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US election word of the week: winner takes all

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s word is actually a phrase: winner take(s) all.

In a proportional primary or caucus, the delegates are allocated in proportion to the percentage of votes won by each candidate. In a winner take (or takes) all primary, in contrast, the candidate who wins the most votes is awarded all the delegates for that area. In some of the biggest states, including Florida and Ohio, the Republicans conduct winner take all primaries, while in a number of other states a candidate who does really well can trigger a winner take all result. The threshold for this is high, however, so these states generally elect their delegates proportionally.



The system is nicely illustrated by the contest in Ohio where on March 15th the state’s governor John Kasich won just under 47% of votes but was awarded all of the state’s 66 delegates, just keeping him in a race in which he is running a poor third.

For those of us who remember the 70s, meanwhile, the phrase will always be associated with a certain Swedish pop combo whose fiendishly memorable tunes and cute mispronunciations seared their songs into our brains, whether we liked it or not.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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