Glossary of Terms

de facto segregation

segregation that results from the private choices of individuals

de jure segregation

segregation that results from government discrimination

Bill of Rights

the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution; most were designed to protect fundamental rights and liberties

majority leader

the leader of the majority party in either the House or Senate; in the House, the majority leader serves under the Speaker of the House, in the Senate, the majority leader is the functional leader and chief spokesperson for the majority party


a form of government where one ruler, usually a hereditary one, holds political power

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

an office within the Executive Office of the President charged with producing the president’s budget, overseeing its implementation, and overseeing the executive bureaucracy

affirmative action

the use of programs and policies designed to assist groups that have historically been subject to discrimination

agenda setting

the media’s ability to choose which issues or topics get attention

agent of political socialization

a person or entity that teaches and influences others about politics through use of information

amendatory veto

a veto that allows a governor to send a bill back to the legislature with a message requesting a specific amendment

American Indian Movement (AIM)

the Native American civil rights group responsible for the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973

amicus curiae

literally a "friend of the court" and used for a brief filed by someone who is interested in but not party to a case


those who did not support ratification of the Constitution

appellate courts

a court that reviews cases already decided by a lower or trial court and that may change the lower court’s decision

appellate jurisdiction

the power of a court to hear a case on appeal from a lower court and possibly change the lower court’s decision


the process by which seats in the House of Representatives are distributed among the fifty states

Articles of Confederation

the first basis for the new nation’s government; adopted in 1781; created an alliance of sovereign states held together by a weak central government

associate justices

a member of the Supreme Court who is not the chief justice


groups of companies or institutions that organize around a common set of concerns, often within a given industry or trade

astroturf movement

a political movement that resembles a grassroots movement but is often supported or facilitated by wealthy interests and/or elites

balance of power

a situation in which no one nation or region is much more powerful militarily than any other in the world

balance of trade

the relationship between a country’s inflow and outflow of goods

ballot fatigue

the result when a voter stops voting for offices and initiatives at the bottom of a long ballot

bandwagon effect

increased media coverage of candidates who poll high


the coverage area assigned to journalists for news or stories

bicameral legislature

a legislature with two houses, such as the U.S. Congress


the political process that results from dividing a legislature into two separate assemblies

bill of attainder

a legislative action declaring someone guilty without a trial; prohibited under the Constitution


proposed legislation under consideration by a legislature


a process of cooperation through compromise

black codes

laws passed immediately after the Civil War that discriminated against freed slaves and other blacks and deprived them of their rights

Block grants

a type of grant that comes with less stringent federal administrative conditions and provide recipients more latitude over how to spend grant funds

blue laws

a law originally created to uphold a religious or moral standard, such as a prohibition against selling alcohol on Sundays

bottom-up implementation

a strategy in which the federal government allows local areas some flexibility to meet their specific challenges and needs in implementing policy

Bradley effect

the difference between a poll result and an election result in which voters gave a socially desirable poll response rather than a true response that might be perceived as racist


a written legal argument presented to a court by one of the parties in a case

Brown v. Board of Education

the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that struck down Plessy v. Ferguson and declared segregation and "separate but equal" to be unconstitutional in public education

bully pulpit

Theodore Roosevelt’s notion of the presidency as a platform from which the president could push an agenda


an administrative group of nonelected officials charged with carrying out functions connected to a series of policies and programs


the civil servants or political appointees who fill nonelected positions in government and make up the bureaucracy


a group of advisors to the president, consisting of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch who head the fifteen executive departments

Categorical grants

a federal transfer formulated to limit recipients’ discretion in the use of funds and subject them to strict administrative criteria


a form of candidate nomination that occurs in a town-hall style format rather than a day-long election; usually reserved for presidential elections


a document that provides a framework and detailed account of local government responsibilities and areas of authority

checks and balances

a system that allows one branch of government to limit the exercise of power by another branch; requires the different parts of government to work together


a term adopted by some Mexican American civil rights activists to describe themselves and those like them

chief justice

the highest-ranking justice on the Supreme Court

chronic minority

voters who belong to political parties that tend not to be competitive in national elections because they are too small to become a majority or because of the Electoral College system distribution in their state

circuit courts

the appeals (appellate) courts of the federal court system that review decisions of the lower (district) courts; also called courts of appeals

citizen journalism

video and print news posted to the Internet or social media by citizens rather than the news media

