I am so confused about the correctness of the following usages of "in the lead" of a newspaper:

  1. The U.K. government promised new powers for Scotland if it votes to remain in the U.K. after a weekend opinion poll showed the Scottish independence campaign in the lead for the first time.
  2. A poll released late Saturday showed pro-independence voters in the lead for the first time since the Scottish referendum campaign began.

Are "the Scottish independence campaign in the lead" and "pro-independence voters in the lead" correct? It would have made more sense to me if a candidate running for office is "in the lead" or a team in some sport is "in the lead".

  • Yes they are OK. "in the lead" just means ahead of something/someone else. That's all. – user3169 Sep 27 '14 at 23:03
  • @user3169 But the Scottish independence campaign is not a direct participant in the referendum, so how can it be "in the lead"? – meatie Sep 27 '14 at 23:22
  • Their campaign is in the lead against the opposition campaign, in order to get their legislation (or such) enacted. The "lead" eventually determines the winner. – user3169 Sep 27 '14 at 23:38
  • @user3169 But who is the winner? There is no winner. A referendum cannot have a winner. An election could have a winner, because a candidate would get a new job as a result of the election. – meatie Sep 28 '14 at 1:24
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    @meatie, you are welcome to not use it that way if you prefer not to. You could even write a nasty letter to the newspaper where you saw the text in you question if it makes you feel better. But you probably won't change the way they write. – The Photon Sep 29 '14 at 3:01

The phrase "in the lead" refers to the comparison of vote tallies of two (or more) campaigns.

A campaign can be run for a person (candidate) seeking office, or for a proposition (bill) to be enacted as law. This referendum refers to the latter.

In this case, the opinions of likely voters are being collected by a pollster interested in predicting the outcome of the referendum vote.

  • So, "the Scottish independence campaign in the lead" is poorly written? – meatie Sep 29 '14 at 2:39
  • You might add "to be" between "campaign" and "in the lead," but it is not necessary. – Seamus Nanatchk Sep 29 '14 at 2:51
  • In the context of "showed the… campaign in the lead", the use of a form of "to be" is optional before "in the lead". If you wanted "The… campaign in the lead" to be a complete sentence, the use of a form of "to be" is required. An American newspaper would treat "The… campaign" as a singular noun, so it would use the "is" conjugation of "to be". At the time the article was written, the present tense was appropriate. – Jasper Jan 26 '15 at 4:00

You are correct in that, technically, it is the person or thing being voted for that is "in the lead".

However, saying "the campaign" or "the voters" to mean this is not bad writing. It is a case of metonymy (possibly a synecdoche).

Metonymy is any figure of speech where one thing is referred to using the name of a related thing instead. Synecdoche is the specific case where a part of something is used to name the whole, or vice versa.

In this case, "the campaign" and "the voters" are the "related things" being used to name the thing voted for: the decision to become independent (or even the idea of independence).

I say that it might be a synecdoche, because ultimately it's not just "we should become independent" that they're voting on. It's a specific proposal that has been put forward by the politicians and campaigners. Therefore, the words being voted on are a part of the whole campaign.

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