2018 Midterm Elections Topical Guide

Editors: A style guide for the 2018 elections, based on the AP Stylebook and common usage in AP stories:



A political grouping or tendency mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism. Avoid using the term generically and without definition. When discussing what the movement says about itself, the term "alt-right" (quotation marks, hyphen and lowercase) may be used in quotes or modified as in the self-described "alt-right" or so-called alt-right. See the full entry in the Stylebook for more detail and related definitions.

Congress, congressional

Capitalize when referring to the U.S. Senate and House together. The adjective is lowercase unless part of a formal name.

congressman, congresswoman

Used only for members of the U.S. House.


Lowercase in referring to a political philosophy.

Democrat, Democratic Party

Both terms are capitalized. Do not use Democrat Party unless quoting someone.

democratic socialism

Political leaning akin to European democratic socialism, embraced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, New York Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others.


Spell it out, use an ordinal number and capitalize district in a proper name: the 2nd District.

Election Day, election night

The first term is capitalized, the second is lowercase for the November national elections in the United States.

election returns

Use figures, with commas every three digits starting at the right and counting left. Use the word to (not a hyphen) in separating different totals listed together: Jimmy Carter outpolled Gerald Ford 40,827,292 to 39,146,157 in 1976.

Use the word votes if there is any possibility that the figures could be confused with a ratio: Nixon outpolled McGovern 16 votes to 3 votes in Dixville Notch.

Do not attempt to create adjectival forms such as the 40,827,292-39,146,157 vote.

fundraiser, fundraising

Single words in all uses.

leftist, ultra-leftist, left-wing

Avoid these terms in favor of more precise descriptions of political leanings and goals.

liberal, liberalism

Lowercase in reference to a political philosophy.

majority leader, minority leader

Capitalize as formal legislative title before a name, otherwise lowercase.

majority, plurality

A majority is more than half the votes cast; a plurality is the largest number of votes, but less than a majority.


Informal term for the Affordable Care Act. May be used in quotation marks on second reference.

PAC, super PAC

A political action committee raises money for candidates or parties from individuals, but not -- at the federal level -- from businesses or labor unions. A super PAC may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, including from corporations and unions, to support candidates for federal office but must operate independently.

party affiliation

A candidate's political party is essential information in any election, campaign or issue story.


A fixed area into which a municipality is divided for voting purposes.

precincts reporting

Avoid. In states with large numbers of absentee and early vote ballots, the number of "precincts reporting" may one or two, but account for as much as half of the total vote in a state.

policymaker, policymaking

One word for each.

polls and surveys

Consult the detailed chapter in the AP Stylebook on how to use results of public opinion surveys and avoid exaggerating the meaning.

poll watcher


Political philosophy or ideas that promote the rights and power of ordinary people as opposed to political and intellectual elites. Avoid labeling politicians or political parties as populist, other than in a quote or paraphrase: He calls himself a populist. Using the term in a general context is acceptable: The panelists discussed the rise of populism in Europe. She appealed to populist fervor.

president, vice president

Capitalize these titles before names; lowercase in other uses.

presidential, presidency

The first term is lowercase except as part of a formal name; presidency is always lowercase.

press secretary

Seldom a formal title and thus lowercase.


Avoid the term, which can imply improvement, as a political descriptor except in quotes or the names of organizations or political parties.

re-elect, re-election

Both are hyphenated.

Republican, Republican Party

Both terms are capitalized. GOP, standing for Grand Old Party, may be used on second reference.

rightist, ultra-rightist, right-wing

Avoid these terms in favor of more precise descriptions of political leanings.

representative, Rep.

Use Rep., Reps. as formal titles of House members before one or more names. Spell out and lowercase representative in other uses.


A requirement that a proposal or candidate gain a level of support that exceeds the threshold of a standard 50 percent plus 1 majority.

tea party

Lowercase the populist movement that opposes the Washington political establishment. Adherents are tea partyers. Formally named groups in the movement are capitalized: Tea Party Express.

vote tabulations

Always use figures for the totals.

Spell out below 10 in other phrases related to voting: by a five-vote majority, with three abstentions, four votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

For results that involve fewer than 1,000 votes on each side, use these forms: The House voted 230-205, a 230-205 vote.

To make totals that involve more than 1,000 votes on a side easier to read, separate the figures with the word to to avoid hyphenated adjectival constructions.


close race

Avoid the term to describe a political contest unless backed up by voter surveys.

dark horse

Someone who emerges from the political shadows to seek a nomination.


Candidate who leads a political race; the term is hyphenated.

generic ballot

Polling that asks voters if they will vote for Democrats or Republicans for Congress in the November election without specifying their local race.


To manipulate voting districts unfairly to gain an advantage, or to disadvantage opponents.

head to the polls

Avoid. Such a phrase does not account for the as much as 40 percent of the electorate that will cast a ballot before Election Day.

horse race

Closely contested political contest is preferred.


Politically powerful person who boosts candidates into office.

rank and file (n.), rank-and-file (adj.)

Ordinary members of a political party.

stalking horse

Someone who enters a political race to lure voters away from rivals, then drops out and endorses another candidate.


Avoid. A prominent person who campaigns on behalf of a candidate.

wave election

An election in which one party makes dramatic gains.

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