Citizens United

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a 2010 Supreme Court case that granted corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections

civil disobedience

an action taken in violation of the letter of the law to demonstrate that the law is unjust

civil law

a non-criminal law defining private rights and remedies

civil liberties

limitations on the power of government, designed to ensure personal freedoms

Civil rights

guarantees of equal treatment by government authorities

civil servants

the individuals who fill nonelected positions in government and make up the bureaucracy; also known as bureaucrats

Classical liberalism

a political ideology based on belief in individual liberties and rights and the idea of free will, with little role for government

closed primary

an election in which only voters registered with a party may vote for that party’s candidates


a parliamentary process to end a debate in the Senate, as a measure against the filibuster; invoked when three-fifths of senators vote for the motion

coattail effect

the result when a popular presidential candidate helps candidates from his or her party win their own elections

Cold War

the period from shortly after World War II until approximately 1989–1990 when advanced industrial democracies divided behind the two superpowers (East: Soviet Union, West: United States) and the fear of nuclear war abounded

collective goods

a good such as public safety or clean air, often produced by government, that is generally available to the population as a whole

collective representation

the relationship between Congress and the United States as a whole, and whether the institution itself represents the American people

commission system

an elected commission that serves as the governing body within a given county

common law

the pattern of law developed by judges through case decisions largely based on precedent

common-law right

a right of the people rooted in legal tradition and past court rulings, rather than the Constitution


a political and economic system in which, in theory, government promotes common ownership of all property, means of production, and materials to prevent the exploitation of workers while creating an equal society; in practice, most communist governments have used force to maintain control

comparable worth

a doctrine calling for the same pay for workers whose jobs require the same level of education, responsibility, training, or working conditions

concurrent powers

shared state and federal powers that range from taxing, borrowing, and making and enforcing laws to establishing court systems

concurring opinion

an opinion written by a justice who agrees with the Court’s majority opinion but has different reasons for doing so


a highly decentralized form of government; sovereign states form a union for purposes such as mutual defense


closed meeting of the justices to discuss cases on the docket and take an initial vote

conference committee

a special type of joint committee that reconciles different bills passed in the House and Senate so a single bill results

Congressional Budget Office

the congressional office that scores the spending or revenue impact of all proposed legislation to assess its net effect on the budget

congressional-executive agreements

an international agreement that is not a treaty and that is negotiated by the president and approved by a simple majority of the House and Senate

conscientious objectors

a person who claims the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion


the body of voters, or constituents, represented by a particular politician


the effort by the United States and Western European allies, begun during the Cold War, to prevent the spread of communism

contract lobbyist

a lobbyist who works for a contract lobbying firm that represents clients before government

Cooperative federalism

a style of federalism in which both levels of government coordinate their actions to solve national problems, leading to the blending of layers as in a marble cake

council-administrator system

an elected council that appoints an administrator to oversee the operation of the county government

council-elected executive system

a county government in which voters elect both the members of the council and the executive

council-manager system

a structure of government in which elected members of the city council appoint a city manager to carry out administrative functions

courts of appeals

the appellate courts of the federal court system that review decisions of the lower (district) courts; also called circuit courts

Covert content

ideologically slanted information presented as unbiased information in order to influence public opinion


a legal status of married women in which their separate legal identities were erased

creeping categorization

a process in which the national government attaches new administrative requirements to block grants or supplants them with new categorical grants

criminal law

a law that prohibits actions that could harm or endanger others, and establishes punishment for those actions

critical election

an election that represents a sudden, clear, and long-term shift in voter allegiances

cultivation theory

the idea that media affect a citizen’s worldview through the information presented


the total amount the government owes across all years

Declaration of Independence

a document written in 1776 in which the American colonists proclaimed their independence from Great Britain and listed their grievances against the British king


the annual amount by which expenditures are greater than revenues

delegate legislator

a legislator who represents the will of those who elected him or her to office and acts in their expressed interest, even when it goes against a personal belief about what is ultimately in the constituency’s best interest

delegate model of representation

a model of representation in which representatives feel compelled to act on the specific stated wishes of their constituents


party members who are chosen to represent a particular candidate at the party’s state- or national-level nominating convention


a form of government where political power rests in the hands of the people

descriptive representation

the extent to which a body of representatives represents the descriptive characteristics of their constituencies, such as class, race, ethnicity, and gender


a process in which powers from the central government in a unitary system are delegated to subnational units

diffuse support

the widespread belief that a country and its legal system are legitimate

digital paywall

the need for a paid subscription to access published online material

Dillon’s Rule

a legal principle that holds state power and actions above those of local governments and declares state governments to be sovereign relative to local governments


