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Political Glossary

Inside Baseball: A Glossary of Political Terms

in*side base*ball [in-sahyd beys-bawl] – metaphor referring to a detail-oriented approach to the minutiae of a subject, which in turn requires specialized knowledge about the nuances of what is being discussed

Senator Dole was without peer as a master of legislative politics. Whether the goal was passing a bill or scoring a political point, he used the full array of tools at his disposal. Here you’ll find useful political terms defined, so you, too, can play inside baseball.

amicus curiae – “Friend of the court”; individuals or groups who are not parties to a lawsuit but who seek to assist the court in reaching a decision by presenting additional briefs

appellate court – a court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a decision made by a trial court or other lower tribunal

area sampling – statistical sampling technique used when relatively homogeneous groupings (such as cities or counties) are evident in a population; the total population is divided into these groups and required information is collected from a random sample of the elements within a random sample of the groups

Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union – document signed by the 13 original colonies that established the United States of America as a loose confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution; replaced by current U.S. Constitution in 1789

astroturfing – tactic of simulating grassroots support for a cause undertaken by organizations with an interest in shaping public opinion

Australian ballot – a ballot containing the names of all the candidates for public office, handed to the voter at the polling station to be marked in secret; originating in Australia, the secret ballot was introduced in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century

authoritarian government – political system in which a single power holder monopolizes all political power

autocracy – government in which one person has uncontrolled or unlimited authority over others

balance-of-power theory – an approach to international relations that sees national security as being enhanced when military capabilities are distributed such that no one state is strong enough to dominate all others

bandwagon effect – phenomenon whereby a belief in something increases the more that it has already been adopted as a belief by others; as an idea gains popularity, people are more likely to “jump on the bandwagon”

bellwether district – a political subdivision (e.g. a county) that is a microcosm of the whole population or has proven to be a good predictor of electoral outcomes

bicameralism – a governing system that has two branches, chambers, or houses for passing legislation

Bill of Rights – collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution; ratified in 1791, these amendments guarantee personal freedoms, limit some governmental powers, and reserve powers to the states

briefs – written legal arguments submitted to a court; also, the type of underwear typically preferred by President Bill Clinton  (Don’t believe us? Check out PEOPLE Magazine’s September 19, 1994 edition.)

budget deficit – amount by which government spending exceeds government revenue in a fiscal year

bureaucracy – administrative system governing a large institution

bureaucratic drift  – the tendency for bureaucratic agencies in government to create policy that deviates from the original mandate from the legislature

Bush Doctrine – phrase used to describe foreign policy principles of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush; while different pundits attribute different meanings to the phrase, it is frequently used to refer to the notion that the U.S. should take preemptive action against threats to its national security

cabinet – an advisory body to the chief executive, typically comprised of the heads of executive departments and agencies; members of the Cabinet of the U.S. are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate

casework – term referring to assistance provided by members of Congress to their constituents, especially those who encounter a grievance with a federal agency or the federal government

caucus – a meeting of party members (or the act of meeting) to select candidates or elect delegates; also used to mean a group within a body organized to further a specific interest

checks and balanceslimits imposed on all branches of government by vesting in each branch the right to amend or void certain actions of another;  U.S. examples include the presidential veto power over congressional legislation, the power of the Senate to approve presidential appointments, and judicial review of congressional enactments

chief justice – the presiding judge of a court with several justices; the Chief Justice of the U.S. presides over the Supreme Court and has administrative duties that include leading the business of the Court, deciding who will write the Court’s opinion (when the Chief Justice is in the majority), and setting the agenda in court meetings

civil law – in common law, a branch of jurisprudence to settle disputes that do not involve criminal penalties; can also refer to the legal system originating in continental Europe whose core principles are codified in an elegant and systematic code

civil libertiespersonal guarantees and freedoms that the government cannot abridge, either by law or by judicial interpretation

civil rightsenforceable right or privilege which, if interfered with by another, gives rise to an action for injury

closed primary  – a primary election in which only voters registered for the party which is holding the primary may vote; contrast with open primary

