Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Quick Guide to U.S. Political Terminology

While the upcoming U.S. presidential election has been covered by news outlets around the world for months now, it's likely to get quite a bit more attention over the next two weeks. This week, the focus will be on the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where Donald Trump will officially be named the Republican Party's nominee. The following week in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Democratic National Convention will take place, and Hillary Clinton will officially be named the Democratic Party's nominee.

Given the U.S.'s status as a world leader, it's natural that the elections would be covered by foreign media. However, I've often found that people (both Americans and foreigners) aren't always clear on some of the country's most common political terminology, so today I'd like to cover a few key terms.

The first thing to know about the U.S. political system is that there are two main political parties. The oldest of the two is the Democratic Party. We'll avoid getting into the extremely complicated histories of the parties, but suffice it to say that currently, the Democratic Party is known as a left-wing or liberal party, since it advocates modern liberalism, which supports government spending on social programs and promotes social and economic equality.

Strangely enough, the other main political party, the Republican Party, is often is referred to as the Grand Old Party or GOP, despite actually being younger than its counterpart. It is known as a right-wing or conservative party, since it advocates for American conservatism, which focuses on fiscal conservatism (reduced government spending) and social conservatism (supporting so-called "traditional values", such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion), among other things.
"The Third-Term Panic", a political cartoon by Thomas Nast from an 1874 edition of
Harper's Weekly, which marks one of the first uses of the Republican elephant.
In this cartoon, the Democratic Party is represented by a fox.
Since the late 1800s, the Democratic Party's unofficial symbol has been a donkey, while the Republican Party's has been an elephant. The two parties are also closely associated with different colors. Since the 2000 presidential election, blue has been linked to the Democratic Party, and red has been linked to the Republican Party. When you hear about "blue states" or "red states", it's a reference to a state where the majority of voters align with that particular party.

That said, there are other political parties in the United States, but they've never gotten enough of the vote to be considered a major influence on U.S. politics. However, given the fact that both major candidates are quite polarizing and widely disliked this year, there is a chance that a third party candidate may get a more significant portion of the vote.

This year, the only third-party candidate who will be on the ballot in all 50 states is Gary Johnson, the candidate for the Libertarian Party. You could perhaps think of it as a mixture of the two main parties: it is socially liberal since it supports same-sex marriage rights and other issues, yet it is also fiscally conservative, since its primary goal is to reduce the size of the U.S. government.

We hope this helped you make more sense of the U.S. political system! If you feel we left out any other important terms, feel free to let us know in the comments below.