the establishment and maintenance of a formal relationship between countries

direct action

civil rights campaigns that directly confronted segregationist practices through public demonstrations

direct democracy

a form of government where people participate directly in making government decisions instead of choosing representatives to do this for them

discretionary spending

government spending that Congress must pass legislation to authorize each year


the revocation of someone’s right to vote

dissenting opinion

an opinion written by a justice who disagrees with the majority opinion of the Court

distributive policy

a policy that collect payments or resources broadly but concentrates direct benefits on relatively few

district courts

the trial courts of the federal court system where cases are tried, evidence is presented, and witness testimony is heard

district system

the means by which electoral votes are divided between candidates based on who wins districts and/or the state

disturbance theory

the theory that an external event can lead to interest group mobilization

divided government

a condition in which one or more houses of the legislature is controlled by the party in opposition to the executive


the list of cases pending on a court’s calendar

double jeopardy

a prosecution pursued twice at the same level of government for the same criminal action



dual court system

the division of the courts into two separate systems, one federal and one state, with each of the fifty states having its own courts

dual federalism

a style of federalism in which the states and national government exercise exclusive authority in distinctly delineated spheres of jurisdiction, creating a layer-cake view of federalism

due process clause

provisions of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that limit government power to deny people "life, liberty, or property" on an unfair basis

early voting

an accommodation that allows voting up to two weeks before Election Day

economic liberty

the right of individuals to obtain, use, and trade things of value for their own benefit


the belief that you make a difference and that government cares about you and your views

elastic clause

the last clause of Article I, Section 8, which enables the national government "to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying" out all its constitutional responsibilities

Electoral College

the constitutionally created group of individuals, chosen by the states, with the responsibility of formally selecting the next U.S. president

elite critique

the proposition that wealthy and elite interests are advantaged over those without resources

elite theory

claims political power rests in the hands of a small, elite group of people

eminent domain

the power of government to take or use property for a public purpose after compensating its owner; also known as the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment


a program that guarantees benefits to members of a specific group or segment of the population

enumerated power

the powers given explicitly to the federal government by the Constitution to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, raise and support armies, declare war, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs

enumerated powers

the powers given explicitly to the federal government by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8); power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, raise and support armies, declare war, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs

equal protection clause

a provision of the Fourteenth Amendment that requires the states to treat all residents equally under the law

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

the proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have prohibited all discrimination based on sex

equal-time rule

an FCC policy that all candidates running for office must be given the same radio and television airtime opportunities

establishment clause

the provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from endorsing a state-sponsored religion; interpreted as preventing government from favoring some religious beliefs over others or religion over non-religion

ex post facto law

a law that criminalizes an act retroactively; prohibited under the Constitution

excise taxes

taxes applied to specific goods or services as a source of revenue

exclusionary rule

a requirement, from Supreme Court case Mapp v. Ohio, that evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure cannot be used to try someone for a crime

executive agreements

an international agreement between the president and another country made by the executive branch and without formal consent by the Senate

Executive Office of the President

the administrative organization that reports directly to the president and made up of important offices, units, and staff of the current president and headed by the White House chief of staff

executive orders

a rule or order issued by the president without the cooperation of Congress and having the force of law

executive privilege

the president’s right to withhold information from Congress, the judiciary, or the public

exit poll

an election poll taken by interviewing voters as they leave a polling place

expressed powers

those powers specifically provided to the Congress and the president in the U.S. Constitution

fairness doctrine

a 1949 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy, now defunct, that required holders of broadcast licenses to cover controversial issues in a balanced manner


a political system of total control by the ruling party or political leader over the economy, the military, society, and culture and often the private lives of citizens

favorability polls

a public opinion poll that measures a public’s positive feelings about a candidate or politician

federal system

a form of government in which power is divided between state governments and a national government


an institutional arrangement that creates two relatively autonomous levels of government, each possessing the capacity to act directly on the people with authority granted by the national constitution


those who supported ratification of the Constitution


a parliamentary maneuver used in the Senate to extend debate on a piece of legislation as long as possible, typically with the intended purpose of obstructing or killing it


a system in which the winner of an election is the candidate who wins the greatest number of votes cast, also known as plurality voting

foreign policy

a government’s goals in dealing with other countries or regions and the strategy used to achieve them

formal powers

those powers a governor may exercise that are specifically outlined in the state constitution or state law


the result when a large interest group develops diverging needs


the process of giving a news story a specific context or background

free exercise clause

the provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from regulating religious beliefs and practices

free rider problem

the situation that occurs when some individuals receive benefits (get a free ride) without helping to bear the cost

free trade

a policy in which a country allows the unfettered flow of goods and services between itself and other countries

free-market economics

a school of thought that believes the forces of supply and demand, working without any government intervention, are the most effective way for markets to operate