closed rule – in the U.S. House of Representatives, a type of rule from the House Rules Committee that governs consideration of a specific piece of legislation by not allowing any amendments to be offered other than amendments recommended by the committee reporting the bill

cloturemotion or process in parliamentary procedure aimed at bringing debate to a quick end; in the U.S. Senate, cloture is the only formal procedure that the rules allow for breaking a filibuster

coattail effect – the tendency for a popular political party leader to attract votes for less well known candidates of the same party in an election

collective action – the pooling of resources and coordination of activity by a group of people to achieve common goals; “collective action problem” describes a situation in which multiple people would benefit from a certain course of action, but the individual cost associated with that action prevents any one person from undertaking it on their own

concurrent powers – powers in nations with a federal system that are shared by different levels of government, such as the authority of a state and of the federal government in the U.S. to levy taxes

conference committee – a temporary panel composed of members from both houses of a bicameral legislature formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers

conservative – collective political identity that generally emphasizes respect for traditional institutions and opposes attempts to achieve sweeping social changes through government action; conservatism in the U.S. is varied, but has come to be generally associated with a belief in self-reliance, limited government regulation of the economy, opposition to redistributive policies, and an emphasis on societal order and security

constituency – a body of voters in a specified area who elect a representative to a legislative body; can also refer more generally to any group of supporters for a specific idea

constitutionalism – a system of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the power and authority of government is derived from and limited by a body of fundamental law

contributory programs – special programs financed in whole or in part by taxation or other mandatory contributions by their present or future recipients, such as Social Security

criminal law – a branch of jurisprudence that deals with violations of public law, contrast with civil law in the common law tradition

delegate – a person sent, or authorized to represent, others; at the U.S. presidential nominating conventions of the two main parties, a candidate must win a majority of the votes from the delegates who are chosen in the primary elections; Delegate is also the title of a person elected from a U.S. territory to the U.S. House of Representatives that is unable to take part in floor votes

delegated powersauthority legally transferred by one person or group to another person or group; in U.S. constitutional law this refers to the specific powers granted by the Constitution to each of the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial)

delegation – the assignment of responsibility or authority to another person to carry out specific activities; also can refer to a group of individuals that represent the interests of a larger body

democracy – form of government in which eligible citizens may participate in the proposal, development, and establishment of the laws by which their society is run; this participation can happen directly by voting for laws or running for elected office, or indirectly by voting for representatives

deregulation – the process of removing or reducing government regulatory controls

deterrencea preventative geopolitical strategy intended to influence an adversary by acquiring a military capability, such as nuclear weaponry, sufficiently strong enough to invoke fear of retaliation

devolution – the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration

discretionary spending – optional government spending on programs that are controlled through the regular budget process

dissenting opinion – a formal written disagreement with the decision of the majority signed onto by one or more justices in a specific legal case; though dissenting opinions do not carry precedential weight, they are sometimes used as persuasive reasoning in future legal decisions

distributive tendency – propensity of a legislative body to spread the benefits of a specific piece of legislation over a wide range of areas and interests in a strategic effort by individual legislators to build and maintain support from their electoral constituencies; serves as an explanation for logrolling and pork-barrel legislation

divided government – situation in the U.S. where one party controls the Presidency and another party controls one or both houses of Congress

due process – legal obligation of a government to operate within the law and provide fair procedures; this principle is explicitly codified in the U.S. Constitution by both the Fifth Amendment, which applies it to the federal government, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies it to all states

electoral college – a set of electors who are selected to elect a candidate to a particular office; the U.S. Electoral College is the institution that officially elects the President and Vice President of the U.S. by a simple majority vote of the 538 Electors that are apportioned to each state and the District of Columbia;  Electors are pledged to represent the popular vote of their state or district, but there have by 157 instances in U.S. history where an Elector has not voted for the candidate to whom they were pledged (though, to date, none of these “faithless electors” have changed the outcome of a presidential election)

eminent domain – the power of a government to take private property; the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits the exercise of eminent domain by requiring that the taking be for public use and that just compensation be paid

