Key Election Terms for Students

Key Terms for the 2016 Presidential Election.

Every November has an Election Day, set by statute as "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November. " This day is provided for the general elections of federal public officials. General elections of state and local public officials are included on this "first Tuesday after November 1."

To talk about the importance of any federal, state, and local elections, students will need to understand the key terms or vocabulary as part of their civics instruction.

 The Social Studies Frameworks for College, Career, and Civic Life (C3s) outline the requirements teachers must follow to prepare students to participate in a productive constitutional democracy:​

"....[student] civic engagement requires knowledge of the history, principles, and foundations of our American democracy, and the ability to participate in civic and democratic processes. People demonstrate civic engagement when they address public problems individually and collaboratively and when they maintain, strengthen, and improve communities and societies. Thus, civics is, in part, the study of how people participate in governing society (31)."

Preparing for Role as Citizens

Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor echoed the responsibility that teachers have to prepare students for their role as citizens. She has stated:

“Knowledge about our system of government, our rights and responsibilities as citizens, is not passed down through the gene pool. Each generation must be taught and we have work to do!”

To understand any upcoming election, high school students should become familiar with the vocabulary of the electoral process. Teachers should be aware that some language is also cross-disciplinary. For example, "personal appearance" can refer to a person's wardrobe and demeanor, but in the context of an election, it means "an event that a candidate attends in person." 

Vocabulary for Informed Citizenship

Teachers can use an analogy to objects students know to teach some of the vocabulary needed for informed citizenship. For example, the teacher may write on the board, “The candidate stands by his record.” Students may then say what they think the term means. The teacher can then discuss with the students the nature of a candidate's record ("something written down" or "what a person says"). This will help students understand how the context of the word "record" is more specific in an election:

record: a list showing a candidate's or elected official's voting history (often in relation to a specific issue)

Once they understand the meaning of the word, students may then decide to research a candidate's record on websites such as

One way to help students become familiar with this election year vocabulary is to have them use the digital platform Quizlet.

This free software gives teachers and students a variety of modes: specialized learning mode, flashcards, randomly generated tests, and collaboration tools to study words.

Teachers can create, copy, and modify vocabulary lists to suit the needs of their students; not all words need to be included.

98 Vocabulary Terms for the Election Season

Absentee ballot: a mailable paper ballot that is used by voters who will not be able to vote on Election Day (like military personnel stationed overseas). The absentee ballots are mailed before election day and counted on election day.

A: Abstain to B: Ballot

  • Abstain: to refuse to exercise the right to vote.
  • Acceptance speech: speech delivered by a candidate when accepting a political party’s nomination for the national presidential election.
  • Absolute majority: a total of more than 50% of the votes cast.
  • Alternative energy: a source of energy other than fossil fuels, e.g. wind, solar
  • Amendment: a change to the U.S. Constitution or the constitution of a state. Voters must approve any changes to a constitution.
  • Bipartisan: support that is given by members of the two major political parties (i.e.: the Democrats and the Republicans). 
  • Blanket primary: a primary election in which the names of all the candidates for all the parties are on one ballot.
  • Ballot: either in paper form or electronic, the way voters to show their vote preferences or a list of candidates. (ballot box: the box used to hold ballots to be counted).

C: Campaign to Convention

  • Campaign: the process of gathering public support for a candidate.
  • Campaign ad: advertising in support of (or against) a candidate.
  • Campaign finance: money political candidates use for their campaigns.
  • Campaign mailing: flyers, letters, postcards, etc., mailed to citizens to promote a candidate.
  • Campaign website: Internet website devoted to getting an individual elected.
  • Campaign season: a period of time that candidates work to inform the public and gain support before the election.
  • Candidate: the person running for elected office.
  • Cast: to vote for a candidate or issue
  • Caucus: meetings where political party leaders and supporters choose candidates through discussion and consensus.
  • Center: representing those beliefs that are in the middle between conservative and liberal ideals.
  • Citizen: A person who is a legal member of a nation, country, or other organized, self-governing political community, such as any of the fifty U.S. states.
  • Chief Executive: Presidential role involving overseeing the Executive Branch of the government
  • Closed primary: a primary election in which only those voters who have registered as belonging to a particular political party can vote.
  • Coalition: a group of political stakeholders that are working together.
  • Commander-In-Chief: President's role as being the leader of the military
  • Congressional district: an area within a state from which a member of the House of Representatives is elected. There are 435 Congressional districts.
  • Conservative: have a belief or political leaning that favors individuals and businesses—not the government— to find solutions for society’s problems.
  • Constituency: the voters in a district that a legislator represents
  • Contributor/donor: a person or organization that donates money to a candidate’s campaign for office.
  • Consensus: a majority agreement or opinion.
  • Convention: a meeting where a political party chooses its presidential candidate.

D: Delegates to F: Front Runner

  • Delegates: the people who have been chosen to represent each state at a political party’s convention.
  • Democracy: a form of government in which people hold power, either by voting for measures directly or by voting for representatives who vote for them.
  • Electorate: all persons having the right to vote.
  • Election Day: the Tuesday after the first Monday in November; 2016 Election will be held on November 8th.
  • Electoral College: each state has a group of people called electors who cast the actual votes for president. This group of 538 people is chosen by the voters to elect the President of the United States. When people vote for a presidential candidate, they are voting to decide for which candidate the electors in their state will vote. electors: people elected by the voters in a presidential election as members of the electoral college
  • Endorsement: the support or approval for a candidate by a prominent individual.
  • Exit poll: an informal poll taken as people leave the voting booth. Exit polls are used to predict the winners before the polls close.
  • Federal system: a form of government in which power is divided among a central government and state and local governments.
  • Front-runner: a front-runner is a political candidate who looks as though he/she is winning

