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U.S. Government and Politics Glossary

Glossary of Terms in U.S. Government & Politics

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How to Cite This SparkNote

absentee ballot -  A ballot, usually sent in the mail, that allows those who cannot go to their precinct on election day to vote.
absolutism -  The belief that the government should have all the power and be able to do whatever it wants.
acquisitive model -  A view of bureaucracies that argues agency heads seek to expand the size, budget, and power of their agency.
actual malice -  Knowingly printing falsehoods in order to harm a person’s reputation.
administrative adjudication -  The bureaucratic function of settling disputes by relying on rules and precedents.
affirm -  An action by the Supreme Court to uphold a ruling by a lower court; that ruling is now the legally binding one.
affirmative action -  Measures to give minorities special consideration for hiring, school admission, and so on, designed to overcome past discrimination.
agency capture -  The gaining of control (direct or indirect) over a government regulatory agency by the industry it regulates.
agency representation -  A type of representation in which the representative is seen as an agent, acting on behalf of the district, who is held accountable if he or she does not do as the constituents wish.
agenda-setting -  The power of the media to determine which issues will be discussed and debated.
amendment -  A change to the Constitution.
American conservatism -  The belief that freedom trumps all other political considerations; the government should play a small role in people’s lives.
American exceptionalism -  The view that the United States is different from other countries.
American liberalism -  The belief that the government should promote equality in politics and economics.
Americans with Disabilities Act -  The major law banning discrimination against the disabled, it requires employers to make all reasonable accommodations to disabled workers; it passed in 1990.
amicus curiae brief -  Literally, a “friend of the court” brief. A brief submitted to the court by a group not involved in the case; it presents further arguments for one side in the case.
anarchism -  The belief that all governments are repressive and should be destroyed.
appellate jurisdiction -  The authority to review cases heard by lower courts.
appointment power -  The president’s power to appoint people to key federal offices.
appropriation -  The act of Congress formally specifying the amount of authorized money that an agency can spend.
Articles of Confederation -  America’s first national constitution, which loosely bound the states under a weak national Congress.
attack journalism -  Journalism that aims to undermine political leaders.
Australian ballot -  A ballot printed by the government that allows voting to be secret.
authoritarian regime -  A government that can do whatever it wants, without limits.
authority -  The ability of the government to exercise power without resorting to violence.
authorization -  A formal declaration by a congressional committee that a certain amount of money is available to an agency.
autocracy -  A regime in which the government holds all the power.
bad-tendency rule -  A rule to judge if speech can be limited: If the speech could lead to some sort of “evil,” it can be prohibited.
Bakke case -  This Supreme Court Case decided in 1978 that affirmative action is legal as long as race is not the only factor considered.
balanced budget -  When a government spends exactly as much as it takes in.
bicameral legislature -  A legislature with two houses.
bilateral -  A state acting in cooperation with another state.
bill -  A proposed law or policy.
bill of attainder -  A bill passed by the legislature that declares a person guilty of a crime.
Bill of Rights -  The first ten amendments to the Constitution, which safeguard some specific rights of the American people and the states.
Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act -  A law passed in 2002 that banned soft money, put limits on issue advertising, and increased the amount people can donate to candidates; also called the McCain-Feingold bill.
bipolar system -  An international system characterized by two superpowers that roughly balance each other.
blanket primary -  A primary in which voters can choose candidates from more than one party; declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
block grant -  A grant-in-aid with few restrictions or rules about how it can be spent.
blog -  A weblog on the Internet; the thoughts and opinions of a person or group posted online.
brief -  A document submitted to a court that presents one side’s argument in a case.
broadcast media -  Media that is distributed over the airwaves.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas  -  Supreme Court case that ended segregation and declared “separate but equal” to be unconstitutional.
bundling -  The practice of lumping campaign donations from several donors together.
bureaucracy -  An administrative way of organizing large numbers of people to work together; usually relies on specialization, hierarchy, and standard operating procedure.
buying power -  One’s ability to purchase things; it is undermined by inflation.
cabinet -  A group, composed of the heads of federal departments and key agencies, that advises the president.
caesaropapism -  The belief that the powers of church and state should be united in one person.
candidate-centered politics -  Campaigns and politics that focus on the candidates, not party labels.
case law -  The collection of court decisions that shape law.
casework -  Work done by a member of Congress or his or her staff on behalf of constituents.
categorical grants -  Money given for a specific purpose that comes with restrictions concerning how the money should be spent. There are two types of categorical grants: project grants and formula grants.
caucus -  A gathering of political leaders to make decisions, such as which candidate to nominate for an office; set policy; and plot strategy.
census -  Counting the population to determine representation in the House of Representatives; the constitution mandates one every ten years.
central bank -  The institution with the power to implement monetary policy.
centralization -  the process by which law- and policymaking becomes centrally located.
centrally planned economy -  An economy where all decisions are made by the government.
charter -  A document issued by state government granting certain powers and responsibilities to a local government.
checks and balances -  The ability of different branches of government to stop each other from acting; designed to prevent one branch from gaining too much power.
chief of state -  The ceremonial head of government; in the United States, the president serves as chief of state.
citizen -  A legal member of a political unit.
civic education -  Education geared toward training the young to be good citizens.
civil liberties -  Individual freedoms that the government cannot take away, including free speech, freedom of religion, and the rights of the accused.
civil rights -  The rights of equality under the law.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 -  The major civil rights legislation in the modern era, the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination and segregation in public accommodations.
Civil Rights Cases  -  Supreme Court decision in 1883 that said the Fourteenth Amendment only made discrimination by government illegal; private citizens could do as they pleased.
civil service -  Government employees hired and promoted based on merit, not political connections.
Civil Service Commission -  The first federal personnel agency.
Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 -  Law that established the federal civil service; also known as the Pendleton Act.
Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 -  Law that updated and reformed the civil service.
civil society -  The network of community relationships that builds social capital.
civil war -  A war fought within a single country between or among different groups of citizens who want to control the government and do not recognize another group’s right to rule.
classical conservatism -  A view that arose in opposition to classical liberalism; it claimed that tradition was very valuable, human reason limited, and stability essential.
classical liberalism -  A view that arose in the early modern era in Europe; it argues for the value of the individual, the necessity for freedom, the importance of rationalism, and the value of the free market.
clear-and-present danger -  A limit on free speech stipulating that speech that constitutes a “clear and present danger” can be banned.
closed primary -  A primary in which the voter must belong to the party in which he or she participates.
closed rule -  A rule on a bill, issued by the House Rules Committee, which limits or bans amendments during floor debate.
cloture -  A motion to end debate in the Senate, it must be approved by sixty votes.
codetermination -  A policy used in some states with strong social democratic parties that forces large corporations to have substantial representation from the workers on the board of directors
command economy -  An economy where all decisions are made by the government.
commerce clause -  A clause in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution that grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.
common-carrier role -  The media’s role as an intermediary between the people and the government.
common law -  A system of law, originally from England, in which previous decisions guide judges in interpreting the law.
communism -  An extreme form of socialism that advocates violent revolution to create a socialist state.
comparative politics -  An academic discipline that compares states in order to understand how they work.
concurrent powers -  Powers exercised simultaneously by the states and the federal government.
concurring opinion -  An opinion issued by a judge who votes with the winning side but disagrees with the majority or plurality opinion.
confederacy -  A loose relationship among a number of smaller political units.
confederate system -  A system of government with a very weak central government and strong states.
conformism -  A tendency for people to act the same way, watch the same television programs, read the same books, and so on.
constituency -  The people in a district represented by a legislator.
constitution -  A set of rules that govern how power will be distributed and used legitimately in a state.
constitutional democracy -  A type of government characterized by limitations on government power spelled out in a constitution.
constitutional government -  A regime in which the use of power is limited by law.
constitutional powers -  Powers of the president granted explicitly by the Constitution.
continuing resolution -  A measure passed by Congress that temporarily funds an agency while Congress completes its budget.
conventional participation -  Political participation in activities deemed appropriate by most; includes voting, donating to a campaign, and writing letters to officeholders.
convention delegate -  A party member or official who goes to the national convention to vote for the party’s presidential nominee and to ratify the party’s platform.
cooperative federalism -  A term used to describe federalism for most of the twentieth century (and into the twenty-first), where the federal government and the states work closely together and are intertwined; also known as marble-cake federalism.
corrupt practices acts -  A series of laws in the early twentieth century that were the first attempts to regulate campaign finance.
credentials committee -  Party officials who decide which delegates may participate in the national convention.
critical election -  An election that marks the advent of a realignment.
dealignment -  The loosening of party ties as more voters see themselves as independents.
decision -  A document issued by the court stating who wins the case.
Declaration of Independence -  The document written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 that broke the colonies away from British rule.
de facto segregation -  Segregation that exists due to economic and residential patterns, not because of law.
defamation of character -  Unfairly hurting a person’s reputation.
deficit spending -  When a government intentionally spends more money than it takes in.
de jure segregation -  Segregation imposed by law.
delegated powers -  Powers granted by Congress to help the president fulfill his duties.
demand-side economics -  An approach to economic policy that stresses stimulation of demand by putting more money in the hands of consumers.
democracy -  Rule by the people.
democratic socialism -  A peaceful form of socialism that works within democratic governments to attain socialism gradually.
demosclerosis -  The inability of the U.S. government to get anything significant done because interest groups block all major change.
denial of power -  Declaring that a certain person or group does not have a particular power.
depression -  A severe economic downturn that lasts a long time; more serious than a recession.
deregulation -  The repeal or reduction of regulations in order to boost efficiency, increase competitiveness, and benefit consumers.
deterrence -  Threatening to use military force to prevent another state from taking a particular course of action.
devolution -  The process of the national government giving responsibilities and powers to state, local, or regional governments.
dictatorship -  An absolute government in which one person holds all the power and uses it for his or her own self-interest.
diplomacy -  The act of negotiating and dealing with other nations in the world, trying to achieve goals without force.
direct democracy -  A government in which the people come together to vote on all important issues.
discharge petition -  A measure in the House that forces a bill out of a committee for consideration by the whole House.
dissenting opinion -  A court opinion written by the losing side that explains why it disagrees with the decision.
diversity -  A mix of different cultural and religious traditions and values.
divided government -  A situation in which one party controls the presidency, while the other controls at least one house of Congress.
divine right theory of kingship -  The view that the monarch is chosen by God to rule with absolute power over a country.
division of labor -  The practice of dividing a job into smaller component parts and assigning one person or group to do each part.
dual federalism -  A term to describe federalism through most of the nineteenth century, where the federal and state governments each had their own issue areas, which rarely overlapped; also known as layer-cake federalism.
due process clause -  Part of the Fourteenth Amendment, which declares that no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
duopoly -  A term to describe the overwhelming power of the two major parties in American politics.
Earned Income Tax Credit -  A federal welfare program that refunds all or part of a poor family’s social security tax.
economic aid -  Assistance to other countries designed to help the recipient’s economy.
economic group -  An interest group that seeks material benefits for its members.
economic growth -  The expansion of the economy, leading to the creation of more jobs and more wealth.
effective tax rate -  The actual percentage of one’s income that one pays in taxes, after deductions and tax credits.
elastic clause -  Clause in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution that says the Congress has the power to do anything that is necessary and proper in order to carry out its explicit powers; also called the necessary and proper clause.
elector -  A member of the Electoral College.
