them to go vote. It also includes threatening anyone who is voting or yelling at people while they’re in line waiting to go vote.

Term number six has definitely become an important one in elections in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This term is mail-in voting or vote by mail.

This is the process in which states will mail ballots to eligible voters in that state voters can then complete that ballot at home and send it back in the mail.

A similar term is absentee voting.

This is a form of voting by mail. The process of absentee voting in the United States actually began in the 1860s during the civil war when soldiers voted from the battlefield.

As I mentioned, vote by mail and absentee voting are very similar, but there’s one important distinction. States that participate in vote by mail, and not all states do, will automatically send ballots in the mail to every eligible voter in that state. And individuals have the option of completing their mail-in ballot, or they can physically go to the polls on election day.

Absentee voting requires that someone request an absentee ballot. They must have some reason or excuse to ask for a ballot by mail.

Before we go on to term number eight, I’m going to pause here because I’m curious if you have mail-in voting or absentee voting in elections where you live.

If you do, tell me about it. Take this opportunity to use some of the language that you’re learning in this lesson today and share your comments, your experiences in the comments, just below the video.

And now let’s go on to term number eight, swing voters.

If you think about a swing that a child plays on in a park, it goes back and forth. A swing voter is someone who does not always vote for just one party — they go back and forth.

Swing voters are very hard to predict. It’s hard to know who they will vote for in any given election. And as a result, they become very important to the ultimate winner in the election process.

Now, continuing with that idea of a swing going back and forth, we come to some of the terms where understanding the US election process is very important.

The ninth word on our list is a swing state.

Remember we talked about every state has electors and those electors vote for the candidate who won the majority vote in their state? So Florida’s 29 electors will vote for the winner of their state. California’s 55 electors will vote for the winner in their state.

Just like individuals, some states historically vote for the same party.

For example, in California, historically the majority vote goes for the democratic candidate. And as a result, those electoral votes go for that democratic candidate.

However, there are some states who just like swing voters change from one election to another. Sometimes the majority vote goes for the Republican candidate. Sometimes it goes for the Democratic candidate. And just like with swing voters, those states are very difficult to predict and again, become essential to the outcome of the election.

That’s why, if you’re keeping up with the US election, you’ll hear about some states and how important they are to the election process.

A common synonym or alternative to swing state is a battleground state.

These are the states for which the presidential candidates are battling or fighting to gain the majority of voters.

If you’re reading news about the US election, you might hear about Pennsylvania being a battleground state, or Wisconsin being a battleground state.

All right, now that we understand those US-based terms about politics and election, let’s move on in our list.

Term number 11 is partisan politics.

Generally speaking, a partisan is anyone who passionately and unquestionably supports a particular person or political group in the United States.

When someone uses that term partisan politics, they’re typically talking about someone who supports just one political party and refuses to support any person or policy from the other side.

For example, if one party introduces a new policy or a new law, they don’t support it because it doesn’t come from their party.

The opposite of this is bipartisan support. If you hear about a new policy and you hear that it has bipartisan support, it means it has supporters from both the Republican and the Democratic party in the United States.

Term number 12 is definitely a fun one to know, but it has a very negative meaning. The term is mudslinging.

Imagine going outside after a long, hard rain and the earth is completely muddy. And then you pick up a handful of mud and throw it at someone else. Mudslinging.

Of course, when we do that literally someone is just covered in disgusting mud.

When we use that term figuratively, what it means is to use insults or accusations with the goal of damaging your opponent’s reputation. I think we all know no matter where we live in the world, that mudslinging happens often in politics, unfortunately.

Another interesting word that we hear when it comes to how people talk about a political candidate or particular policies is spin.

You might hear the terms, media spin, or political spin.

To spin physically means to go in circles very fast.

But when we use this figuratively with media or politics, spin is the way that someone deliberately or carefully uses words in a way to control a message.

It is a form of manipulation and a way of influencing how people understand what’s happening again.

In 2020, many of us have experienced political spin on the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain politicians or political parties may be deliberately using words in a way to influence or manipulate how the public understands what’s happening.

Similar to spin are the terms, disinformation and misinformation.

These two words are very similar, but there is a distinction or difference between them. And that difference is the intent or the purpose behind the information.

Misinformation is any false information that is shared, and it may be shared by accident. For example, if you are sharing data in a meeting with your clients, some of that data may be incorrect, but you don’t know that it’s incorrect. And as a result, you’re sharing information that isn’t accurate, but you’re not doing it on purpose.