equal protection clause – provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that no state shall deny “the equal protection of the laws” to any person within its jurisdiction; this was the linchpin of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that helped dismantle racial segregation and has been used in many other decisions rejecting discrimination against people belonging to various groups

equal time rule – equal opportunity provision of the Communications Act that requires radio and television stations and cable systems which originate their own programming to treat legally qualified political candidates equally when it comes to selling or giving away air time

executive agreement – an agreement between the executives of two or more nations that has not been ratified by the legislature as treaties are typically ratified; executive agreements are frequently used by Presidents in the U.S. because, although they are less formal than treaties, they are not subject to the constitutional requirement for ratification by two-thirds of the Senate

executive order – a legally binding order from the President of the United States, acting as the head of the Executive Branch, to Federal Administrative Agencies; generally used to direct federal agencies and officials in their execution of  laws or policies established by Congress

executive privilege – privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communications would disrupt the functions or decision-making processes of the executive branch; this privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation

expressed powers – the list of powers explicitly granted to Congress by Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution; sometimes also referred to as delegated powers or enumerated powers

fairness doctrine – a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy introduced in 1949 requiring broadcast stations to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner deemed equitable and balanced by the FCC; the policy stopped being enforced in 1987 and was formally eliminated in 2011

federalism – political system that binds a group of states into a larger, noncentralized, superior state while allowing them to maintain their own political identities

Federal Reserve System (Fed) – the central banking system of the United States composed of a presidentially appointed Board of Governors, the Federal Open Market Committee, and 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities across the country; created primarily to address banking panics, the Fed manages the nation’s money supply through monetary policy and serves as a lender of last resort

filibuster – a parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal by continually holding the floor; U.S. Senate rules permit a Senator, or series of Senators, to speak as long as they wish on any topic unless cloture is invoked by 3/5 of the Senate; the Senate voted to amend the rules in 2013 to require only a majority vote to end a filibuster of certain executive and judicial nominees (excluding Supreme Court nominees)

framing – social phenomenon whereby the presentation and packaging of an issue shapes the environment in which it is received by a target audience in ways that influence how it is evaluated and understood

free riding – using or benefiting from resources, goods, or services without paying for them; the free rider problem is especially common with public goods like fresh air or national security

front-runner – a candidate, often anointed by the media covering a primary race, leading in some combination of the polls, fundraising, and/or name recognition

full faith and credit clause – clause from Section 1 of Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution addressing the duties states have to respect “the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings” of other states

gerrymandering – the process of establishing the boundaries of electoral districts in a manner such that a particular party or group will gain an electoral advantage; this portmanteau was first used in 1812 after Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his party, including one district deemed by some at the time to be shaped like a salamander

government – system of institutions and procedures through which a collective group of people are ruled.

grants-in-aid – a transfer of money from one level of government to a more localized level of government, institution, or individual for the purposes of funding a specific project or program

grassroots- a term used to describe a natural organic movement or campaign that is driven by the politics of a localized community

Great Compromise – also known as the Connecticut Compromise, this agreement between large states and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 established a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the House of Representatives and equal representation between states in the Senate

illusion of central tendency – an assumption that political opinions are “normally distributed” –that responses to opinion questions are heavily distributed toward the center, as in a bell-shaped curve; this assumption can lead to poor strategic decision-making if the actual distribution of opinions in a population are non-normal

illusion of saliency – false impression of importance conveyed by the proliferation of polling on a given topic

impeachment – formal process by which a government  official is charged with wrongdoing; if a U.S. federal official commits a crime or acts improperly, the House of Representatives may commence proceedings that require a simple majority vote – if the House passes an impeachment resolution then the proceedings will continue in the form of a trial in the Senate requiring a 2/3 majority vote for conviction

implementation – the carrying out, execution, or practice of a plan, method, or design for doing something; in politics this term often refers specifically to the way in which executive agencies realize policy goals and objectives articulated in legislation or policy statements

implied powers – powers authorized by a document that are indicated by context rather than being explicitly stated; the “general welfare clause,” the “commerce clause,” and the “necessary and proper clause” of the U.S. Constitution are commonly used as justifications for these powers; the Supreme Court first formally recognized the implied powers of the government in its McCulloch v. Maryland decision