Electoral College -  The body that elects the president of the United States; composed of electors from each state equal to that state’s representation in Congress; a candidate must get a majority of electoral votes to win.
elitism/elite theory -  The view that a small capable group should rule over the rest.
emergency powers -  Inherent powers exercised by the president to deal with emergencies.
empire -  A state that governs more than one national group, usually as a result of conquest.
enabling legislation -  A law passed by Congress that lays out the general purposes and powers of an agency but grants the agency the power to determine the details of how it implements policy.
entitlement program -  A program under which the federal government is obligated to pay a specified benefit to people who meet certain requirements.
enumerated powers -  The powers specifically given to Congress in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution.
environmental impact statement -  A statement that must be prepared by the federal government prior to acting that describes how the environment will be affected.
environmentalism -  The belief that humans have an obligation to protect the world from the excesses of human habitation, including pollution and the destruction of wilderness.
equality of opportunity -  When all people are given the same chances to compete and achieve so that those with talent and diligence will succeed, whereas others will not.
equality of outcome -  When all people achieve the same result, regardless of talent or effort.
equal protection clause -  Part of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that states must give all citizens the equal protection of the law.
Equal Rights Amendment -  A proposed amendment that would end gender discrimination; it failed to be ratified.
equal time rule -  A broadcast media regulation that requires media outlets to give equal amounts of time to opposing candidates in an election.
equity -  When all parties to a transaction are treated fairly.
establishment clause -  A part of the First Amendment that forbids government establishment of religion.
excess demand -  An economic situation in which the demand for something exceeds the supply.
exclusionary rule -  A legal rule that excludes from trial evidence obtained in an illegal search.
executive leadership -  The view that the president should have strong influence over the bureaucracy.
Executive Office of the President -  A set of agencies that work closely with the president to help him perform his job.
executive order -  An order issued by the president that has the effect of law.
executive privilege -  The right of officials of the executive branch to refuse to disclose some information to other branches of government or to the public.
ex post facto law -  A law that declares something illegal after it has been done.
expressed powers -  The specific powers given to Congress or the president by the Constitution; also called the enumerated powers.
fairness doctrine -  A broadcast media regulation that requires a broadcaster that airs a controversial program to also provide airtime to people with an opposing view.
faithless elector -  An elector who votes for someone other than the candidate who won the most votes in the state.
fascism -  Ideology from Italy that stresses national unity, a strong expansionist military, and absolute rule by one party.
federal budget -  A document detailing how the federal government will spend money during a fiscal year.
Federal Communications Commission -  The federal agency that regulates the broadcast media.
Federal Election Campaign Act -  A law, passed in 1971, that limited expenditures on media advertising and required disclosure of donations above $100; made more stringent following the Watergate scandal.
Federal Election Commission -  The independent agency established in 1974 to enforce campaign finance laws.
federalism -  A system of government in which power is shared by national and state governments.
Federal Register  -  A federal publication that lists all executive orders.
federal reserve bank -  The name of the central bank of the United States; often called the Fed.
federal system -  A system of government where power is shared between the central government and state and local governments.
feminism -  The belief that women are equal to men and should be treated equally by the law.
filibuster -  A Senate tactic; a senator in the minority on a bill holds the floor (in effect shutting down the Senate) until the majority backs down and kills the bill.
First Continental Congress -  A gathering of representatives from all thirteen colonies in 1774; it called for a total boycott of British goods in protest against taxes.
fiscal federalism -  The practice of states spending federal money to help administer national programs.
fiscal policy -  How the government influences the economy through taxing, borrowing, and spending.
fiscal year -  A twelve-month period (which does not coincide with the calendar year) used for accounting and budget purposes by the federal government.
527 groups -  A political organization, not affiliated with a party, that can raise and spend soft money; named after a section of the Internal Revenue Code.
flat taxes -  A taxation system in which everyone is charged the same rate, regardless of income.
food stamps -  Coupons issued by the government that can be used to purchase food.
foreign policy -  A state’s international goals and its strategies to achieve those goals.
formalized rules -  Another term for standard operating procedure.
formula grants -  Grants in which a formula is used to determine how much money each state receives.
framers -  The men who wrote the Constitution.
franking -  The ability of members of Congress to mail informational literature to constituents free of charge.
free exercise clause -  The part of the First Amendment that forbids the government from interfering in the free exercise of religion.
free rider -  A person who benefits from an interest group’s efforts without actually contributing to those efforts.
front-loading -  Moving primaries up in the campaign calendar so that many primaries are held early in the campaign.
front-runner -  The candidate perceived to be in the lead in an election campaign.
full faith and credit clause -  A clause in Article IV of the Constitution that declares that state governments must give full faith and credit to other state governments’ decisions.
fundamentalism -  The belief that a religious document is infallible and literally true.
gag order -  An order by a court to block people from talking or writing about a trial.
gender discrimination -  Treating people differently and unequally because of gender.
general election -  An election contest between all party nominees and independent candidates; the winner becomes a member of Congress.
general jurisdiction -  A court’s power to hear cases, which is mostly unrestricted.
gerrymandering -  The term used to describe the process by which the party that controls the state government uses redistricting to its own political advantage.
Gibbons v. Ogden  -  An 1824 Supreme Court case that gave the federal government extensive powers through the commerce clause.
Gideon v. Wainwright  -  Supreme Court case of 1963 that ordered governments to provide an attorney to criminal defendants who cannot afford one.
globalization -  The trend toward the breakdown of state borders and the rise of international and global organizations and governments.
government -  The organization of power within a country.
Government Accountability Office -  Congress’s main investigative agency, the GAO investigates operations of government agencies as part of congressional oversight.
government bond -  A promissory note issued by the government to pay back the purchase price plus interest.
government corporation -  A federal agency that operates like a corporation (following business practices and charging for services) but receives some federal funding.
grandfather clause -  A voting law that stated that a person could vote if his grandfather was eligible to vote prior to 1867; designed to keep blacks from voting.
grant-in-aid -  A general term to describe federal aid given to the states for a particular matter.
grant of power -  Declaring that a certain person or group has a specific power.
grassroots activism -  Efforts to influence the government by mobilizing large numbers of people.
