By Real Simple
Updated January 20, 2009
Illustrations by Ian Phillips; Photographs by Lucas Allen

Carpet Bombing

A phrase used to describe the flood of television ads that run in key swing states during the weeks leading up to Election Day. In pivotal states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, the local TV stations usually run significantly more political ads in the final days before the election.


A candidate is said to have “long coattails” if his election increases the number of votes for other members of his party who are running for office during the same election year.

Contrast Ads

A euphemism for negative “attack” ads. (Not surprisingly, this polite term is used mostly by the political operatives and candidates who produce the ads.) In an effort to discourage such commercials, the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 included a “stand by your ad” provision, which requires candidates to state the now familiar “I’m (name), and I approve this message” in all their commercials.

Convention Bounce

This refers to a spike in the polls for a candidate immediately following the end of the nominating convention. The candidate with the bigger post-convention bounce usually becomes the front-runner once the conventions are over, though that doesn’t guarantee an election victory.

Electoral College

The voting system that elects the president of the United States. (For more, see all about the electoral college.)

Gender Gap

The disparity in the way men and women tend to vote. By general consensus, the majority of men vote Republican, and the majority of women vote Democratic. By winning more male votes, a Democrat might be said to have “closed the gender gap,” or narrowed the difference between the two voting demographics.