Some key vocabulary for the upcoming election!!

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To elect (v) – to decide on or choose, especially to choose a person for a particular job, by voting

The President is elected for a four-year term of office.

Requirement (n) – something that you must do, or something you need

A good degree is requirement for many jobs

Legislation (n) – a law or set of laws that is being created:

New legislation offers a tax break for young families.

To Veto (v) – to refuse to allow something

My boss vetoed my taking any more time off this year.

Assume (v) – to take or begin to have responsibility or control 

The new president assumes office at midnight tonight.

To incapacitate (v) – to make someone unable to work or do things normally, or unable to do what they intended to do:

The accident left me incapacitated for seven months.

Suspicious (adj) – making you feel that something illegal is happening or that something is wrong:

Her behaviour was very suspicious

Characterisation (n) – a description of the most typical or important characteristics of someone or something:

I don’t agree with your characterization of my hometown as a boring place to live.

To emphasise (v) – to show that something is very important or worth giving attention to:

I’d just like to emphasize how important it is for people to learn foreign languages.

Federal (n) – relating to the central government, and not to the government of a region, of some countries such as the US

the federal government

As I’m sure most of you know, there are now only about three weeks until the 2020 US Presidential election. It seems as though every TV station, newspaper, Twitter account, and youtube channel around the world is talking about American Politics! Trump vs Biden. Republican vs Democrat. Conservative vs Liberal. RIght vs Left. The USA is divided, and this election could be one of the most important political events of recent years. And not just for the USA; America’s politics has consequences for the rest of the world. So, over the next few weeks i will introduce to you some key vocabulary which i think will be very useful to everyone. Whether you want to talk about the election, listen to and watch reports, or read articles, these words will help you!

We will start with some of the most common terms surrounding election, but over the next few weeks we’ll explore some more advanced and complicated vocabulary. While you might already know these words’ meanings, it is important to understand what they mean in the USA. American politics, and the meanings of vocabulary, can be very different to the rest of the world!

Let’s start with the most important term


What is a President? A President is simply the elected head of a state without a queen, king, emperor, Sultan, etc. In a country like the UK, where Queen Elizabeth is head of state, a Prime Minister is often the most senior politician. The President of the USA is, arguably, the world’s most famous President and the most powerful world leader.  There are only three requirements to become President of the US— the President must be 35 years of age, be a natural born citizen, and must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. A President has a number or roles and responsibilities. The President is responsible for the laws created by Congress, and also appoints the heads of more than 50 organisations, such as the Federal Reserve Board, as well as judges, ambassadors, and other federal offices. The President has the power either to sign legislation into law or to veto bills enacted by Congress. The President conducts diplomacy with other nations, and the President has the power to negotiate and sign treaties.

Commander in Chief.

Another role of the President, which you will often hear during the election season is our next term. As commander in chief, the US president is head of the United States’ armed forces. This arguably makes the President head of the most powerful army in the world. As a result, the military is often an important topic in US elections, and former soldiers, also known as veterans, are often popular politicians.

Vice President.

The second in command, and the person who assumes the office of the president in the event of the resignation, removal, incapacitation or death of the president. The vice-president can cast a vote in the Senate in the event of a tie. Although these are the only responsibilities the US constitution gives to the Vice President, they can gain a lot of power as an adviser to the president.

Early vice-presidents, however, had very few responsibilities. In 1885 Woodrow Wilson, who would later become president, famously commented that there was “little to be said about the vice-president… His importance consists in the fact that he may cease to be vice-president”. In recent years, though, vice-presidents have become more and more powerful, with significant influence over both domestic and foreign policy.Dick Cheney, who served under George W Bush, is considered the most powerful vice-president in US history. The current Vice President is Mike Pence, Joe Biden is a former Vice President, and Kamala Harris is Biden’s Running mate

Running Mate

Running Mate is a term used to describe a candidate for vice president. Mate, in the context, means friend while ‘run’ is a verb used to describe elections. They are the person who runs for office together with the President 

Political Party. 

There are thousands of political parties round the world, but what are they? They are organisations for groups of people who have similar beliefs about how power should be used, and how government or society should be organised! Although there are actually many political parties in the USA, only 2 are considered major parties.

