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US election word of the week: stump

 © 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 stump.

Browsing the news this weekend my eye was caught by the following sentences in an article in The Guardian about the likelihood of Donald Trump winning Iowa in November:

The real fuel for Iowa Republicans’ love for Trump is to be found in the strong ties between the candidate and Branstad. The governor has long been an enthusiastic supporter and has stumped the state on the businessman’s behalf.

Stump in its different forms is used to describe what a US politician does when they travel around the country seeking support from the electorate. So politicians (or their supporters) stump an area, as in the example above; or they can stump for votes or for a candidate. When doing this they can be said to be on the stump; and in the course of their travels they will deliver many stump speeches:

In his stump speeches since announcing his candidacy, Perry almost invariably touts his humble roots.
The candidates are criss-crossing the state, stumping for last-minute votes.
Mr Clinton gave a two-hour speech, stumping for the Hillary for President nomination.

The origin of the expression is said to be the tree stump which speakers would use as an impromptu podium in order to be heard and seen a little better. The term harks back to the challenges of electioneering in a vast and mainly rural country where a travel-weary politician would use whatever means were at hand to communicate with the electorate, a far cry from the polished, choreographed events we see today. It also evokes another meaning of the verb stump, which is to walk with heavy steps that hit the ground hard.

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

Liz Potter

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