Great Compromise -  The compromise plan on representation in the constitutional convention; it created a bicameral legislature with representation determined by population in one house and equality in the other; also known as the Connecticut Compromise.
gross domestic product -  The total value of all economic transactions within a state.
guerrilla war -  A war in which one or both combatants use small, lightly armed militia units rather than professional, organized armies; guerrilla fighters usually seek to topple their government, often enjoying the support of the people.
gun control -  Policies that aim at regulating and reducing the use of firearms.
Hatch Act -  A law passed in 1939 that restricts the participation of federal civil servants in political campaigns.
hierarchy -  An arrangement of power with a small number of people at the top issuing orders through a chain of command to lower-level workers; each person is responsible to someone above him or her.
home rule -  The granting of significant autonomy to local governments by state governments.
home style -  The way a member of Congress behaves in his or her district.
honeymoon period -  The first few months of an administration in which the public, members of Congress, and the media tend to give the president their goodwill.
horizontal federalism -  How state governments relate to one another.
hyperpluralism -  The idea that there are too many interest groups competing for benefits.
idealism -  The view that states should act in the global arena to promote moral causes and use ethical means to achieve them.
ideology -  A set of beliefs a person holds that shape the way he or she behaves and sees the world.
illegal participation -  Political activity that includes illegal actions, such as sabotage or assassination.
impeachment -  The power of the House of Representatives to charge an officeholder with crimes; the Senate then holds a trial to determine if the officeholder should be expelled from office.
implementation -  The act of putting laws into practice.
implied powers -  Powers given to the national government by the necessary and proper clause.
income distribution -  The way income is distributed among the population.
income transfer -  A government action that takes money from one part of the citizenry and gives it to another part; usually the transfer goes from the well-off to the poor.
incorporation -  The practice of federal courts forcing state governments to abide by the Bill of Rights.
incrementalism -  The tendency of policy in the United States to change gradually, in small ways, rather than dramatically.
independent -  A person who does not feel affiliation for any party.
independent executive agency -  A federal agency that is not part of any department; its leader reports directly to the president.
independent regulatory agency -  A federal agency charged with regulating some part of the economy; in theory, such agencies are independent of Congress and the president.
individualism -  The idea that all people are different and should be able to make their own choices.
inflation -  The increase of prices.
informational benefits -  The educational benefits people derive from belonging to an interest group and learning more about the issues they care about.
inherent powers -  The powers inherent to the national government because the United States is a sovereign nation.
in-kind subsidies -  Government aid to poor people that is not given as cash but in forms such as food stamps and rent vouchers.
inside game -  Interest groups’ efforts to influence government by direct and close contact with government officials; also known as lobbying.
interest group -  An organization of people who share a common interest and work together to protect and promote that interest by influencing the government.
international agreement -  An understanding between states to restrict their behavior and set up rules governing international affairs.
internationalism -  The view that the United States should play an active role in world affairs.
international law -  A set of agreements, traditions, and norms built up over time that restricts what states can do; not always binding.
international organization -  An institution set up by agreements between nations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.
international system -  The basic structures that affect how states relate to one another, including rules and traditions.
Internet media -  Media that is distributed online.
interpretive reporting -  Reporting that states the facts along with analysis and interpretation.
intervention -  When a state sends military forces to help a country that is already at war.
iron triangle -  An alliance of groups with an interest in a policy area: bureaucrats from the relevant agency, legislators from appropriate committees, and interest groups affected by the issue.
isolationism -  The view that the United States should largely ignore the rest of the world.
issue advertising -  Advertising, paid for by outside groups, that can criticize or praise a candidate but not explicitly say “vote for X” or “vote against X.”
issue network -  A collection of actors who agree on a policy and work together to shape policy.
Jim Crow laws -  Laws passed by southern states that imposed inequality and segregation on blacks.
Joint Chiefs of Staff -  A group that helps the president make strategy decisions and evaluates the needs and capabilities of the military.
judicial activism -  A judicial philosophy that argues courts must take an active positive role to remedy wrongs in the country.
judicial implementation -  The process of enforcing a court’s ruling.
judicial philosophy -  A set of ideas that shape how a judge or lawyer interprets the law and the Constitution.
judicial restraint -  A judicial philosophy that believes the court’s responsibility is to interpret the law, not set policy.
judicial review -  The power of the courts to declare laws and presidential actions unconstitutional.
jurisdiction -  A court’s power to hear cases of a particular type.
justiciable question -  A matter that the courts can review.
just-war theory -  A theory of ethics that defines when war is morally permissible and what means of warfare are justified.
Keynesian economics -  A demand-side economic policy, first presented by John Maynard Keynes after World War I, that encouraged deficit spending by governments during economic recessions in order to provide jobs and boost income.
kitchen cabinet -  An informal name for the president’s closest advisers.
Kyoto Protocol -  An international treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
laissez-faire capitalism -  The economic philosophy that the government should not interfere with the economy.
lawmaking -  The power to make rules that are binding on all people in a society.
layer-cake federalism -  A term used to describe federalism through most of the nineteenth century, in which the federal and state governments each had their own issue areas, that rarely overlapped; also known as dual federalism.
legislative agenda -  A series of laws a person wishes to pass.
legitimacy -  Acceptance by citizens of the government.
Lemon test -  A three-part test to determine if the establishment clause has been violated; named for the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman.
libel -  Printing false statements that defame a person’s character.
liberalism -  A theory of international relations that deemphasizes the importance of military power in favor of economic power, trade, and international institutions.
libertarianism -  The belief that government should be small and most decisions left up to the individual.
liberty -  The freedom to do what one chooses as long as one does not harm or limit the freedom of other people.
limited government -  A government that places few restrictions on its citizens’ choices and actions, and in which the government is limited in what it can do.
limited jurisdiction -  A court’s power to hear only certain kinds of cases.
limited war -  A war fought primarily between professional armies to achieve specific political objectives without causing widespread destruction.
line-item veto -  A special type of veto that the president can use to strike the specific parts of the bill he or she dislikes without rejecting the entire bill.
line organization -  In the government bureaucracy, an agency whose head reports directly to the president.
literacy test -  Historically, a test that must be passed before a person can vote; designed to prevent blacks from voting.
lobbying -  Attempting to persuade government officials through direct contact via persuasion and the provision of material benefits; also known as the inside game.
logrolling -  A practice in Congress where two or more members agree to support each other’s bills.
loophole -  A part of a tax code that allows individuals or businesses to reduce their tax burden.
loose constructionism -  A judicial philosophy that believes the Constitution should be interpreted in an open way, not limited to things explicitly stated.
machine -  A very strong party organization that turns favors and patronage into votes.