Disinformation is when information that is false is shared on purpose again, to manipulate information for political purposes or for propaganda.

When I talked about that word spin, I mentioned that many of us in 2020 have read or heard media spin or political spin on the COVID-19 pandemic. And the same is true with misinformation and disinformation. At times maybe we’ve received information that isn’t accurate, but we didn’t have all the information. It was not intentional.

Some of us have also received disinformation; information that was wrong on purpose for some sort of political intent.

All right, I know that this list today is a long list, but again, I really want you to know exactly what you’re reading and hearing about in the news. And I also want you to be able to participate in conversations where you live on elections and politics. So we have just a few more to go for today.

The next one, number 15 is the peaceful transfer of power.

This collocation and term is one of the foundations of democracy. It is the concept of one political party or leader peacefully transferring power to a newly elected leader or party.

In the United States since 1797, every president has peacefully transferred power to the next.

Number 16 on our list is a lame duck.

This one’s a strange one. Sometimes when you’re reading or listening to the news about a president, you might hear lame-duck president or lame-duck term.

In politics, a lame duck is someone who is weakened or who has lost power or someone who will lose power soon because someone else was elected.

In the United States, our presidential elections always happen in November, but the peaceful transference of power doesn’t happen until January. So there is a period of time where a president may be referred to as a lame-duck president.

At the time that I’m recording this video, we haven’t had our election yet. So you may not hear that word a lot right now, but it could happen after we find out the results of the November 2020 election.

All right, the next one on our list is a landslide victory.

A landslide is the fast or rapid movement of rocks and earth falling. For example, if something unexpectedly causes rocks or mud to fall down a mountain.

A landslide victory in politics is when a political candidate or party wins by an overwhelming majority of voters. There’s no question who won.

The opposite of that is a slim majority. And that’s when the number of votes between the candidates is very close.

Number 18 on our list is a dog whistle.

This one is an odd one to associate with politics. Literally, a dog whistle is a whistle that only dogs can hear. Dogs can hear or detect sounds at much higher frequencies than humans can.

However, in its figurative meaning, and when we use it in politics, a dog whistle is some kind of coded message or a phrase that only some groups of people will know and understand.

An example of how to use this in a sentence would be: “There’s concern that the candidate’s message was a dog whistle to some partisan groups.”

Again, the idea that there was a message given to some groups of people that not everyone understood.

We have just two more words on our list for vocabulary on elections and politics. So let’s finish up and then I’ve got a challenge for you.

The next one is gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulative communication that causes other people to question reality or to question what is true. The purpose of gaslighting is to maintain or to gain more power.

Gaslighting is something that is often done slowly over time so that people are not aware that it’s happening. They’re not aware that they’re beginning to question what is real or what is true.

An example of gaslighting would be when someone denies that they said something, even though you have concrete proof that they did, for example, maybe it’s in a recording. That constant denial may result in someone questioning the truth or questioning the recorded proof that they have.

Gaslighting is certainly something that is used in propaganda and something to be very careful about.

And with that, the last and final term on our list doesn’t directly relate to all politics or elections, but it’s a word that one of my students asked me about because it’s something she’s reading a lot in the news about the US elections. And that term is death toll.

A death toll is the number of deaths resulting from a specific cause, for example, a natural disaster or a battle.

After an earthquake or a hurricane, you may hear news stations talk about the death toll as a result of that natural disaster. And over time, that number may increase.

For many of us around the world, in 2020, the COVID-19 death toll has been an important part of our conversations and political discussions as well.

And with that, you have a full list of 20 advanced level vocabulary words related to elections and politics in English.

I know this was a long list and there’s a lot of difficult vocabulary here.

As always, I recommend that you start with just two or three new words, get a hundred percent familiar with them, practice using them before you try to learn the full list.

If you want to get all my recommendations for how to learn and remember new vocabulary, I recommend that you watch my lesson on that topic.

After you’ve done that, I want you to practice what you’ve learned today. There may be two or three words that you learned today that you want to try using.

You can share with me in the comments below this video, you can talk about what you’ve learned in relation to the US elections.

You can talk about how elections work, where you live, and again, try using some of the vocabulary from this list. With that, thank you so much for joining me.

I hope that this was helpful to you and I look forward to seeing you next time for your Confident English lesson.

~Annemarie

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