Republican Party

The Republican Party is one of the two major political parties in the United States. The party began in 1854; Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was the first Republican president. Donald Trump, the current president, is a member of this Party.  In the 1920s, the party became known for supporting business and as being suspicious of the government’s role in national life. This characterization is still a reasonably accurate, if simplistic, description of basic Republican views.

The party is also known as GOP, or the Grand Old Party. This is a traditional nickname for the Republican Party widely used in American political reporting, so you might hear it in the news!

 Democratic Party 

The Democratic Party is the other major political party, founded 1828. Since the 1920s, Democrats have emphasized the role of the federal government in promoting social, economic, and political opportunities for all citizens. They generally support a tax system that places higher taxes on rich people and large corporations, and they prefer spending on social programs to spending on defense. Joe Biden is their candidate this year!

Perhaps two of the most important words to understand American politics at the moment are conservative and liberal, or left wing and right wing. Now it is important to remember that we are talking about American politics. Many of the vocabulary terms i’m focusing on today will have different meanings in other parts of the world, especially conservative and liberal. But in the American context what do they actually mean?


If you are conservative in the USA, you probably support the Republican party. There are, however, different types of conservative. The two most common are social conservatives and economic (or fiscal) conservatives. Social conservatives have traditional, historical views on the definition of marriage, life, sexuality, and religion. They tend to focus on the importance of preserving traditional cultural and religious values, and oppose change, especially sudden change. On the other hand, economic conservatives care less about these things, and instead advocate for low taxes, reduced government spending and minimal government debt. Importantly, these 2 types of conservatism don’t always go together. You might be, for instance, an economic conservative who supports low taxes, but also supports more liberal social ideas.


If you are Liberal in the USA, you probably support the Democratic Party. But there are also different types of liberal. Social liberals have modern or progressive views, perhaps supporting gay marriage and social change. Furthermore, in the USA someone who would describe their economics as liberal might support higher taxes, increased government spending, and more social programmes. 

But this is where you need to be careful. In the USA, the meanings of conservative and liberal have changed over the years. What is understood as liberal in Europe might not be liberal in the USA. This is probably because the USA has only two major political parties. Simply conservative vs liberal. There is no room for people who are socially liberal but economically conservative. Such people have to choose what is most important to them. Furthermore, ideas which would be described as socialist in Europe are often called liberal in the USA. This leads to confusion about topics such as liberal economics – because in the traditional European definition, liberal economics is actually the same fiscal conservatism. We use socialist, or social democratic, to describe the difference  


The final category of vocabulary we’ll talk about today is surrounding Congress. Congress is the legislative branch of the US government – legislative means it makes laws. Almost all countries have similar things, but they are not always called Congress. In the UK we say parliament, but other countries describe their legislatures as assemblies, diets, or councils.

The US congress is made up of two houses – the 435-member House of Representatives and 100-member Senate – each of which officially has equal power. 

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is the larger of the two houses of Congress which are the law-making branches of government. The 435 members of the House – generally known as Congressmen and Congresswomen – serve two-year terms. The leader, the speaker of the house, is elected by a majority vote of members of the House at the beginning of each new Congress. In practice, this is the leader of the party holding the majority. House members each represent approximately half-a-million citizens in their districts.


The Senate is the upper house of Congress, although members of the other house – the House of Representatives – traditionally regard it as an equal body. The Senate has 100 elected members, two from each state, serving six-year terms with one-third of the seats coming up for election every two years. The vice-president serves as the presiding officer over the Senate, although he or she does not serve on any committees and is restricted to voting only in the event of a tie 

So here is today’s final thought.

This episode has focused on some of the most common words surrounding the US election, but has attempted to explain them with some extra detail. DO any of these words have different meanings in your countries? Does your country have a President or a Prime Minister? And what is the role of the President? Is the division between conservative and liberal the most important division in your country’s politics? Or are other factors, like religion, location, or age more important? And what do you think about only having 2 political parties? Is 2 enough, or is it a case of the more parties the better?


Q. Who is Joe Biden’s running mate?

A. Kamala Harris

Q. What are the only three requirements to become US president?

A. To be 35 years of age, a natural born US citizen, and lived in the USA for at least 14 years

Q. How many members does the House of Representatives have?

A. 435

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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