Election 2016: Plain English guide to political terms

Ever wanted to know what ‘front runner’ really meant but were too afraid to ask? Check out the National Adult Literacy Agency’s free Plain English guide to political terms ahead of the general election.

Bandwagon effect’, ‘Dark horse candidate’ and ‘Mudslinging’ are just some of the terms explained in a plain English guide to political terms. The guide was written by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) and aims to help the public become more familiar with some of the most common political terms.

“Politics is awash with terms and phrases that are beloved of commentators and politicians alike. That’s why we wrote this guide – to help people to better understand what is being said. We hope that the guide will help more people get involved in political activity and the general election,” said Inez Bailey, Director, NALA.

“We also encourage political parties to use less jargon and to be more aware of the issues faced by the 1 in 6 adults with literacy difficulties in Ireland. While political jargon allows politicians to talk about issues in a quicker, coded way, it can also act as a real barrier for people accessing information,” said Inez.

NALA’s plain English guide to political terms is free to download here.

Sample of terms in the guide:

Bandwagon effect: The tendency for a popular candidate or proposal to gather even more support simply because they appear to be winning; also called the ‘snowball effect’.

Canvassing: Trying to win votes by contacting voters directly, for example by going door to door.

Dark horse’ candidate: An almost unknown contestant in an election who achieves unexpected support.

Floating voter: A person who is undecided about how to vote in an election or referendum; a voter who doesn’t always vote for the same political party.

Front runner: A candidate who is likely to win an election or be nominated by their party to take part in an election.

Gerrymander: Deliberately dividing a constituency in a way that gives an advantage to one political party or to particular voters.

Hustings: Public meetings in the run up to an election where candidates outline their policies as part of their election campaign.

Incumbent: A person who currently holds a post or office.

Landslide victory: An overwhelming majority of votes for one candidate or party in an election.

Marginal seat: A seat held by a political party by a very narrow margin and, so, at risk of being lost.

Mudslinging: The practice of saying negative things about an opponent during a political campaign; also known as ‘dirty politics’.

Quota: The number of votes that a candidate needs to win a seat under the proportional representation (PR) system.

Returning Officer: A person who supervises the counting of votes during an election or referendum, and who certifies and officially announces the results.

Single Transferable Vote – STV: A system of voting where several seats are available in a constituency. A person votes for their preferred candidate, and any unused votes for that candidate (for example, if they already have enough to be elected) are transferred to other candidates in the constituency until all seats are filled.

Safe seat: A seat in a constituency that is likely to go to a particular candidate because of the amount of support given to the candidate or the political party they represent.

Spin: Public relations (PR) activity, for example press releases or interviews, or a way of presenting information that aims to enhance the public image of a person or group, such as a politician or their party, at the expense of a political opponent or the opposition party.

Swing voter: A person who votes, but whose support can switch from one political party to another, depending on the issue at stake.

Tallyman: A person who attends the counting of votes and, by watching the process, carries out an unofficial count of the ballot papers as the official count progresses.


The End

For media queries please contact:

Clare McNally, National Adult Literacy Agency 01 412 7909 / 087 648 6292

About the National Adult Literacy Agency

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is an independent charity committed to making sure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to learning opportunities that meet their needs. According to an OECD survey in 2012, 1 in 6 Irish adults has difficulty understanding basic written text. Plain English benefits all of us but is particularly helpful for Irish people with low literacy levels.

What is plain English?

Plain English is a style of presenting information that helps you understand it the first time you read it. It involves short clear sentences and using everyday words. It does not involve small print or unnecessary jargon.

Why is this important?

Both citizens and governments benefit from clear information, written in plain English. Citizens are more likely to understand their rights and governments are more likely to make better use of their resources.

This is why NALA recommends that all public information produced by Government and its agencies is written in plain English.



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