AP Stylebook tips for Election Day

PR pros should know the basics of writing about the 2016 campaign. To ensure you don’t flub a political post on your company’s blog today, follow these tips.

All writers, regardless of their audience, can benefit from knowing AP style.

For the writers who’ve spent the past year—or longer—covering the 2016 presidential election, these tidbits might now be second nature. For PR pros who aim to do a bit of Election Day newsjacking or delve into the realm of political writing, there can be a tough learning curve when it comes to correctly conveying official titles, party affiliations and legal terms.

Lucky for all of us, editors from The Associated Press dedicated a recent Twitter chat to giving tips on political style.

No matter who becomes the 45th president of the United States, both major-party nominees—Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump—are expected to deliver speeches tonight. One will (hopefully) concede defeat, and the other will speak about a vision for the nation.

To help you prepare, here are a few notable items regarding political terminology, per the editors of the AP Stylebook:

Setting the scene

Plenty of journalists get this one wrong, as the difference between a podium and a lectern is slight. A podium is a raised platform upon which a speaker would stand to deliver a speech. A lectern is a stand on which a speaker can place his or her notes.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

You would be correct in saying that Hillary Clinton stepped onto the podium Monday night in Philadelphia to deliver one of her final campaign speeches. It would also be correct to say that she stood at or behind the lectern.

In coverage of public speaking events, it’s wise to note the venue.

Party affiliation

In most cases, when referring to a candidate who isn’t affiliated with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, the word independent (with a lowercase “i”) is used. As independent isn’t the name of a formal party, it’s designated as such by its lack of an uppercase letter.

The AP Stylebook says that GOP is acceptable to use on second reference for Republican Party. The Grand Old Party is the unrequired, but not forbidden, spelling out of the term GOP.

Here are a few more noteworthy terms, via Gate House:

  • conservative . Lowercase when referring to the political philosophy.

  • liberal/liberalism . Lowercase when referring to a political philosophy.

  • Democrat/Democratic Party . Both should be capitalized; do not use “Democrat Party.”

  • presidential . Lowercase unless part of a formal name.

  • presidency . Always lowercase.

Titles

If referring to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives on first reference, use Rep. or U.S. Rep. before his or her name. Same goes for the use of Sen. when referring to a member of the Senate. Distinguish, as needed, between a U.S. senator and a state senator.

The AP Stylebook says it’s OK to use congressman or congresswoman (in lowercase) when the reference doesn’t use a person’s name.

If you’re still hoping to use the word congressman/woman—get a quote first. You can use the capitalized versions of these words as formal titles before a name ONLY in a direct quotation.

Congress (i.e., the U.S. Congress) is capitalized when referring to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. According to the AP Stylebook, Congress is commonly misused as a substitute when referring to the House, but the more proper usage refers to both the House and the Senate.

If you should find yourself covering the politics of foreign country, and that country happens to also use the term Congress, use the uppercase (e.g., the Argentine Congress).

When declaring winners

A primary caveat here is not to anoint a victor prematurely. Candidate X is not “winning” in Florida but rather leading in the polls there.

As there are many caucuses held around the country throughout election season, the caucus’s lowercase “c” is important to keep consistent. The words primary (e.g., New Hampshire primary) or primary day (e.g., any of the days set aside for balloting in a primary) follow suit.

Be clear about when you’re publishing election results. Election Day refers only to the day of the general election; election night is lowercase.

Come January, the AP Stylebook says Inauguration Day takes capitalization only when referring to the collection of events that include the inauguration of a U.S. president; use lowercase when referring to other inaugural events.

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