Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Cheat Sheet, a Quick Reference to Translate the Political Jargon


It's Election Day. You've voted. (If you haven't voted yet, read our voting tips here.) Now all you need to do is kick back and watch the results come in. The problem? Sometimes the pundits are speaking in a language nobody but other pundits understand.

Sure, it sounds like English but there are a bunch of names and terms normal people haven't heard before. To facilitate election-watching ease, we've created a cheat sheet of terms, phrases and names you'll probably hear at some point on Election Night.

Electoral College
The body through which America casts its presidential votes. The winner of the popular vote in each state wins the electoral votes in that state. (With the exception of Nebraska - see below.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; the guy who gets 270 or more wins.

Nope, this isn't some name of a fancy TV station. It's initials for "Get Out The Vote." This is also referred to as the "ground game." In other words, it's how the political parties make sure you to show up to the polls.

The Republicans have had the best ground game in politics for many years. But the coalition of volunteers the Obama camp put together may surpass the GOP machine today. You'll definitely hear talking heads speculate if the Obama camp managed to beat the Grand Old Party at their game. This will be a big theme of the night.

The Bradley Effect
This is the theory that says white voters tell pollsters they're voting for the black candidate when they really won't in the voting booth. It's named after Tom Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles who ran for governor in 1982. That year, it was widely reported he had a polling lead going into Election Day, but then lost the race. Many people, including some involved in the campaigns that year, say the theory is wrong, and was based on bad reporting at the time.

If Barack Obama loses, you'll hear a lot about this. If Obama wins by a slim majority, look for pundits to talk about the Wilder Effect. This one is similar to the Bradley Effect, only it's based on Doug Wilder, the first black governor of Virginia. His substantial polling lead did not materialize when voters went to the polls, but he still eked out a win.

Nate Silver
Silver is an Electoral College polling savant who started the website Five Thirty Eight. He used to crunch baseball statistics, but this year, he got into the political prediction game when he thought the mainstream media was doing it wrong. He says Obama has a 98.9% chance of winning if the polls are right.

Yes, we know you know it's a city in Nebraska. But if things are really close tonight electorally speaking, this city could be a decider in the race. Nebraska splits its electoral votes by congressional district. The district that includes Omaha is a toss-up right now. If the candidates get to 269, Omaha's one electoral vote matters in a big way.

Filibuster-Proof Majority
You'll hear this in reference to the Senate races. If it happens tonight, that means the Democrats now have 60 seats in the Senate, making it possible for that majority to stop the other party from killing legislation through filibuster. The head of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee Chuck Schumer said winning this many seats is possible, but not likely.

I-4 Corridor
You'll hear this term, referring to Interstate 4, when pundits start to explain how Florida voted. According to the Miami Herald, "'nearly one out of five of the state's unaffiliated voters live in this swath between Tampa and Daytona Beach, and an even higher percentage are considered ''persuadable'' Democrats and Republicans.'" What happens here may determine what happens in Florida.

Blue Dog Democrats
This is the moderate caucus in the Democratic Party. They're the fiscally conservative types. This group could be discussed in two situations. If McCain wins, pundits will talk about how McCain will have to pull in the Blue Dogs to get his measures passed in Congress. If Obama wins, same idea.

Bandwagon Effect
You'll hear this come up if there is an Obama landslide. The idea is: Everybody said Obama was going to win, so all the undecideds jumped on the bandwagon and voted for him.

Icing States
This term comes into play again if there is an Obama landslide. If states like Montana, Georgia or North Carolina vote blue, the assumption is that other states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado already have. Therefore, those states would be icing on the cake in an Obama win.

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