Take our US elections English vocabulary quiz and learn the words you need to join in discussions about the US elections.
As well as the voting process, we’ll explain:
– the race metaphor
– terms for the political parties
– blue, red and purple states
– who can and can’t vote
– some effects of COVID-19
– common collocations like hold an election and going to the polls
– the primaries
– words like platform, campaign, and polls
– mail-in, absentee and provisional ballots
We’re expecting a lot of controversy in the 2020 election, so we plan to go deeper in a future video and look at English vocabulary about some of the issues.
US elections English vocabulary quiz
It’s election season in the US so we’re going look at words that will be in the news.
So you can follow what’s happening and join in the discussions.
And we think that you might know a lot about American elections already. So we’re having a quiz!
Let’s start with a really easy question. Who is the president of the US?
And also the vice president?
Well the president is Donald Trump and his vice president is Mike Pence. And Donald Trump is the incumbent, the person who currently holds the office.
And he and Pence are running for president and vice president again. Running.
We often use the metaphor of racing when we talk about elections.
We call the competition an election race.
And we talk about running mates, like friends who run together. Trump and Pence are running mates.
And erm …
Who are they running against?
Yes. So that’s your next question.
Who are their opponents? They’re running against Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Next question, what political parties do they belong to?
Trump and Pence are Republicans. Biden and Harris are Democrats. Sometimes you’ll hear the Republican party called the GOP. What does that stand for?
Grand old party. And it’s just a nickname for the…
Ok we have a picture question now. What do these symbols represent?
The elephant represents the Republican Party and the Donkey represents the Democratic Party.
Now two other useful terms: right-wing and left-wing.
Generally speaking, the Republican party is right-wing and they’re strongly in favour of the capitalist system.
And Democrats are left-wing and in favor of social change.
And in the US, you also hear liberal and progressive.
Yes, it’s like left-wing.
OK so there are two big political parties, but sometimes there are third parties as well.
Right sometimes there are candidates from the Green Party for example, oh and Kayne West is running.
Yeah, but just in some states. Kayne is running as an independent candidate but there’s another political party. It’s the third largest party. Perhaps you know it?
It’s the Libertarian Party.
In the US Libertarians are very interested in political freedom.
They’re often skeptical of government and want free-market capitalism.
And next we should talk about colours. So you have some terms for the states in the US. You have red states. You have blue states. And you have purple states. Red states are…
Blue states are…
And the purple states are swing states. They move between always voting Democrat and always voting Republican.
We have some really interesting times ahead because many of the red states appear to be turning blue in this election. We’re looking at states like Arizona and even Texas which has been reliably red for decades. They could be turning blue.
Notice what Jay just did there? Instead of using the words democrat and republican, he said blue and red.
It’s just a quick way to describe how states vote.
Americans do it a lot. So how can you remember which colour is which party?
If you have a good way tell us in the comments. OK, next question?
Who can vote in a US election? For example, can I vote? I’m British so I can’t vote in this election because I’m not an American citizen. But in order to vote you have to be an American citizen, and also a registered voter. Right?
I am a registered voter. I’m also over 18 which you have to be to vote in an American election.
OK, now what about felons?
A felon is a person who has committed a serious crime.
Can they vote? And what about ex-felons, so people who went to prison but have now served their time and come out.
It varies from state to state, but in many states it’s difficult for ex-felons to vote.
It’s a controversial issue.
Some people argue that if you’ve served your time in jail or completed your probation, you should automatically be able to vote again.
And other people argue that you broke the law. So you showed poor judgement, and so you should lose the right to vote for an unspecified period of time.
Civil rights organizations complain that this means the laws in some states systematically discriminate against black voters.
We’ve made another vocabulary video about racism that you can see here. But another issue is not everyone is registered to vote. Where do you register to vote, Jay?
Many people decide not to register because, certainly in Philadelphia it’s the case that, jury selection comes from the list of people who are registered to vote!
A jury is a group of people, it’s twelve, right?
And they listen to a case in court and decide if someone is guilty of a crime. Or not.
And it takes up your time, you can’t say no to jury duty unless you have some very specific reasons, and people don’t want to spend that time so they don’t register to vote.
Around election season, or before it, you find people normally in the streets who are just stopping you and saying, ‘Are you registered to vote?’ because they want to get out the votes, both democratic and republican, it doesn’t matter. They want people to vote.
But not this year.
COVID-19 has really reduced the effort to get out the vote.