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

a federal statute that requires public agencies to provide certain types of information requested by citizens

full faith and credit clause

found in Article IV, Section 1, of the Constitution, this clause requires states to accept court decisions, public acts, and contracts of other states; also referred to as the comity provision

general revenue sharing

a type of federal grant that places minimal restrictions on how state and local governments spend the money


the manipulation of legislative districts in an attempt to favor a particular candidate

glass ceiling

an invisible barrier caused by discrimination that prevents women from rising to the highest levels of an organization—including corporations, governments, academic institutions, and religious organizations

going public

a term for when the president delivers a major television address in the hope that public pressure will result in legislators supporting the president on a major piece of legislation


the means by which a society organizes itself and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals

government corporations

a corporation that fulfills an important public interest and is therefore overseen by government authorities to a much larger degree than private businesses

grandfather clause

the provision in some southern states that allowed illiterate whites to vote because their ancestors had been able to vote before the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified

grassroots movements

a political movement that often begins from the bottom up, inspired by average citizens concerned about a given issue

Great Compromise

a compromise between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan that created a two-house Congress; representation based on population in the House of Representatives and equal representation of states in the Senate

hard power

the use or threat of military power to influence the behavior of another country

hate crime

harassment, bullying, or other criminal acts directed against someone because of bias against that person’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, or disability


shortcuts or rules of thumb for decision making

home rule

principle that provides local governments some degree of independence from the state government, typically detailed in a charter

horserace coverage

day-to-day media coverage of candidate performance in the election

hypodermic theory

the idea that information is placed in a citizen’s brain and accepted


the beliefs and ideals that help to shape political opinion and eventually policy

Immigration federalism

the gradual movement of states into the immigration policy domain traditionally handled by the federal government


the act of charging a government official with serious wrongdoing, which in some cases may lead to the removal of that official from office

implied powers

the powers not specifically detailed in the U.S. Constitution but inferred as necessary to achieve the objectives of the national government

in-house lobbyists

an employee or executive within an organization who works as a lobbyist on behalf of the organization

incumbency advantage

the advantage held by officeholders that allows them to often win reelection


the current holder of a political office

indecency regulations

laws that limit indecent and obscene material on public airwaves

individualistic political culture

a culture that views the government as a mechanism for addressing issues that matter to individual citizens and for pursuing individual goals

inherent powers

the powers neither enumerated nor implied but assumed to exist as a direct result of the country’s existence


law or constitutional amendment proposed and passed by the voters and subject to review by the state courts; also called a proposition

inside lobbying

the act of contacting and taking the organization’s message directly to lawmakers in an attempt to influence policy

intense preferences

beliefs and preferences based on strong feelings regarding an issue that someone adheres to over time

intermediate scrutiny

the standard used by the courts to decide cases of discrimination based on gender and sex; burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate an important governmental interest is at stake in treating men differently from women

iron triangle

three-way relationship among congressional committees, interests groups, and the bureaucracy


a foreign policy approach that advocates a nation’s staying out of foreign entanglements and keeping to itself

issue network

a group of interest groups and people who work together to support a particular issue or policy

Jim Crow laws

state and local laws that promoted racial segregation and undermined black voting rights in the south after Reconstruction

joint committee

a legislative committee consisting of members from both chambers that investigates certain topics but lacks bill referral authority

judicial activism

a judicial philosophy in which a justice is more likely to overturn decisions or rule actions by the other branches unconstitutional, especially in an attempt to broaden individual rights and liberties

judicial restraint

a judicial philosophy in which a justice is more likely to let stand the decisions or actions of the other branches of government

judicial review

the power of the courts to review actions taken by the other branches of government and the states and to rule on whether those actions are constitutional