Madisonian Model -  A structure of government proposed by James Madison that avoided tyranny by separating power among different branches and building checks and balances into the Constitution.
majority leader -  (1) In the House, the second-ranking member of the majority party; (2) in the Senate, the highest-ranking member of the majority party.
majority opinion -  A court opinion that reflects the reasoning of the majority of justices.
majority party -  In a legislative body, the party with more than half of the seats.
majority rule -  The idea that the government should act in accordance with the will of the majority of people.
malapportionment -  An apportionment of seats in Congress that is unfair due to population shifts.
mandate -  When the federal government requires states to do certain things.
mandatory retirement -  An employment policy that states that when an employee reaches a certain age, he or she must retire.
marble-cake federalism -  A term used to describe federalism for most of the twentieth century (and into the twenty-first), where the federal government and the states work closely together and are intertwined; also known as cooperative federalism.
markup -  When a Congressional committee revises a bill in session.
material incentive -  The lure of a concrete benefit, usually money, that attracts people to join a group.
McCain-Feingold bill -  The popular informal name for the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002; it is named after its sponsors, Republican John McCain and Democrat Russell Feingold.
McCulloch v. Maryland  -  A Supreme Court case that granted the federal government extensive power to carry out its enumerated powers.
means-testing -  Basing benefits from a policy on a person’s wealth so that poor people get more benefits than rich people.
media -  Information and the organizations that distribute that information to the public.
media consolidation -  The trend toward a few large corporations owning most of the media outlets in the country.
merit system -  The practice of hiring and promoting people based on skill.
Merit System Protection Board -  A board that investigates charges of wrongdoing in the federal civil service.
midterm election -  A congressional election that does not coincide with a presidential election.
military aid -  Assistance to other countries designed to strengthen the recipient’s military.
military-industrial complex -  The alliance of defense contractors, the military, and some members of Congress that promotes a large defense budget in order to profit themselves.
minority leader -  In both the House and Senate, the leader of the minority party.
minority party -  In a legislative body, the party with fewer than half of the seats.
Miranda v. Arizona  -  A 1966 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that police must inform suspects of their rights when arrested.
mixed economy -  An economy that includes elements of the free market and central planning.
monarchy -  A regime in which all power is held by a single person.
monetary policy -  An economic policy that seeks to control the supply of money in the economy.
monopolistic model -  A view of the bureaucracy that says bureaucracies have no incentive to reform or improve performance because they face no competition.
Monroe Doctrine -  An American policy, set by President James Monroe in 1823, that claims America’s right to intervene in the affairs of Western Hemisphere nations.
multiculturalism -  The idea that Americans should learn about and respect the many cultural heritages of the people of the United States.
multilateralism -  The idea that nations should act together to solve problems.
multinational corporation -  A business that operates in more than one country.
multiple-member district -  A legislative district that sends more than one person to the legislature.
multipolar system -  An international system with more than two major powers.
nation -  A large group of people who are linked by a similar culture, language, and history.
national convention -  A convention held by a political party every four years to nominate candidates for president and vice president and to ratify the party platform.
national debt -  Money owed by a government.
national interest -  Things that will benefit and protect a state.
nationalism -  A belief in the goodness of one’s nation and a desire to help make the nation stronger and better.
National Security Council -  A part of the White House Staff that advises the president on security policy.
nation-building -  The task of creating a national identity through promotion of common culture, language, and history.
nation-state -  A state that rules over a single nation.
Nazism -  Political ideology from Germany that stressed the superiority of the German race, authoritarian rule by one party, military expansion, and a longing for a mythical past.
necessary and proper clause -  A clause at the end of Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution that grants Congress the power to do whatever is necessary and proper to carry out its duties; also known as the elastic clause.
necessary evil -  Something that is believed to be needed but is not good in and of itself; many Americans see government as a necessary evil.
negotiated rule-making -  A federal rule-making process that includes those affected by the rules.
neoconservatism -  A recent development in American conservatism that believes the power of the state should be used to promote conservative goals.
New Deal coalition -  The supporters of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; the coalition included labor unions, Catholics, southern whites, and African Americans; helped the Democrats dominate politics from the 1930s until the 1960s.
new federalism -  An American movement, starting in the 1970s, to return power to state and local governments, thereby decreasing the amount of power held by the federal government.
New Jersey Plan -  A plan at the constitutional convention that gave each state equal representation in the legislature.
nihilism -  The belief that in order to remake society, one must first destroy the current society.
Nineteenth Amendment -  Passed in 1920, it gave women the right to vote.
No Child Left Behind Act -  A law passed in 2001 that expanded federal funding to schools but required increased testing and accountability.
noneconomic group -  An interest group that works on noneconomic issues; also called a citizens’ group.
nongovernmental actor -  A participant in the international arena that is not part of a government; such participants include nongovernmental organizations, multinational corporations, and international organizations.
nongovernmental organization -  A political actor that is not affiliated with a particular government. Many NGOs are nonprofit institutions run by private citizens, such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Catholic Church.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -  An international treaty, signed in 1968, that aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
objective reporting -  Reporting only the facts with no opinion or bias.
office-block ballot -  A ballot that groups candidates by office: All candidates for an office are listed together; also called the Massachusetts ballot.
