2024 Election

Glossary of Election Terms

Published Wed January 31, 2024

Delegates, superdelegates and winner-take-all: It’s a presidential election year, and with it comes a lot of jargon. Here’s a breakdown of some common political terms used throughout the election season to help you understand what’s happening before you cast your vote.

C
C

Caucus

cau·cus

noun

A type of meeting used by political parties to discuss various issues. A presidential caucus is a political meeting where participants indicate their preferred candidate for president and begin their state’s process of selecting delegates to their party’s national convention. Some state parties hold “unassembled” or “firehouse” caucuses, where voters have more freedom to simply stop by and vote without attending a meeting. Caucuses are usually the first stage in a multi-step process. One of two methods used to allocate delegates (other being a primary).

D
D

Delegates

del·e·gate

noun

Representatives who will be responsible for choosing the presidential and vice-presidential nominees at the parties’ national conventions.

E
E

Entrance Poll

en·trance poll

noun

In some caucus states, including Iowa, this is the same as an “exit poll” (see below) except that caucus-goers are interviewed as they enter the caucus site, rather than when they leave it.

Exit Poll

ex·it poll

noun

A survey of voters in states which hold primaries that is conducted throughout Election Day. It is called an “exit” poll because voters are interviewed as they exit from a polling place. Voters are asked who they voted for, as well as for certain personal characteristics, such as age, race and gender. (In states with a high number of absentee or early in-person voters, polls conducted before Election Day are also used to gather data on vote intention and personal characteristics. Depending on the state, these polls are conducted using a combination of in-person, phone or online interviews, and the results are then blended together with the interviews conducted on Election Day.)

P
P

“Pledged” or “Bound” Delegate

pledged del·e·gate

noun

A delegate who pledges (on the Democratic side) or is bound (on the Republican side) to support a certain presidential candidate at the national convention. The amount of freedom these delegates have to support other candidates varies by state, by party, and by circumstances.

PLEO

PLEO

noun

Acronym in the Democratic delegate selection process for “party leaders and elected officials.” This is a type of delegate position that is reserved for those who hold a party leadership position, or who hold an elected office. The term typically refers to local elected officials who must compete against each other for reserved delegate slots, as opposed to superdelegates, who are more senior officials who get to serve as a national convention delegates automatically as a function of the position they hold.

Primary

pri·ma·ry

noun

An election in which voters choose from among candidates competing for a party’s nomination. Typically state run, although some state parties run their own primaries. One of two methods used to allocate delegates (the other being a “caucus”).

Proportional Representation

pro·por·tion·al rep·re·sen·ta·tion

noun

A rule requiring that candidates are allotted delegates in proportion to the percentage of the popular vote they receive. The Democratic Party requires the use of proportional representation for all primaries and caucuses; the Republican Party does not.

R
R

RNC-Member Delegates

RNC mem·ber del·e·gates

noun

Shorthand for Republican National Committee members who automatically get to serve as delegates to the Republican National Convention. This term refers to a state party chair, a state’s national committeeman, and a state’s national committeewoman. There are 168 RNC-member delegates (3 from every state, each territory, and the District of Columbia).

S
S

Superdelegates

su·per·del·e·gates

noun

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention who are guaranteed a delegate slot based on their position in the party, or on an elective office they hold. All members of Congress, Democratic governors and other key party leaders are automatically superdelegates. Also known as “unpledged” or “automatic” delegates. Superdelegates can no longer vote on the first ballot for president if they can mathematically affect the outcome.

T
T

Threshold Rule

thresh·old rule

noun

A rule requiring candidates to receive a certain minimum percentage of support before they win any delegates or advance to the next stage of the delegate selection process. The threshold is the percentage of the vote that a presidential candidate must receive in order to be included in the calculations for awarding delegates to presidential candidates. Any candidate in a Democratic contest receiving 15 percent of the vote will be given representation. The Republican Party doesn’t have a mandatory threshold rule.

Trigger

Trig·ger

noun

A trigger is a level of support that a candidate running in a proportional contest has to reach in order to win all the delegates in that state (or congressional district). Triggers are usually set at 50% and are only used in Republican contests.

U
U

“Unpledged” or “Unbound” Delegate

un·pledged del·e·gate

noun

A delegate who is free to vote for any candidate at the convention. On the Democratic side, the only unpledged delegates are “superdelegates.”

W
W

Winner-Take-All

win·ner-take-all

noun

A delegate allocation method used by Republicans in which the statewide plurality winner of a contest wins all of the delegates at stake in that contest.