Keynesian economics

an economic policy based on the idea that economic growth is closely tied to the ability of individuals to consume goods

king caucus

an informal meeting held in the nineteenth century, sometimes called a congressional caucus, made up of legislators in the Congress who met to decide on presidential nominees for their respective parties


an economic policy that assumes the key to economic growth and development is for the government to allow private markets to operate efficiently without interference

latent preferences

beliefs and preferences people are not deeply committed to and that change over time

leading questions

a question worded to lead a respondent to give a desired answer

legislative liaison

a person employed by a governmental entity such as a local government, executive department, or university to represent the organization before the legislature


printed information about a person or organization that is not true and harms the reputation of the person or organization

liberal internationalism

a foreign policy approach of becoming proactively engaged in world affairs by cooperating in a community of nations


people who believe that government almost always operates less efficiently than the private sector and that its actions should be kept to a minimum

line-item veto

a power created through law in 1996 and overturned by the Supreme Court in 1998 that allowed the president to veto specific aspects of bills passed by Congress while signing into law what remained

literacy tests

tests that required the prospective voter in some states to be able to read a passage of text and answer questions about it; often used as a way to disenfranchise racial or ethnic minorities


a person who represents an organization before government in an attempt to influence policy

majoritarian voting

a type of election in which the winning candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the votes, even if a run-off election is required

majority opinion

an opinion of the Court with which more than half the nine justices agree

majority party

the legislative party with over half the seats in a legislative body, and thus significant power to control the agenda

majority rule

a fundamental principle of democracy; the majority should have the power to make decisions binding upon the whole

mandatory spending

government spending earmarked for entitlement programs guaranteeing support to those who meet certain qualifications

Marbury v. Madison

the 1803 Supreme Court case that established the courts’ power of judicial review and the first time the Supreme Court ruled an act of Congress to be unconstitutional

margin of error

a number that states how far the poll results may be from the actual preferences of the total population of citizens


the amending and voting process in a congressional committee

mass media

the collection of all media forms that communicate information to the general public

material incentives

substantive monetary or physical benefits given to group members to help overcome collective action problems

mayor-council system

a structure of government in which both city council members and the mayor are elected by voters


a health insurance program for low-income citizens


an entitlement health insurance program for older people and retirees who no longer get health insurance through their work

membership organizations

an interest group that usually consists of dues-paying members who organize around a particular cause or issue

merit system

a system of filling civil service positions by using competitive examinations to value experience and competence over political loyalties

midterm elections

the congressional elections that occur in the even-numbered years between presidential election years, in the middle of the president’s term

minimal effects theory

the idea that the media have little effect on citizens

minority leader

the party member who directs the activities of the minority party on the floor of either the House or the Senate

minority party

the legislative party with less than half the seats in a legislative body

minority rights

protections for those who are not part of the majority

Miranda warning

a statement by law enforcement officers informing a person arrested or subject to interrogation of his or her rights


an individual who falls in the middle of the ideological spectrum

Modern conservatism

a political ideology that prioritizes individual liberties, preferring a smaller government that stays out of the economy

modern liberalism

a political ideology focused on equality and supporting government intervention in society and the economy if it promotes equality

moralistic political culture

a culture that views the government as a means to better society and promote the general welfare


news coverage focusing on exposing corrupt business and government practices

natural rights

the right to life, liberty, and property; believed to be given by God; no government may take away

negotiated rulemaking

a rulemaking process in which neutral advisors convene a committee of those who have vested interests in the proposed rules and help the committee reach a consensus on them


a policy of distancing the United States from the United Nations and other international organizations, while still participating in the world economy


the belief that, rather than exercising restraint, the United States should aggressively use its might to promote its values and ideals around the world


a person who suggests that all groups’ access and influence depend on the political environment

New federalism

a style of federalism premised on the idea that the decentralization of policies enhances administrative efficiency, reduces overall public spending, and improves outcomes

New Jersey Plan

a plan that called for a one-house national legislature; each state would receive one vote

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

a cross-national military organization with bases in Belgium and Germany formed to maintain stability in Europe


a doctrine promoted by John Calhoun of South Carolina in the 1830s, asserting that if a state deems a federal law unconstitutional, it can nullify it within its borders


acts or statements that are extremely offensive by contemporary standards


a form of government where a handful of elite society members hold political power

open primary

an election in which any registered voter may vote in any party’s primary or caucus

oral arguments

words spoken before the Supreme Court (usually by lawyers) explaining the legal reasons behind their position in a case and why it should prevail

original jurisdiction

the power of a court to hear a case for the first time

outside lobbying

the act of lobbying indirectly by taking the organization’s message to the public, often through the use of the media and/or by issue press releases, in hopes that the public will then put pressure on lawmakers


the right to review and monitor other bodies such as the executive branch

overt content

political information whose author makes clear that only one side is presented


a governor’s action to absolve someone of blame for a crime and secure his or her release from prison