Notice this phrase. To get out the vote. You’ll hear it in the news a lot on election day.
It means to encourage people to vote in an election.
OK, next question. When will they hold the presential election?
Notice she said ‘hold’.
Hold means have in that context. Like you have an election, you hold an election. Hold is just a little more… a little more formal?
And you could hold meetings. You can hold competitions, you can hold….
So when will this year’s election be held?
It’s usually the first Tuesday in November.
Now that’s the presidential election, but before that, you held another election.
And that’s another question. It’s a picture question again.
Who are all these people and what do they have in common?
If you can name them, we’ll be super impressed.
They were the last candidates to drop out of this year’s democratic presidential primary election. So another question. What’s a primary election?
Primary elections are where you select the candidates of a specific political party.
So in the primaries this year, Republicans selected Donald Trump and Democrats selected Joe Biden.
But this is a curious thing about American elections. When you register to vote, you actually name the party that you’re going to vote for. Sometimes. You don’t have to. You can say ‘I’m an independent’. But most people would say I’m a Republican or I’m a Democrat. And that’s strange to me ‘cause in the UK we don’t say which party we want to vote for.
Well in most states you have to be a member of a political party to vote in primary elections. If you want to pick a candidate, you have to state your party.
Ah, so that’s why the primary… so that’s why the registration process works like that.
Exactly. But it also means that independent voters can’t pick any of those candidates.
Ah, so if you’re an independent, you don’t get to choose who the candidates will be.
In most states, that’s correct.
OK. We can’t choose who the candidates are in the UK either.
Well, your parties do that?
There are open primaries and closed primaries, aren’t there?
Right. Open primaries allow people from either political party to vote in the other party’s primary and select a candidate. And it also allows independents to pick a candidate from one party or the other.
So when is there an open primary and when is there a closed one?
It depends on each state.
OK, and you’re saying most states hold closed primaries.
Another important question. Or two questions. How often do Americans hold presidential elections? And how many times can someone be elected president?
We hold them every four years, and you can only hold the office of President twice.
So it’s a maximum of eight years.
How do you decide who you want to vote for?
Well you look at what they stand for, and often what they stand for is written into the party’s platform.
Ah, do you know what a platform is?
It’s a statement of their aims and goals. It tells you what they’ll do if they get into power.
We can say platform in British English too, but often we’ll call it a manifesto.
We sometimes say that too.
And the party accepts the platform at their convention. They hold the convention every four years before the presidential election.
OK, the conventions were very different this year, weren’t they?
Right, the conventions were virtual this year because of COVID-19, and while the Democrats have a platform, the Republicans decided not to have one.
That must be the first time ever.
The first time in anybody’s memory. Donald Trump decided that he was the platform.
It’s been an unusual campaign this year.
Campaign. It can be a noun or a verb. A political campaign.
It’s the series of actions candidates take to try to get elected.
Holding rallies and debates.
Phoning voters, mailing fliers, advertisements.
OK another question. This November Americans are going to the polls. What does ‘going to the polls?’ mean?
It just means going to vote. And polls are the places we go.
So where do you go to vote normally?
Oh the place I go to vote is right around the corner.
OK. Is it in a school because sometimes they use local schools and turn them into, they call them polling stations or polling places.
The polling place I go to is in the lobby of an apartment building.
OK. Poll is another word that can be a noun or a verb.
It can be the process of finding out what people think, so an opinion poll, for example. It’s like a survey.
You ask lots of people the same questions and record the results.
We’ll be following the polls closely this election.
And erm, what’s the experience of going in to vote like? Who works… who controls it? Who runs it?
Ah, that’s very interesting. It is run by poll watchers. There’s a Democratic poll watcher and Republican poll watcher and there are a number of poll workers who can be of either party. And when you walk in they ask you what your last name begins with, what letter. And they have a file card box. They pull your file out. They find you in a big book, which has your signature in it. And you have to sign a card with a signature that matches the one they have in the book. And once you’ve done that and they accept your signature, then you are assigned to a voting booth.
OK, so that’s another question. What’s a voting booth?
Well, here in Philadelphia, a voting booth is an enclosed spaced with a curtain.
OK, now the reason why it has curtains on it is ‘cause nobody should see you voting. Is that right?
When you go in you don’t just vote for the president and vice president, do you.
No, you have a whole slate, a slate it’s called, of candidates. It’s a list, and also ballot questions.