incumbency – can refer to either the holding of a political office or the period during which that office is held; the term incumbent is frequently used in the context of elections to distinguish candidates running for an office that they currently hold from the candidate(s) who are not currently in that office

inherent powers – powers beyond those explicitly granted that are implied by the nature of sovereignty; the U.S. President derives his or her inherent powers from the language in the Constitution that states “executive Power shall be vested in a President” who should “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”

initiative – democratic process that enables citizens to bypass  the legislature by placing proposed statutes or amendments on the ballot

institutions – persistent structure or organization distinguished by a social purpose

interest group – association of individuals or organizations that attempts to influence public policy related to a specific cause or purpose

issue advocacy – generalized political communication intended to influence a specific issue or policy rather than advocating for or against the election of an individual candidate

judicial activism – description of, or approach to, the exercise of judicial review in which a judge is generally more willing to affect public policy by proactively deciding constitutional issues in a manner that overturns legislative action, executive action, or judicial precedent (compare with judicial restraint)

judicial restraint – description of, or approach to, the exercise of judicial review in which a judge is generally less willing to overturn legislative action, executive action, or judicial precedent unless absolutely necessary to resolve a concrete dispute or clear constitutional violation (compare with judicial activism)

judicial review – power of the courts to examine and determine the constitutionality of legislative or executive actions; the U.S. Supreme Court first asserted its power to strike down a law as unconstitutional in its landmark 1803 decision for Marbury v. Madison

jurisdiction – the sphere of a court’s authority to hear a case and declare judgment; may also refer more specifically to the geographic area, the source, or the type of a court’s legal authority

legislative clearance – process whereby the chief executive sifts through the legislative proposals of administrative agencies and withholds those contrary to the chief executive’s policy goals, thereby controlling the policy expertise relayed from administrative agencies to legislative committees

legislative supremacy – feature of many parliamentary democracies characterized by the sovereignty of the legislative body over all other government institutions, including those in the executive and judicial branches; may also refer to a judicial philosophy grounded in the notion that courts are subordinate to legislatures in making public policy

liberal – collective political identity that has historically emphasized ideas rooted in individual liberty; liberalism in the U.S. is varied, but has come to be generally associated with concern for reducing economic and social inequalities, extending the civil rights of the individual, and a philosophy that considers government as having a vital role in achieving these goals

lobbying –the act of attempting to influence the policy process through persuasion of government officials; lobbying can play an important part in the effort of public officials to understand the issues important to their constituencies, but is also frequently subject to concerns that powerful special interests wield undue influence resulting from their lobbying efforts

logrolling – legislative practice of trading votes to obtain passage of legislation that is of particular interest to each respective member

majority leader – the elected floor leader of the party holding a majority of the seats in a legislative body; in the U.S. House of Representatives the majority leader is subordinate in the party hierarchy to the Speaker, while in the U.S. Senate the majority leader is the chief spokesperson for the majority party

majority party – the party that holds the majority of seats in a given legislative body

majority system – type of electoral system in which a candidate must receive more votes than all other candidates combined; while the overall resulting government representation may not be directly proportional to overall support (as in a proportional representation system), each representative has the electoral support of a majority of his or her constituents

mandate (electoral) – authority granted by a political constituency to its representative; elections won by relatively large margins are frequently said to give newly elected parties or officials a mandate with regards to the specific policies on which they campaigned

mandatory spending – federal spending on specific programs required by law that is not controlled through the regular budget process

minority leader – the elected floor leader of the party holding the second largest number of seats in a legislative body