particularized benefits

a benefit that generally accrues to a narrow segment of society


strong support, or even blind allegiance, for a particular political party

party identifiers

individuals who represent themselves in public as being part of a party

party organization

the formal structure of the political party and the active members responsible for coordinating party behavior and supporting party candidates

party platform

the collection of a party’s positions on issues it considers politically important

party polarization

the shift of party positions from moderate towards ideological extremes

party press era

period during the 1780s in which newspaper content was biased by political partisanship

party realignment

a shifting of party alliances within the electorate


party identifiers who have been elected to office and are responsible for fulfilling the party’s promises


members of the voting public who consider themselves part of a political party or who consistently prefer the candidates of one party over the other


a law passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that broadened federal powers to monitor electronic communications; the full name is the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act)


the use of government positions to reward individuals for their political support

pay schedule

a chart that shows salary ranges for different levels of positions vertically and for different ranks of seniority horizontally

personal politics

a political style that focuses on building direct relationships with voters rather than on promoting specific issues


the set of issues important to the political party and the party delegates

plea bargain

an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant pleads guilty to the charge(s) in question or perhaps to less serious charges, in exchange for more lenient punishment than if convicted after a full trial

Plessy v. Ferguson

the 1896 Supreme Court ruling that allowed "separate but equal" racial segregation under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

pluralist theory

claims political power rests in the hands of groups of people

plurality voting

the election rule by which the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of vote share

policy advocates

people who actively work to propose or maintain public policy

policy analysts

people who identify all possible choices available to a decision maker and assess the potential impact of each

political action committees (PACs)

organizations created to raise money for political campaigns and spend money to influence policy and politics

political cultures

the prevailing political attitudes and beliefs within a society or region

political elites

a political opinion leader who alerts the public to changes or problems

political machines

an organization that secures votes for a party’s candidates or supports the party in other ways, usually in exchange for political favors such as a job in government

political parties

organizations made up of groups of people with similar interests that try to directly influence public policy through their members who seek and hold public office

political power

influence over a government’s institutions, leadership, or policies

Political socialization

the process of learning the norms and practices of a political system through others and societal institutions

politico model of representation

a model of representation in which members of Congress act as either trustee or delegate, based on rational political calculations about who is best served, the constituency or the nation


the process by which we decide how resources will be allocated and which policies government will pursue

poll tax

annual tax imposed by some states before a person was allowed to vote

pork-barrel politics

federal spending intended to benefit a particular district or set of constituents


the principles or guidelines established by courts in earlier cases that frame the ongoing operation of the courts, steering the direction of the entire system


the lowest level of party organization, usually organized around neighborhoods

president pro tempore

the senator who acts in the absence of the actual president of the Senate, who is also the vice president of the United States; the president pro tempore is usually the most senior senator of the majority party


the process of predisposing readers or viewers to think a particular way

prior restraint

a government action that stops someone from doing something before they are able to do it (e.g., forbidding someone to publish a book he or she plans to release)

private goods

goods provided by private businesses that can be used only by those who pay for them


measures that incorporate the market forces of the private sector into the function of government to varying degrees

privileges and immunities clause

found in Article IV, Section 2, of the Constitution, this clause prohibits states from discriminating against out-of-staters by denying such guarantees as access to courts, legal protection, and property and travel rights

Probable cause

legal standard for determining whether a search or seizure is constitutional or a crime has been committed; a lower threshold than the standard of proof needed at a criminal trial

progressive taxes

a tax that tends to increase the effective tax rate as the wealth or income of the tax payer increases

proportional representation

a party-based election rule in which the number of seats a party receives is a function of the share of votes it receives in an election


a policy in which a country does not permit other countries to sell goods and services within its borders or charges them very high tariffs (import taxes) to do so

public administration

the implementation of public policy as well as the academic study that prepares civil servants to work in government

public goods

goods provided by government that anyone can use and that are available to all without charge

public interest groups

an interest group that seeks a public good, which is something that accrues to all