Another question. What’s a ballot?
And what are ballot questions?
A ballot is a vote. Yeah?
And there are ballot questions such as…?
Is it OK for the city to borrow more money to pay for new homes for the homeless?
OK. Is it… Should marijuana be legalized?
Do you want me to answer that question?
No, I mean that’s… But that has been a ballot question in lots of states, hasn’t it.
You can tell us what you think in the comments.
Now what about the other people you’re voting for? What different positions are they running for?
They’re for United States senator, for our local congress person, they’re for the state attorney general, or the state governor, depending upon what year the election is taking place.
So as well as the sort of national politics going on there’s lots of low level local and state politics going on.
You’ll have city council members who are being elected, right here in Philadelphia. There’s a long list of candidates.
And do you vote with a paper ballot or electronically?
Well there are parts of the country where they still have paper ballots, but around here it’s electronic.
I select by pressing the touch screen for each candidate I want, and each ballot question yes or no answer. And when I’m done there’s a button that I press that says ‘cast your vote’.
To cast your vote. It means to vote basically.
And you can also, you’ll also hear, ‘cast your ballot’. Because ballot is another word for vote.
OK, another question. There are mail-in ballots and absentee ballots.
So what are they?
And what’s the difference?
They’re ways we can vote without physically going to the polling station. A mail -in ballot is a ballot you send by mail.
Is it the same as an absentee ballot?
It is exactly the same as an absentee ballot. This year, because of COVID-19, I really don’t want to stand in line at the polling place so I’m going to fill out a mail in ballot.
OK. What kind of people normally has absentee ballots?
Well, people who have a legitimate reason not to be here. They might be traveling. They might be in the military. They might…
They might live abroad.
They might live abroad. They might be, um…
They might be ill too.
I was going to say that. That’s correct.
Or very elderly and unable to get to the polls.
And they might be President of the United States. Donald Trump has voted by mail.
True, for years.
OK, now there’s another kind of ballot – a provisional ballot. Is that the same thing or different?
What do you think? If something’s provisional it means it can be changed in the future.
Well a provisional ballot is something you fill out if you have gone to a polling place that’s not yours, that you’re not registered at.
So you’re registered at the polling place around the corner, but if you went to the one at the school three blocks away…
Well, then they wouldn’t find my name in their book. I would fill out a provisional ballot and then they would certify that I was registered to vote and count it eventually.
Oh right, OK. So it would just take longer to count them, but your vote would be counted.
Does this mean you could you vote twice? Once at the proper place and once at the school?
Not a chance! They cross-check.
Cross-check means checking one document against another
To make sure it’s correct.
So they’d know you tried to vote twice.
Yes. So no matter what you hear, don’t try it. It’s a crime and people have gotten jail sentences for voting twice.
OK. Another question: when is the result of an election announced?
Normally we know late at night on election day. Some votes still need to be counted, but it’s usually clear who the winner is that night.
They say that this year it’s going to take a lot longer to count the votes because a lot more people will be voting by mail.
My guess is it will be several weeks before they have a good idea of who has won the presidential election, which is going to be hard for Americans. They’re used to getting the numbers the night of the election itself.
And normally the candidate who has lost calls the winner and concedes defeat.
Although this year they might not want to do that.
To concede defeat means to admit you’ve lost. OK, another question. When does the candidate that wins take office?
Not until January – usually January 20th. And then there’s a ceremony which they call ….? Do you know? It’s the inauguration.
And that’s where they take an oath.
Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
I, Barack Hussein Obama…
Do solemnly swear…
I, Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear…
That I will execute the office of President of the United Stated faithfully.
That I’ll execute…
The off… Faithfully the office of President of the United States.
The office of President of the United States faithfully.
And will to the best of my ability,
And will to the best of my ability,
preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.
preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.
So help you God.
So help me God.
Congratulations Mr. President.
What was happening there?
The wording of the oath is very precise. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was probably nervous, and he got the words a little wrong. And that led to Obama messing them up too.
They had a private ceremony the next day where they both did it again and to get it exactly right.
We hope this video will help you get words exactly right too.
We’ve looked at basic election vocabulary here.
But we’re expecting a lot of controversy with this election so we plan to go deeper.
We’ll look vocabulary about some of the issues in another video.
So make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
And why not share this video with a friend if you’ve enjoyed it?
Make sure you’ve subscribed to our mailing list so you don’t miss our next video on Us elections English vocabulary.