Office of Personnel Management -  The central federal personnel office, created in 1978.
oligarchy -  Rule by the wealthy few.
ombudsperson -  A person who investigates complaints against government agencies or employees.
open primary -  A primary in which a person can participate in any party’s primary as long as he or she participates in only one party’s primary.
open rule -  A rule on a bill, issued by the House Rules Committee, allowing amendments during floor debate.
opinion -  A document issued by a court explaining the reasons for its decision.
opinion leader -  A person whose opinion can shape the opinions of many others.
original intent -  A judicial philosophy that states that judges should seek to interpret the law and the constitution in line with the intent of the founders.
original jurisdiction -  The authority to be the first court to hear a case.
outside game -  A term used to describe grassroots activism and other means to influence elections and policymaking.
overregulation -  An excess of regulation that hurts efficiency.
oversight -  Congress’s power to make sure laws are being properly enforced.
pack journalism -  The idea that journalists frequently copy and imitate each other rather than doing independent reporting.
paradox of participation -  When many people vote because they wish to make a difference, but the actual chances of making a difference are infinitesimally small.
pardon -  A release from punishment for criminal conviction; the president has the power to pardon.
parliamentary democracy -  A regime in which the legislature chooses the executive branch.
partisan journalism -  Journalism that advances the viewpoint of a political party.
party activist -  A person who is deeply involved with a party; usually more ideologically extreme than an average party voter.
party-centered politics -  Campaigns and politics that focus on party labels and platforms.
party-column ballot -  A ballot that groups candidates by party; also called the Indiana ballot.
party identification -  Feeling connected to a political party.
party in government -  The role and function of parties in government, particularly in Congress.
party in the electorate -  Party identification among voters.
party organization -  The formal structure and leadership of a political party.
party platform -  The collection of issue positions endorsed by a political party.
party reform -  Measures aimed at opening up party leadership adopted by the major parties following the 1968 election.
patronage -  Government jobs and contracts given out to political allies in exchange for support.
Pendleton Act -  Another name for the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883.
per curiam -  An unsigned decision issued by an appellate court; it reaffirms the lower court’s ruling.
pigeonholing -  The ability of a committee to kill a bill by setting it aside and not acting on it.
Plessy v. Ferguson  -  The Supreme Court case of 1896 that upheld a Louisiana law segregating passengers on trains; it created the separate but equal doctrine.
pluralism -  The view that society contains numerous centers of power and many people participate in making decisions for society.
plurality -  More votes than any other candidate but not a majority.
plurality opinion -  An opinion written by the majority of justices on the winning side.
pocket veto -  An unusual type of presidential veto: When the president neither signs nor vetoes a bill, after ten days the bill dies if Congress is not in session.
political action committee -  An organization, usually allied with an interest group, that can donate money to political campaigns.
political appointees -  Federal bureaucrats appointed by the president, often to reward loyalty.
political culture -  The set of beliefs, values, shared myths, and notions of a good polity that a group of people hold.
political economy -  The study of how politics and economics interact.
political efficacy -  The belief that the government listens to normal people and that participation can make a difference in government.
political equality -  Treating everyone the same way in the realm of politics.
political participation -  Engaging in actions to achieve political goals.
political party -  An alliance of like-minded people who work together to win elections and control of the government.
political science -  The systematic, rigorous study of politics.
political socialization -  The process by which political culture is passed on to the young.
politics -  The process by which government decisions are made.
polling -  Assessing public opinion by asking people what they think and feel.
pollster -  A person who conducts polls.
poll tax -  A fee for voting, designed to keep blacks and other poor people from voting.
popular sovereignty -  A regime in which the government must respond to the wishes of the people.
Populists -  A political movement in the late nineteenth century that fought on behalf of the poor workers and farmers; fused with the Democratic Party in 1896.
pork -  Money spent by Congress for local projects that are not strictly necessary and are designed to funnel money into a district.
poverty line -  The federal standard for poverty: Anyone below a certain income level is considered poor.
power -  The ability to get others to do what you want.
power of the purse -  The ability of Congress to spend money; all federal expenditures must be authorized by Congress.
precedent -  A court ruling bearing on subsequent court cases.
preemption -  The practice of the national government overriding state and local laws in the name of the national interest.
Presidential Commission -  A body that advises the president on some problem, making recommendations; some are temporary, whereas others are permanent.
presidential democracy -  A regime in which the president and the legislators must be entirely separate.
president pro tempore -  In the vice president’s absence, the presiding officer of the Senate.
primary election -  An election within a party to choose the party’s nominee for the office.
print media -  Media distributed via printed materials.
prior restraint -  Stopping free expression before it happens.
private bill -  A bill that offers benefit or relief to a single person, named in the bill.
private good -  A good that benefits only some people, such as members of a group.
privatization -  The practice of private companies providing government services.
privileges and immunities clause -  Part of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids state governments from taking away any of the privileges and immunities of American citizenship.
probability sample -  A sampling technique in which each member of the population has a known chance of being chosen for the sample.
professional legislature -  A state legislature that meets in session for long periods, pays its members well, and hires large support staffs for legislators.
progressive taxes -  A taxation system in which the rich must pay a higher percentage of their income than the poor.
prohibited powers -  The powers specifically denied to the national government by the Constitution.
project grants -  Categorical grant programs in which states submit proposals for projects to the federal government and the national government chooses which to fund on a competitive basis.
proportional representation -  An electoral system in which each party gets a number of seats in the legislature proportionate to its percentage of the vote.
prospective voting -  Making a vote choice by looking to the future: Voters choose the candidate(s) they believe will help the country the most in the next few years.
proxy war -  A war fought by third parties rather than by the enemy states themselves.
public administration -  The task of running the government, and providing services through policy implementation.
public assistance -  Another term for welfare.
public education -  Informing the public about key issues and about what Congress is doing about those issues.
public good -  A good that benefits everyone, not just some; also called collective good.
public opinion -  The basic attitudes and opinions of the general public.
public policy -  Any rule, plan, or action pertaining to issues of domestic national importance.
public representative role -  The role of the media to act as a representative of the public, holding government officials accountable to the people.
purposive incentive -  The lure of a desire to promote a cause.
rally ’round the flag effect -  A significant boost in presidential popularity when a foreign crisis arises.