Public opinion

a collection of opinions of an individual or a group of individuals on a topic, person, or event

public policy

the broad strategy government uses to do its job; the relatively stable set of purposive governmental behaviors that address matters of concern to some part of society

public relations

biased communication intended to improve the image of people, companies, or organizations

purposive incentives

benefits to overcome collective action problems that appeal to people’s support of the issue or cause

push polls

politically biased campaign information presented as a poll in order to change minds


a dynamic in which states compete to attract business by lowering taxes and regulations, often to workers’ detriment

rally around the flag effect

a spike in presidential popularity during international crises

random sample

a limited number of people from the overall population selected in such a way that each has an equal chance of being chosen

rational basis test

the standard used by the courts to decide most forms of discrimination; the burden of proof is on those challenging the law or action to demonstrate there is no good reason for treating them differently from other citizens


the reallocation of House seats between the states to account for population changes


the removal of a politician or government official by the voters


a temporary contraction of the economy in which there is no economic growth for two consecutive quarters


the period from 1865 to 1877 during which the governments of Confederate states were reorganized prior to being readmitted to the Union

red tape

the mechanisms, procedures, and rules that must be followed to get something done

redistributive policy

a policy in which costs are born by a relatively small number of groups or individuals, but benefits are expected to be enjoyed by a different group in society


the redrawing of electoral maps

reduction veto

a governor’s authority to reduce the amount budgeted in a piece of legislation


a yes or no vote by citizens on a law or candidate proposed by the state government

regressive tax

a tax applied at a lower overall rate as individuals’ income rises

regulatory policy

a policy that regulates companies and organizations in a way that protects the public

reporter’s privilege

the right of a journalist to keep a source confidential


an elected leader’s looking out for his or her constituents while carrying out the duties of the office

representative democracy

a form of government where voters elect representatives to make decisions and pass laws on behalf of all the people instead of allowing people to vote directly on laws

representative sample

a group of respondents demographically similar to the population of interest


a form of government in which political power rests in the hands of the people, not a monarch, and is exercised by elected representatives

reserved powers

any powers not prohibited by the Constitution or delegated to the national government; powers reserved to the states and denied to the federal government

residency requirement

the stipulation that citizen must live in a state for a determined period of time before a citizen can register to vote as a  resident of that state

revolving door laws

laws that require a cooling-off period before government officials can register to lobby after leaving office

right to privacy

the right to be free of government intrusion

Rule of Four

a Supreme Court custom in which a case will be heard when four justices decide to do so

safe seats

a district drawn so members of a party can be assured of winning by a comfortable margin

safety net

a way to provide for members of society experiencing economic hardship

search warrant

a legal document, signed by a judge, allowing police to search and/or seize persons or property

select committees

a small legislative committee created to fulfill a specific purpose and then disbanded; also called an ad hoc, or special, committee

selective engagement

a policy of retaining a strong military presence and remaining engaged across the world


an action or statement that admits guilt or responsibility for a crime

senatorial courtesy

an unwritten custom by which the president consults the senators in the state before nominating a candidate for a federal vacancy there, particularly for court positions

separation of powers

the sharing of powers among three separate branches of government

shadow campaigns

a campaign run by political action committees and other organizations without the coordination of the candidate

Sherbert test

a standard for deciding whether a law violates the free exercise clause; a law will be struck down unless there is a "compelling governmental interest" at stake and it accomplishes its goal by the "least restrictive means" possible

signing statements

a statement a president issues with the intent to influence the way a specific bill the president signs should be enforced


spoken information about a person or organization that is not true and harms the reputation of the person or organization

social capital

connections with others and the willingness to interact and aid them

social contract

an agreement between people and government in which citizens consent to be governed so long as the government protects their natural rights

Social Security

a social welfare policy for people who no longer receive an income from employmen


a political and economic system in which government uses its authority to promote social and economic equality, providing everyone with basic services and equal opportunities and requiring citizens with more wealth to contribute more

soft money

money that interests can spend on behalf of candidates without being restricted by federal law

soft news

news presented in an entertaining style

soft power

nonmilitary tools used to influence another country, such as economic sanctions

sole executive agreements

an international agreement that is not a treaty and that is negotiated and approved by the president acting alone

solicitor general

the lawyer who represents the federal government and argues some cases before the Supreme Court

solidary incentives

benefits based on the concept that people like to associate with those who are similar to them


the process in which voters change party allegiances in response to shifts in party position

Speaker of the House

the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and the leader of the majority party; the Speaker is second in the presidential line of succession, after the vice president

spoils system

a system that rewards political loyalties or party support during elections with bureaucratic appointments after victory

standing committees

a permanent legislative committee that meets regularly

stare decisis

the principle by which courts rely on past decisions and their precedents when making decisions in new cases

