Words We're Watching

What's a 'Downticket Candidate'?

And what's a 'downballot race'?

Downballot and downticket are two new words that describe running or voting for offices listed below the most important—typically national—race on a ballot. For instance, in a presidential election, Senate and House seats and contests for state and local offices are downballot (or downticket) because their outcomes are often influenced by the turnout for the presidential race at the top of the ballot.


A downticket candidate is a candidate for an office listed below the most important (typically national) office on a ballot

Both words began to appear in print in the early 1980s. They were preceded by adverbial phrases such as “down the ballot”:

But in a district where the Republican and Democratic candidates for the United States House of Representatives complain that the voters confuse them with each other, does a candidate for the Legislature have to rely on the voter choosing a Presidential candidate and following that column—in this case, Ronald Reagan's—all the way down the ballot?
The New York Times, 26 October 26

Within a few years, both terms appeared:

A down-ballot race just does not attract the attention.
Paris News (Texas), 25 April 1982

Running as a Republican in Mississippi, he knows the odds are against him even with a high turnout. “There’s a lot of voter apathy” he said. “It’s hard to get interest stirred up in the down-ticket races.”
The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), 4 November 1983

As with many compounds, we see that the hyphens have largely been dropped and the words are now frequently styled as single words. A sign of the newness of downticket may be that The New York Times doesn’t seem to allow it to be used by their writers and editors, but downballot was first used in The Times during coverage of the 2008 election.

“Downballot race” and “downticket candidate” are very common adjectival forms, but both words are also used as adverbs:

But since veteran pols have been winning their primaries, maybe the anti-establishment mood won't trickle downticket after all.
—Susan Milligan, USNEWS.com 9 September 2016

"And so we as Republicans have to look to who we want downballot from Donald Trump so that we're able to keep that seat."
—Kelli Ward, quoted in Politico.com, 26 August 2016

Sometimes both the adjective and adverb are used in the same statement:

"We are asking our constituents to focus on downticket races," he said. "We will rally Christians all over the country to get to the polls and vote downticket."
—Paul Weber, quoted in Newsday, 24 June 2016

Downticket and downballot are used to describe both Democratic and Republican candidates and races:

House Democrats greeted her warmly Wednesday at a Capitol Hill meeting, and Clinton promised to help downticket candidates.
—William Goldschlag and Dan Janison, Newsday, 23 June 2016

He credited Cruz with drawing attention not only to the presidential race, but also all the crucial conservative downticket races that would appear on the ballot as well, saying all of those candidates deserve support.
— Rishi Solanki, Tri-City Herald, 23 July 2016

In a contentious election year, it's good to know that something is perfectly bipartisan.

Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.

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