G: G.O.P. to L: Libertarian

  • G.O.P.: the nickname used for the Republican Party and stands for the Grand Old Party.
  • Inauguration Day: the day a new president and vice president are sworn into office (January 20).
  • Incumbent: a person who already holds an office who is running for reelection
  • independent voter: A person who chooses to register to vote with no party affiliation. The decision to register as an independent voter does not register a voter with any third party although these third parties are often referred to as independent parties.
  • Initiative: a proposed law that voters can place on the ballot in some states. If the initiative is passed, it will become a law or constitutional amendment.
  • Issues: topics on which citizens feel strongly; common examples are immigration, access to health care, finding energy sources, and how to provide quality education.
  • Leadership qualities: personality traits that inspire confidence; include honesty, good communication skills, trustworthiness, commitment, intelligence
  • Left: another word for liberal political views.
  • Liberal: political leaning that favors the government's role in solving society’s problems and a belief that the government should take action for creating solutions.
  • Libertarian: a person who belongs to the Libertarian political party.

M: Majority Party to N: Nonpartisan

  • Majority party: the political party that is represented by more than 50% of the members in the Senate or the House of Representatives.
  • Majority rule: A principle of democracy that the greater number of citizens in any political unit should select officials and determine policies. Majority rule is one of the most important principles of democracy but is not always practiced in societies that value consensus. 
  • Media: news organizations that deliver information through television, radio, newspaper, or the Internet. 
  • Midterm election: a general election that does not occur during a presidential election year. In a midterm election, some members of the US Senate, members of the House of Representatives, and many state and local positions are elected.
  • Minority party: the political party that is represented by less than 50% of the members in the Senate or the House of Representatives. 
  • Minority rights: the principle of a constitutional democracy that the government elected by a majority must respect the basic right of minorities.
  • National convention: National Party meeting where candidates are selected and the platform is created.
  • Natural-born citizen: citizenship requirements for running for President.
  • Negative ads: political advertisements that attack the candidate's opponent, often trying to destroy the opponent's character.
  • Nominee: the candidate a political party chooses or nominates, to run in the national election.
  • Nonpartisan: free from party affiliation or bias.

O: Opinion Polls to P: Public Interest Group

  • Opinion polls: surveys that ask members of the public how they feel about different issues.
  • Partisan: relating to a particular political party; biased in support of a side; favoring one side of an issue.
  • Personal appearance: an event that a candidate attends in person.
  • Platform: A political party's formal statement of basic principles, stands on major issues, and objectives
  • Policy: position the government takes on what role the government should have in solving the issues facing our country.
  • Political symbols: The Republican Party is symbolized as an elephant. The Democratic Party is symbolized as a donkey.
  • Political Action Committee (PAC): an organization that is formed by an individual or special interest group to raise money for political campaigns.
  • Political machines: an organization linked to a political party that often controlled local government
  • Political parties: organized groups of people who share similar beliefs about how the government should be run and how the issues facing our country should be solved.
  • Poll: sample of opinions taken from a random group of people; used to show where citizens stand on issues and/or candidates.
  • Polling place: a place where voters go to cast their votes in an election.
  • Pollster: someone who conducts surveys of public opinion.
  • Popular vote: a tally of all the votes citizens have cast in the presidential election.
  • Precinct: a district of a city or town marked out for administrative purposes -usually 1000 persons.
  • Press secretary: a person who deals with the media for the candidate
  • Presumptive nominee: the candidate who is assured of his or her party's nomination, but has not yet been formally nominated
  • Presidential ticket: the joint listing of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates on the same ballot as required by the Twelfth Amendment.
  • Primary election: an election in which people vote for the presidential candidate they want to represent their political party in the national election. 
  • Primary season: the months during which states hold primary elections.
  • Public interest group: an organization that seeks a collective good that will not selectively and materially benefit the members of the group.

R: Record to W: Ward

  • Record: information about how a politician has voted on bills and statements made about issues while serving in office.
  • Recount: counting the votes again if there is some disagreement about the election process
  • Referendum:  a proposed piece of legislation (a law) that people can directly vote on. (also called a ballot measure, initiative or proposition)  Referendums approved by the voters become law. 
  • Representative: a member of the House of Representatives, also called a congressman or congresswoman
  • Republic:  A country that has a government in which power is held by the people who elect representatives to manage the government for them. 
  • Right: another word for conservative political views.
  • Running mate: a candidate who is running for office with another candidate on the same ticket. (Example: president and vice president).
  • Succession: a word that refers to the sequence of who will become President after an election or in an emergency.
  • Suffrage: the right, privilege, or act of voting.
  • Swing voters: voters who do not have a commitment to a particular political party.
  • Taxes: money paid by citizens to fund the government and public services.
  • Third-party: any political party other than the two major parties (Republican and Democratic). 
  • Town Hall meeting: discussion in which people in the community voice opinions, ask questions and hear responses from candidates running for office.
  • Two-party system: political party system with two major political parties.
  • Voting age: The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that people have the right to vote when they turn 18.
  • Voting Rights Act: An act passed in 1965 that protected the right to vote for all U.S. citizens. It forced the states to obey the U.S. Constitution. It made it clear that the right to vote could not be denied because of a person’s color or race.
  • Vice President: the office that also serves as the President of the Senate.
  • Ward: a district into which a city or town is divided for the purpose of administration and elections.
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Your Citation
Bennett, Colette. "Key Election Terms for Students." ThoughtCo, May. 23, 2021, Bennett, Colette. (2021, May 23). Key Election Terms for Students. Retrieved from Bennett, Colette. "Key Election Terms for Students." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).

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