Miranda rule – rule established in 1966 by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona requiring that persons under arrest be informed of their legal rights prior to interrogation, including their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney

monetary policy – actions taken by a central bank to influence the amount of money and credit in an economy; the Federal Reserve System is in charge of monetary policy in the U.S. and attempts to maximize employment levels, maintain stable prices, and target steady limited inflation by buying and selling government securities, setting the discount rate, and establishing reserve requirements for banks

mootness – description of legal actions that cannot be brought or continued because the matter at issue has been resolved, leaving no active dispute for the court; in such cases, the matter is said to be “moot”

moral hazard – potential problem arising from a scenario in which a party to a transaction has the ability to take greater risks because another party bears the burden of those risks

multilateralism – an approach to foreign policy that seeks to achieve collective objectives through alliances, treaties, and cooperation with several other countries; contrast with unilateralism

multi-member district – an electoral district from which two or more members are sent to the legislature

necessary and proper clause – clause in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution which grants authority to Congress to make all laws “necessary and proper” to carry out its enumerated powers; also referred to as the “elastic clause”

nomination – the process through which political parties select their candidates for election to public office

oligarchy – a form of government in which power is exercised by a relatively small number of people

open primary – primary election in which registered voters can choose the party primary in which they wish to vote; contrast with closed primary

open rule – type of special rule from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules that permits any member to offer new amendments to a bill, so long as they comply with the standing rules

opinion – formal written explanation from a judge or group of judges that states the rationale and legal principles for their ruling in a particular case

opinion leaders – individuals or organizations that have the ability to influence public opinion on a given subject

oral argument –procedural opportunity for attorneys to vocally summarize their position before the court and respond to judges’ questions; the audio recordings of oral arguments heard by the U.S. Supreme Court can be found here

party caucus – closed session meeting of a group of legislators to set agendas, select candidates, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters; in the U.S. Congress, Republicans refer to these meetings as party conferences and Democrats refer to them as party caucuses

party identification – sense of personal attachment an individual has to a political party

party machine – a partisan political organization that exercises and seeks to maintain single party political and administrative control of a city, county, or state; patronage often serves as a key component of a party machines maintenance of power

party vote – roll-call vote in which at least 50 percent of the members of one party take a particular position and are opposed by at least 50 percent of the members of the other party

patronage – the practice of elected officials filling government positions with appointees based on political considerations rather than objective merit-based criteria

per curiam – decision by an appellate court delivered in an opinion that is issued in the name of the court rather than in the name of any specific judges; per curiam decisions are given that label by the court itself and generally tend to be concise opinions about issues viewed by the court as relatively uncontroversial

permanent campaign –  description of a political mindset in which the governing decisions of an elected official are made in a campaign-like environment with the goal of re-election or “winning” the news cycle

plaintiff – the party that initiates a claim in a legal action

pluralism – political theory that governance is the product of a complex web of competing institutions and interest groups, rather than a single individual/group or the collective will of people as a whole; this term can also be used to refer to the recognition and affirmation of diversity within a political body

plurality system – single-winner electoral system where the winner is the candidate who receives the most votes, even if that is not a majority of votes cast

pocket veto – an indirect veto method exercised by a chief executive who chooses not to sign a passed bill while the legislature is in recess; a bill passed by the U.S. Congress normally becomes law if the President does not sign it within 10 days, but if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, then the bill does not become law without the President’s signature

police power – power reserved to a government to establish order and regulate behavior in the name of the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of its citizens

policy of redistribution – government plan designed to effect the transfer of income, property or wealth from one group of people to another in an attempt to address inequalities

political action committees (PACs) – group that is organized for the purpose of raising and spending money in elections; PACs come in 2 varieties: 1) separate segregated funds (SSFs) that are established and administered by corporations, labor unions, membership organizations or trade associations and may only solicit contributions from individuals associated with the sponsoring organization; and 2) non-connected committees that are not affiliated with any of the previously listed entities and are free to solicit contributions from the general public

political ideology – a cohesive set of widely shared beliefs that form a general philosophy about the order of society, what it ought to be, and how that desired order can be achieved

political socialization – collective processes by which political ideas, orientations, and culture are disseminated and acquired

pork-barrel legislation – appropriations made by legislative bodies for localized projects created with the intent of benefiting a specific constituency in return for their political support

precedents – decisions made by a court that are used to help answer future legal questions – see stare decisis

priming – social phenomenon whereby the time and space the media devotes to certain topics influences their acceptance and salience in a target audience

prior restraint – official censorship imposed by a government in advance of publication; the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been held to forbid this, except in very limited and rare circumstances

