Conventional wisdom: America gears up for two very political parties
As the mercury climbs ever higher across the US, the political temperature will be getting especially hot in two of its cities this summer. Cleveland, in Ohio, and Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, are about to host, respectively, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions – when each party will officially nominate their chosen candidate to run for the Presidency. Always big, glitzy, colourful, week-long affairs, they’re a chance to set out the party platform – the official policies on important issues – and kick off the general election proper. And like so much in US elections they come with some rather unique vocabulary.
Running the Veepstakes
As the big events draw nearer, part of the buzz surrounds what’s popularly known as the Veepstakes; that is, the contest for the other half of the presidential ticket (a single election choice that fills more than one office) – the Vice Presidential nominee. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will soon be picking a running mate – which Oxford Dictionaries tells us has another, appropriate, meaning as ‘a horse entered in a race in order to set the pace for another horse from the same stable, which is intended to win’. Both contenders will be hoping their choice will help them reach the right pace to run past the finish line and into the White House come November. That’s when their sidekick will become the VP or – a term around since the 1940s – the ‘veep’ (the namesake of the popular TV comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.) With the press abuzz for weeks over the runners and riders in this latest political horse race, the behind-closed-doors process has become known as the ‘veepstakes’.
It’s likely each of the veep hopefuls will be unveiled before the conventions get going, then give a big address on the penultimate night. (At the time of writing, they have not been announced.) That will have to be something more than a standard stump speech- the term given to the, generally somewhat formulaic, address the candidates give around the country at each and every campaign stop. (The term’s said to come from the habit of early American political candidates of standing on a sawed-off tree stump to deliver their speeches.) The idea behind the VP’s address, and indeed other speeches at the convention, will be to inspire voters not only about their own candidacy, but also the prospects for the party in other votes taking place at the same time as the Presidential election – the so-called ‘down-ballot’ contests (so-called because they will come physically further down the ballot paper). This year there’s already much media speculation about Donald Trump’s effect on ‘down-ballot’ candidates, for better or worse, and there are plenty of them taking place. The seats of all 435 Members of the House of Representatives are up for grabs, while 34 of the 100 Senate Members are also facing the voters. And both parties will be hoping their presidential and vice presidential nominees have ‘coat-tails’ – that is, the ability to drag candidates for lower office along with them to victory, riding on their coat-tails.
If in doubt, delegate
Apart from the ever present political pundits (a term derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘learned’), who will be listening intently, much of the audience for that speech will be the party delegates. These are the men and women who come to the convention representing their state, to vote – formally – for the presidential nominee (just under 2,500 in Cleveland, and over 4,500 in Philadelphia.) The complex voting process varies with each party, and has changed over time. But this time, given the controversy surrounding the candidacy of Donald Trump, there was much talk of the power of the Republicans’ ‘unbound’ or ‘unpledged’ delegates – those whose state rules say they don’t have to vote for the nominee who won in their area (i.e aren’t ‘bound’ to the primary result), or those pledged to candidates who later dropped out. They’ll arrive in Cleveland able to support whomever they please – and there’s still some talk of changing the rules to allow all delegates to ‘vote their conscience’.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, all the talk is of ‘superdelegates’ – not fictional political heroes, but 712 Democrats made up of party committee leaders, elected officials and party grandees. They are also ‘unbound’ or ‘unpledged’ – in that they go to Philadelphia able to vote for anyone they choose to become the nominee. Most have already declared their allegiance – but they can still switch!
Once all the delegates have voted, veeps have spoken and the nominees are officially nominated, both parties will be hoping for the traditional post-convention ‘bounce’ in the polls thanks to non-stop TV coverage. But some voters have already made up their minds – including, this time round, two separate groups of American women keen to exhort others to vote for Donald Trump, and both calling themselves the ‘Trumpettes’, one in the US and one ‘globally’.
Nicknames based on political allegiances have abounded in this election, though not always self-appointed ones. The term ‘Bernie Bros’ has been used disparagingly about young male supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, using the slang term, as the Oxford Dictionary puts it, for a young man, especially one who socializes primarily with his male peers and enjoys lively, unintellectual pursuits. And ‘Hillary Bots’ has been used derogatorily of female Clinton fans, implying their support for the former Secretary of State is robotic and corporate. And as for those who are much less engaged in the process, it seems there’s a name for them too – ‘low information voters’ (or even ‘misinformation voters’) – that is, those who may go to the polls but are generally poorly informed about politics. But given that this cycle has also been called a ‘post truth’ election, perhaps being well informed doesn’t always give one the edge?