Stonewall Inn

a bar in Greenwich Village, New York, where the modern Gay Pride movement began after rioters protested the police treatment of the LGBT community there

straight-ticket voting

the practice of voting only for candidates from the same party

straw polls

an informal and unofficial election poll conducted with a non-random population

strict scrutiny

the standard used by the courts to decide cases of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion; burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate a compelling governmental interest is at stake and no alternative means are available to accomplish its goals

sunshine laws

laws that require government documents and proceedings to be made public

super PACs

officially known as Independent Expenditure-Only Committees; organizations that can fundraise and spend as they please to support or attack a candidate but not contribute directly to a candidate or strategize with a candidate’s campaign

supply-side economics

an economic policy that assumes economic growth is largely a function of a country’s productive capacity

supremacy clause

the statement in Article VI of the Constitution that federal law is superior to laws passed by state legislatures

surge-and-decline theory

a theory proposing that the surge of stimulation occurring during presidential elections subsides during midterm elections, accounting for the differences we observe in turnouts and results

symbolic speech

a form of expression that does not use writing or speech but nonetheless communicates an idea (e.g., wearing an article of clothing to show solidarity with a group)

The Federalist Papers

a collection of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in support of ratification of the Constitution

theory of delegate representation

a theory that assumes the politician is in office to be the voice of the people and to vote only as the people want

third parties

political parties formed as an alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties, also known as minor parties

Three-Fifths Compromise

a compromise between northern and southern states that called for counting of all a state’s free population and 60 percent of its slave population for both federal taxation and representation in Congress

Title IX

the section of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex

toll good

a good that is available to many people but is used only by those who can pay the price to do so

top-down implementation

a strategy in which the federal government dictates the specifics of public policy and each state implements it the same exact way

top-two primary

a primary election in which the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, become the nominees for the general election


a form of government where government is all-powerful and citizens have no rights

Traditional conservatism

a political ideology supporting the authority of the monarchy and the church in the belief that government provides the rule of law

traditionalistic political culture

a culture that views the government as necessary to maintaining the existing social order or the status quo

Trail of Tears

the name given to the forced migration of the Cherokees from Georgia to Oklahoma in 1838–1839


an international agreement entered by the United States that requires presidential negotiation with other nation(s), consent by two-thirds of the Senate, and final ratification by the president

trial courts

the level of court in which a case starts or is first tried

trustee model of representation

a model of representation in which representatives feel at liberty to act in the way they believe is best for their constituents


an officeholder who believes he or she was elected to exercise judgment and to know best by virtue of having the time and expertise to study and understand an issue

two presidencies thesis

the thesis by Wildavsky that there are two distinct presidencies, one for foreign and one for domestic policy, and that presidents are more successful in foreign than domestic policy

two-party system

a system in which two major parties win all or almost all elections

understanding tests

tests requiring prospective voters in some states to be able to explain the meaning of a passage of text or to answer questions related to citizenship; often used as a way to disenfranchise black voters

undue burden test

a means of deciding whether a law that makes it harder for women to seek abortions is constitutional

Unfunded mandates

federal laws and regulations that impose obligations on state and local governments without fully compensating them for the costs of implementation

unicameral legislature

a legislature with only one house, like the Confederation Congress or the legislature proposed by the New Jersey Plan

unitary system

a centralized system of government in which the subnational government is dependent on the central government, where substantial authority is concentrated

United Nations (UN)

an international organization of nation-states that seeks to promote peace, international relations, and economic and environmental programs

venue shopping

a strategy in which interest groups select the level and branch of government they calculate will be most receptive to their policy goals


the power of the president to reject a law proposed by Congress

Virginia Plan

a plan for a two-house legislature; representatives would be elected to the lower house based on each state’s population; representatives for the upper house would be chosen by the lower house

voter fatigue

the result when voters grow tired of voting and stay home from the polls

voting cues

sources—including fellow lawmakers, constituents, and interest groups—that lawmakers often use to help them decide how to vote, especially on unfamiliar issues

voting-age population

the number of citizens over eighteen

Voting-Eligible Population

the number of citizens eligible to vote


in the House and in the Senate, a high leadership position whose primary duty is to enforce voting discipline in the chambers and conferences


a person who publicizes misdeeds committed within a bureaucracy or other organization

white primary

a primary election in which only whites are allowed to vote

winner-take-all system

all electoral votes for a state are given to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state

writ of certiorari

an order of the Supreme Court calling up the records of the lower court so a case may be reviewed; sometimes abbreviated cert.

writ of habeas corpus

a petition that enables someone in custody to petition a judge to determine whether that person’s detention is legal

yellow journalism

sensationalized coverage of scandals and human interest stories


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American Government (2e - Second Edition) Copyright © 2019 by OpenStax and Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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