privatization – the process of transferring property, services, or institutions from government control to the private sector

privileges and immunities clause – provision in Article IV, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution that protects the fundamental rights of citizens of each state by ensuring that they are “entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states”

probability sampling – statistical polling method in which a small random sample of a population is used to estimate the distribution of an attitude or opinion in the entire population

progressive taxation – taxation distribution policy in which  higher income earners are taxed a greater percentage than lower income earners; contrast with regressive taxation

proportional representation – electoral system in which the distribution of seats in a legislative body corresponds to the overall proportion of total votes cast for each party

proposal power – the capacity of an individual legislator to present a proposal to the full legislature; this is considered an important factor in assessing the decision making of voters because political systems in which individual legislators have greater proposal power tend to lead voters to make decisions centered around those individuals, rather than their party or its leader

prospective voting – voting based on the perceived future performance of a candidate; contrast with retrospective voting

psephology – the scientific study of elections

public good – a good that is non-excludable and non-rival, meaning individuals cannot be effectually prevented from using it and its use by one individual does not effectively diminish the good’s utility to others

public opinion – citizens’ attitudes about political issues, leaders, institutions, and actions; public opinion is a key factor in shaping policy outcomes, as well as the behavior of political actors, institutions, and the electorate

public policy – governing plan embodied in laws, opinions, regulations, or government decision-making that addresses a particular issue or problem and is oriented towards a desired outcome

pundit – an individual who provides commentary to the public in an authoritative manner on a particular subject

purposive benefits – the selective benefits, often emotional or psychological in nature, that the member of a group receives from contributing to a cause or purpose they feel is worthwhile

push polling – survey conducted by supporters of a particular cause or candidate whose true purpose is to promote a specific agenda rather than discerning public opinion

quota sampling – non-random statistical sampling method in which a researcher’s judgment is used to select representative individuals out of a specific subgroup

rallying effect – public opinion phenomenon characterized by the tendency of significant international crises or events to result in a short-term increase in popularity and public approval for government leaders; also known as the “rally ’round the flag” effect

random sampling – single-step statistical sampling method in which a subset is chosen at random from a population set where each member has an equal chance of being selected

referendum – vote by an electorate on a single political question referred to them for direct decision; referenda come in two different types: 1) legislative referenda in which a representative legislature refers a measure to voters for their direct approval, or 2) popular referenda in which a measure appears on the ballot as the result of a voter petition drive

regressive taxation – taxation distribution policy in which  lower income earners are taxed a greater percentage than higher income earners; contrast with progressive taxation

regulation – an official rule of order issued by the government with the force of law specifying how something should be done; regulations are usually issued by executive branch agencies as a means of implementing and enforcing enacted legislation

reserved powers – governmental powers in a federalist system which are not already delegated; the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves to the states or to the people the powers that are not delegated to the national government

reserve requirement – the amount of funds held in vault cash or deposits with Federal Reserve Banks that a deposit bank must hold in reserve against certain liabilities; the amount of this requirement is determined by reserve ratios set by the Federal Reserve Board

retrospective voting – voting based on the past performance of a candidate; contrast with prospective voting

right of rebuttal – regulation established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requiring broadcasters to provide an opportunity for candidates to respond to criticisms made against them

roll-call vote – a vote in which each legislator’s yes or no vote is recorded; Article I, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution requires a roll-call vote to be held in Congress if requested by one-fifth of a quorum of legislators present

rule-making – process that executive and independent agencies use to create regulations; legislatures typically create broad policy mandates in legislation, and rule-making is the mechanism for developing the functional details of implementing those mandates

selective benefits – good or service that an organization restrictively provides as a reward for participatory membership; this serves as way to combat the incentive to free ride by providing benefits for participation

“separate but equal” – legal doctrine, confirmed in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, that services and accommodations could be segregated by race but still be equal; this was eventually overturned in a series of cases beginning with the the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

separation of powers – division of state power in which government is separated into distinct branches with each branch having independent areas of responsibility

single-member district – an electorate that is allowed to elect only one representative from each district; the normal method of representation in the United States