random selection -  A sampling technique to ensure that each person in the population has an equal chance of being selected for the sample.
ranking member -  The senior committee member from the minority party.
ratings game -  The practice of organizations rating members of Congress based on votes that matter to the organizations and their members.
rational choice theory -  An approach that assumes people act rationally in their self-interest, seeking to maximize value.
rationalism -  The belief that human reason can find solutions to many of our problems.
realignment -  A dramatic shift in the balance of the two parties that changes the key issues dividing the parties.
realism -  A theory of international relations that stresses the importance of power (particularly military power) and claims that states act in their national interest.
reapportionment -  The process of reallocating representation in the House of Representatives after a census; some states will gain seats, while other will lose them.
recession -  An economic downturn; milder than a depression.
redistributive policy -  A government action that takes money from one part of the citizenry and gives it to another part; usually the transfer goes from the well-off to the poor; also known as income transfer.
redistricting -  Redrawing district boundaries after a state loses or gains seats in the House of Representatives.
regime -  A word used to describe a particular government.
regressive taxes -  A taxation system that costs the poor a larger portion of their income than it does the rich because the amount of tax gets smaller as the amount to which the tax is applied gets larger.
regulated federalism -  The practice of the national government imposing standards and regulations on state governments.
regulatory policy -  Government policies that limit what businesses can do; examples include minimum wages, workplace safety measures, and careful monitoring of stock sales.
remand -  Sending a case back to a lower court for a new trial or proceeding.
rent voucher -  A voucher issued by the government that can be used to pay all or part of a poor person’s rent.
representative democracy -  A system of government in which the people elect officials to represent their interests in the government.
representative sample -  A sample that resembles the population as a whole.
reprieve -  A formal postponement of the execution of a criminal sentence; the president has the power to grant reprieves.
republic -  A regime that runs by representative democracy.
reregulation -  Significantly changing government regulations on an industry.
reserved powers -  The powers reserved to the states and the people in the Tenth Amendment.
responsible party -  A party that is strong enough to carry out a specific platform if elected to office.
retention election -  A state election, held in states using the merit plan for selecting judges, in which voters are asked whether a judge should keep his or her job.
retrospective voting -  Making a vote choice by looking to the past: Voters support incumbents if they feel that the country has done well over the past few years.
revenue agency -  A government agency that raises money by collecting taxes or fees.
revenue sharing -  The practice of the federal government giving money to the states with no strings attached; started by the Nixon Administration and ended by the Reagan Administration.
reverse -  When a court overturns a lower court’s ruling, declaring it void.
reverse discrimination -  Discrimination against majority-status people due to affirmative action policies.
revolution -  A major event causing a fundamental change in a state.
rider -  An amendment attached to a bill that has nothing to do with the bill itself.
right of rebuttal -  A media regulation that requires broadcasters to give people an opportunity to reply to criticisms aired on the outlet.
rights of the minority -  Rights held by the minority that must be respected by the majority.
Roe v. Wade  -  A 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion during the first trimester.
rogue state -  A state that does not follow international law or unspoken rules of the global arena.
roll-call vote -  Occurs when each member’s vote is recorded.
rugged individualism -  A form of individualism that emphasizes self-reliance and ignoring what others want and think.
rule-making -  The bureaucratic function of creating rules needed to implement policy.
rule of four -  An informal rule in the Supreme Court: Four justices must agree to hear a case for the Court to issue a writ of certiorari.
sample -  A group of people who are used to stand in for the whole population in a poll.
sampling error -  Mistakes in polls caused by bad samples.
school vouchers -  Government money given to parents to help pay for tuition at private schools.
Second Continental Congress -  The governing body over the colonies during the revolution that drafted the Articles of Confederation to create the first national government.
selective incentives -  The lure of benefits that only group members will receive.
selective incorporation -  Forcing states to abide by only parts of the Bill of Rights, not the whole thing.
self-selected candidate -  A person who chooses to run for office on his or her own initiative.
senatorial courtesy -  A tradition in which a Senator, if he or she is of the president’s party, gets input into nominees for federal judgeships in his or her state.
separation of powers -  Dividing up governmental power among several branches.
sexual harassment -  Unwanted and inappropriate physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with doing one’s job or creates a hostile work environment.
Shays’ Rebellion -  A 1786 uprising of Massachusetts farmers against high taxes and debt.
signing message -  A message attached to a bill the president signs, explaining his or her understanding of the bill.
single-member district -  A legislative district that sends only one person to the legislature.
skewed sample -  A sample that is not representative and leads to inaccurate polling results; a deceptive practice used to manipulate public opinion.
slander -  Publicly stating things that the speaker knows to be untrue that hurt a person’s reputation.
social capital -  Mutual trust and habits of cooperation that are acquired by people through involvement in community organizations and volunteer groups.
socialism -  Political view that the free market breeds servitude and inequality and should be abolished.
social security -  A social insurance program that aims to keep retired people and the disabled out of poverty.
sociological representation -  A type of representation in which the representative resembles the constituents in ethnic, religious, racial, social, or educational ways.
soft money -  Unregulated money raised by parties and spent to influence elections indirectly; banned by the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
solicitor general -  A high-ranking Justice Department official who submits requests for writs of certiorari to the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government; he or she also usually argues cases for the government in front the Court.
solidarity incentive -  The lure of a social benefit, such as friendship, gained by members of an organization.
sovereignty -  The right to exercise political power in a territory.
Speaker of the House -  The leader of the House of Representatives, elected by the majority party.
special district -  A type of local government designed to meet a very specific need.
special election -  An election to replace a member of Congress who leaves office in between regular elections.
specialization -  The practice of a group or person becoming extremely knowledgeable and skilled at one specific task.
splinter party -  A third party formed when a faction from a major party breaks off and forms its own party.
split-ticket voting -  Voting for candidates from one party for some offices and from the other party for other offices.
spoiler -  A losing candidate who costs another candidate the election.
spoils system -  The practice of an elected officials rewarding supporters and allies by giving them government jobs.
staffer -  A person who works for Congress in a supporting capacity.
standard operating procedure -  A set of rules established in a bureaucracy that dictate how workers respond to different situations so that all workers respond in the same way.
stare decisis -  The legal doctrine of following precedent.
state -  A political unit that has sovereign power over a particular piece of land.
statecraft -  The exercise of power, guided by wisdom, in pursuit of the public good.
