Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Communications Tip: Political Capitalization

As if politics weren’t tricky enough, figuring out when to capitalize political terms can be a challenge! Is it ‘President’ or ‘president’? ‘Democrat’ or ‘democrat’? Read on for a summary review of when ‘to capitalize or not to capitalize’!

Capitalize when used as a title preceding a name.

  • Example: President Obama is traveling to India this week.
Capitalize when referring to a specific president even without using the name.
  • Example: What do you think of the President's healthcare plan?
Use lowercase when referring generally to the office.
  • Example: The Constitution says the president must be a natural born citizen of the United States.
Similar to the president rule, capitalize when referring to a specific administration, whether you name it explicitly or not.
  • Example: Interior Secretary James Watt was a member of the Reagan Administration.
  • Example: Environmentalists criticized the Administration for appointing Watt.
Use lowercase when referring generally to an administration.
  • Example: The requirements of an act are implemented by the administration in power.
ALWAYS capitalize when referring to the US Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Example: The mid-term elections dramatically altered the composition of Congress.
Use lowercase when ‘congressional’ is used as an adjective . . .
  • Example: That hearing is an abuse of congressional powers!
. . . UNLESS the usage is part of a proper name.
  • Example: The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the power to review all new federal regulations issued by government agencies.

Congressional Titles (representative/senator/congressman)
Capitalize when using the term as a title followed by a name.
  • Example: Last week, Senator Reid defeated Sharron Angle in the 2010 mid-term elections.
Otherwise, use lowercase.
  • Example: The senator from California supported the climate change bill.
  • Example: Contrary to the President’s wishes, the senator voted against the bill.
Political Parties
Capitalize when referring to a political party or member of a political party; also capitalize the word "party" if used.
  • Example: Barbara Boxer is a running for re-election as a Democrat.
  • Example: The Natural Resources Defense Council’s position is similar to the Democratic Party platform on this issue.
Use lowercase for a general political philosophy or principles.
  • Example: He is democratic in his thinking.
A clever example from WikiAnswers sums it up as follows:
  • A Democrat is someone who belongs to the Democratic Party; a democrat is someone who believes in democracy. Democrats (big D) are democrats, but not all democrats (small D) are Democrats—some of them are Republicans!

ALWAYS capitalize when referring to a specific agency, whether it is explicitly named or not.

  • Example: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) implements the civilian space program.
  • Example: The Agency also conducts aeronautics and aerospace research.
Use lowercase if referring to agencies in general.
  • Example: Generally, policy implementation is an agency responsibility.

Directions/Parts of the country
Capitalize when referring to a place name.

  • Example: Heidi is from West Virginia.

Use lowercase when talking about a general direction.

  • Example: To find the bike locker, head towards the north side of Bren Hall.

Where this can get tricky is when parts of a country are referred to by a direction, e.g., the Southwest. In this case, if the term refers to a specific geographic area as an entity, you should capitalize it. In contrast, if you are just using the term to describe a portion of the country that lies in a westerly (or other) direction, use lowercase.

  • Example: Buffalo used to roam freely across the Great Plains of the American West.
    vs. Buffalo used to roam freely across large parts of the western United States.
  • Example: Representatives from western states are generally opposed to an increase in grazing fees on federal lands.
  • Example: The Northeast is known for its vibrant display of fall foliage.

Hope that helps with any political capitalization confusion! As always, please feel free to contact the Communications Center with any questions. Good luck!

--Audrey Tresham