Are you as overwhelmed as I am by our early start to the 2020 U.S. presidential election?
As if it’s not enough to be bombarded by nonstop media coverage of emerging candidates, constant emails are flooding my inbox, pleading for contributions to support our way-too-long election cycle.
Here’s a small but positive step we can take: Serve as good examples of how to talk and to write about political terms. Approach politics from a ruthless editor’s grammatical perspective.
You might want to start with a refresher on politics is or politics are.
Democrat and Republican
The United States has two major political parties:
- the Democratic (not Democrat) Party
- the Republican Party
Democrat is a proper noun (a specific person, place or thing), and as such it is capitalized:
Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, is running for president.
This year’s Democrats will choose from a broad range of candidates.
He said he’s voting for a Democrat this time around.
Yet every day I hear errors such as these:
Democratic is an adjective: it tells more about a noun, and it is not always capitalized:
If you don’t support democratic values, don’t bother running in California.
How many democratic candidates have entered the race for president?
States along the upper East Coast have the highest concentration of democratic voters.
In the following example, democratic is capitalized because it is part of a proper noun (Democratic Party versus the generic term political party):
The Democratic Party hopes to nominate a candidate who can appeal to voters across the country.
The other side of the aisle
Republican serves as both a proper noun (a specific person, place or thing) and as an adjective, and it is always capitalized:
Mitt Romney is a Republican and junior U.S. senator from Utah.
What city will host the Republican National Convention in 2020?
Don’t be surprised if John Kasich announces that he will be a Republican candidate.
This year’s Republican voters are not expecting a large field of candidates.
President and Presidential
Beyond political parties, we find president and presidential in daily news reports. When should each be capitalized?
When used as a generic term, president is not capitalized:
The president is flying back to Washington.
Bill Clinton, our 42nd president, was born in 1946.
Abraham Lincoln is remembered as a great president.
When used as a title before a name (or a title alone), President is capitalized:
President Donald Trump
former President Barack Obama (but Barack Obama, former president)
Vice President Mike Pence (but Mike Pence, vice president)
President-elect Samuel Smith (but Samuel Smith, president-elect)
Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush
I heard him say, “Hello, Mr. President.”
Do not capitalize presidential unless it is used as part of a proper noun:
Which presidential candidates get Secret Service protection?
The presidential primaries will separate the chaff from the grain.
Ellsworth Bunker and Colin Powell are two-time recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The capitalization guideline described above also applies to presidents of private entities and other countries:
Tim Cook, president of Apple, led the meeting.
When the meeting began, President Tim Cook of Apple delivered opening remarks.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico, took office in December 2018.
Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto served from 2012–2018.
Apply this practice to titles such as senator, governor, representative, mayor, etc. Capitalize a title only when it precedes a name.
In closing, I know that we all expect election chatter to escalate to a fever pitch over the next year. Let’s do our best to remember the difference between Democrat and democratic, between president and presidential, and when to capitalize titles.Like it? Share it!