State of the Union address -  A constitutionally mandated message, given by the president to Congress, in which the president lays out plans for the coming year.
statute -  A law passed by Congress, a state legislature, or some other government body.
stewardship theory -  A view of presidential power, put forward by Theodore Roosevelt, arguing that the president is uniquely suited to act for the well-being of the whole nation because he or she is elected by the whole nation.
straight-ticket voting -  Voting for only candidates from one party.
strict constructionism -  A judicial philosophy that argues that constitutional interpretation should be limited to the specific wording of the document.
subnationalism -  Identification with small ethnic and regional groups within a nation.
suffrage -  The right to vote; also called the franchise.
sunset provisions -  Expiration dates written into some federal programs; Congress can renew the program if it is satisfied that the program is achieving its objectives.
sunshine laws -  Laws that require government agencies to hold public proceedings on a regular basis.
superdelegate -  A party leader or elected official who is automatically granted delegate status for the national convention; superdelegates do not have to be chosen in primaries.
Super Tuesday -  A term used to describe primary elections held in a large number of states on the same day.
Supplemental Security Income -  A federal program that provides a minimum income to seniors and the disabled who do not qualify for social security.
supply-side economics -  An attempt to improve the economy by providing big tax cuts to businesses and wealthy individuals (the supply side). These cuts encourage investment, which then creates jobs, so the effect will be felt throughout the economy; also known as trickle-down economics.
supremacy clause -  The part of Article VI of the Constitution that specifies that the federal Constitution, and laws passed by the federal government, are the supreme law of the land.
supremacy doctrine -  The doctrine that national law takes priority over state law; included in the Constitution as the supremacy clause.
surplus -  When a government spends less money than it takes in.
symbolic speech -  Actions that are intended to convey a belief.
system of government -  How power is distributed among different parts and levels of the state.
talk radio -  A radio format featuring a host who interviews guests that is often very partisan.
tax credit -  A reduction in one’s tax burden designed to help certain people.
Temporary Assistance to Need Families -  A federal welfare program that provides money to poor families.
term limits -  Limits on the number of terms an elected official can serve.
terrorism -  The use of violent tactics with the aim of creating fear and destabilizing a government; frequently targets civilians.
third party -  In American politics, any political party other than the Democrats and Republicans.
Three-Fifths Compromise -  A compromise on how to count slaves for determining population; slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person.
totalitarian government -  A regime in which the government controls every facet of life.
total war -  A highly destructive total war in which combatants use every resource available to destroy the social fabric of the enemy.
transnational -  Something that lies beyond the boundaries of a nation-state or consists of several nation-states.
trickle-down economics -  An attempt to improve the economy by providing big tax cuts to businesses and wealthy individuals (the supply side). These cuts encourage investment, which then creates jobs, so the effect will be felt throughout the economy; also known as supply-side economics.
trustee representation -  A type of representation in which the people choose a representative whose judgment and experience they trust. The representative votes for what he or she thinks is right, regardless of the opinions of the constituents.
tyranny of the majority -  When the majority violate the rights of the minority.
unconventional participation -  Political activity that, although legal, is not considered appropriate by many people; it includes demonstrations, boycotts, and protests.
underemployment -  When people who seek work can only find part-time jobs.
unemployment -  When not everyone who wants a job can find one.
unfunded mandate -  A mandate for which the federal government gives the states no money.
unilateral -  A state acting alone in the global arena.
unipolar -  An international system with a single superpower dominating other states.
unitary system -  A system of government where power is concentrated in the hands of the central government.
unity -  The idea that people overwhelmingly support the government and share certain common beliefs even if they disagree about particular policies.
user fee -  A fee charged by the government to do certain things (e.g., paying a toll to use a tunnel).
veto -  The power of the president to stop a bill passed by Congress from becoming law.
veto message -  A message written by the president, attached to a bill he or she has vetoed, which explains the reasons for the veto.
Virginia Plan -  A plan at the constitutional convention to base representation in the legislature on population.
voter turnout -  The percentage of citizens who vote in an election.
voting behavior -  A term used to describe the motives and factors that shape voters’ choices.
Voting Rights Act -  A law passed in 1965 that banned discrimination in voter registration requirements.
War Powers Resolution -  Passed by Congress in 1973, the War Powers Resolution demands that the president consult with Congress when sending troops into action; it also gives Congress the power to force withdrawal of troops.
Washington community -  The “inside the beltway” group that closely follows politics and constantly evaluates the relative power of politicians.
watchdog journalism -  Journalism that attempts to hold government officials and institutions accountable for their actions.
Weberian model -  The model of bureaucracy developed by sociologist Max Weber that characterizes bureaucracy as a rational and efficient means of organizing a large group of people.
welfare -  The term for the set of policies designed to help those in economic need.
welfare state -  The term to describe the government or country that provides aid to the poor and help to the unemployed.
whip -  A member of the leadership of a legislative body responsible for counting votes and connecting the leadership with the rank and file.
whistleblower -  A person who reports wrongdoing in a government agency.
White House staff -  The people with whom the president works every day.
white primary -  The practice of political parties only allowing whites to participate in their primaries.
winner take all -  An electoral system in which the person with the most votes wins everything (and everyone else loses); most states have winner-take-all systems for determining electoral votes.
writ of certiorari -  The legal document, issued by the Supreme Court, that orders a lower court to send a case to the Supreme Court for review.
writ of habeas corpus -  A court order requiring that the government show cause for detaining someone and charge him or her with a crime.
yellow journalism -  Journalism that focuses on shocking and sordid stories to sell newspapers.

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