Social Security – a contributory welfare program into which working Americans place a percentage of their wages and from which they receive cash benefits after retirement

solitary benefits – selective benefits of organizational membership that emphasize friendship, networking, and consciousness-raising

sovereignty – supreme and independent political authority

Speaker of the House – the chief presiding officer of the U.S. House of Representatives; the Speaker is second in the presidential line of succession, has significant administrative and agenda setting powers, and serves as the leader of the majority party in the House

standing committee – a permanent legislative panel that specializes in the consideration of legislation within its designated subject area

stare decisiscommon law principle that requires courts to respect precedents set by other courts; findings of law by higher courts are binding and must be followed by lower courts of authority, while non-binding precedents are considered persuasive; the U.S. Supreme Court has final authority on questions of federal law and state supreme courts (or the highest state appellate courts) have final authority on questions of state law

state sovereign immunity – legal doctrine affirmed in several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that states possess sovereign immunity and are therefore generally immune from being sued in federal court without their consent

states’ rights – term referring to reserved powers; this has often been associated with Southern arguments leading up to the U.S. Civil War, or opposition to civil rights movements

stump speech – a standard speech delivered by a politician running for office; the term derives from the 1800s when political candidates delivered their message standing atop the remaining stump from a sawed off tree

subsidies – benefit given by the government to groups or individuals, usually in the form of a cash payment or tax reduction; subsidies are generally used to promote activities desired by the government or remove some type of burden in the interest of the public

suffrage – the right to vote in political elections

Super Tuesday – the Tuesday during a U.S. Presidential Election year when the greatest number of states hold their primary elections or caucuses, typically in February or March

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) –  a U.S. federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues that provides subsidies to meet basic food, clothing, and shelter needs for the aged, blind, and disabled people who have little or no income

Supremacy Clause – the second paragraph of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution that established the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, and federal treaties as the “supreme law of the land,” meaning that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and state law

supreme court – usually the name of the highest appellate court for a state (a few states use different titles); the Supreme Court of the United States is the final arbiter of federal constitutional law and is comprised of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate

systematic sampling – statistical sampling method in which sample members from a larger population are selected according to a random starting point, and a fixed periodic interval

third parties – any political party that organizes to compete against the two largest political parties

Three-Fifths Compromise – agreement reached at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that stipulated for purposes of the apportionment of congressional seats, every slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person

totalitarian government – political system in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of a single power holder that attempts to control all aspects of social life

trustee – in politics, this describes an elected official who views their role as pursuing policies that best promote the general welfare, rather than simply reflecting the views currently most popular among their constituency

tyranny – oppressive and unjust government that employs the cruel and unjust use of power and authority

uncontrollables – budgetary items that are beyond the control of budgetary committees and can be controlled only by substantive legislative action; some uncontrollables are beyond the power of the legislature because the terms of payments are set in contracts, such as interest on the debt

unfunded mandates – regulations or conditions for receiving grants that impose costs on state and local governments for which they are not reimbursed by the federal government

unilateralism – an approach to foreign policy that seeks to avoid international alliances, entanglements, and permanent commitments by attempting to pursue objectives individually; contrast with multilateralism

United Nations (UN) – an intergovernmental organization of nations headquartered in New York City that was established in 1945 to serve as a channel for negotiation and the promotion of international cooperation

values (or beliefs) – broad principles that shape a person’s preferences for particular outcomes or courses of action

veto power – the ability to unilaterally stop an official action; a Presidential veto of a law passed by the U.S. Congress may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house

whip system – party loyalty network in each house of Congress; whips take polls of the membership in order to learn their intentions on specific legislative issues and to assist the majority and minority leaders in their attempts to promulgate party unity

writ of certiorari – a petition to an appellate court to grant review of the decision made by a lower court; in the Supreme Court of the U.S., a vote of four of the nine justices is required to grant certiorari; of the thousands of petitions the Supreme Court receives each year, they generally only grant certiorari to less than one hundred

writ of habeas corpus – a court order requiring that an individual in custody be brought before a court and shown the cause for their detention; Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the right to a writ of habeas corpus “shall not be suspended unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it”


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