American Politics key terms and concepts

  • Created by: /2M
  • Created on: 09-02-17 11:07

Philadelphia Convention.

The convention held in Philadelphia from the 25th May to the 18th Septmeber, presided over by George Washington, which framed the consittution. Its original purpose was merely to revise the Articles of Confederation, but instead the delegates decided to draft an entirely new document. 

1 of 76

Codified Constitution.

A constituion that consists of a full and authoritive set of rules written down in a single text. 

2 of 76

Constitutional Rights.

The fundamental rights guarenteed by the federal Constitution, principally in the Bill of Rights- the first ten amendments- but also in subsequent amendments. 

3 of 76

Separation of Powers.

A theory of governemtn whereby political power is distributed among three branches of government- the legislature, the executive and the judiciary- acting both independently and interdependently. As applied to the United States government, the theory is better udnerstood as one of the "shared powers". It is the institutions of government that are seperate, while the powers are shared through an elaborate series of checks and balances. 

4 of 76

Limited Government.

A principle that the size and scope of the federal government should be limited to that which is necessary only for the common good of the people. 

5 of 76

State of the Union Address.

An annual sppech made by the president- usually in late January- to a joint session of Congress meeting in the chamber of the House of Representatives, in which they lay out their proposed legislative programmes for the coming year. The name comes from the phrase in article II section 3 of the Consittution which states that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the state of the Union, and reccomend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessay and expedient." 

6 of 76

Watergate Affair.

A term used to refer to a collection of illegal activites conducted by senior members of the Nixon administration and the subsequent attempted cover-up. The name was drawn from the Watergate building in downtown Washington DC, where the Democratic National Committtee had its headquaters during the 1972 presidential election. The building was broken into by people working on behalf of President Nixon's re-election committee. These illegal activities, which included illeagl use of the CIA and other government agencies, bugging and bribery, led to Nixon's resignation in August 1974. 

7 of 76


A formal accusation of a federal official by a simple majority vote of the House of Representatives. Impeachment is the first step in a two-stage process: it is followed by a tria; by the Senate in which a two-thirds majority is required for conviction. if convicted, the federal official is removed from office. 

8 of 76


Close cooperation between the two major parties. In the US system of government, where it is possible to have a president of one party and a Congress controlled by the other party, bipartisanship is thought to be crucial to political sucess. 

9 of 76


A theory of govenrment by whcih political power is divided between a national government and state governments, each having their own area of substantive jurisdiction. 

10 of 76


The principle by which govenrmental and political power is vested not only in the federal government, but also in state governments. 

11 of 76

State's Rights.

Literally, the rights, powers and duties of the state governments. But it is used as a term to denote opposition to increasing the national government's power at the expense of that of the state. States' rights advocates call for an interpretation of the Constitution that places limtis on the the implied powers of the federal government and gives expansive interpretation to the reserved powers of the states. 

12 of 76

New Federalism.

An approach to federalism characterised by a return of certain powers and responsibilites from the federal government to state governments. Seen as an attempt to reverse the growth of the federal govenrment under successive Democrat presidents (from FDR to Johnson), it is closely associated with the Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronal Reagan. 

13 of 76

Invisible Primary.

The period between candidates declaring an intention to run for the presidency and the first contests of the primary season. The invisible priamry is said to be critically important for a candidate to gain name recognition and money, and to put together the necessary organisation. there is often a high correlation between who wins the invisible primary and whoa ctually wins the presidential nomination. though not in 2007-08. 

14 of 76

Presidential Primary.

A state-based election to choose a party's candidate for the presidency. A preasidential primary shows support for a candidate among ordinary voters and chooses delegates committed to vote for that candidate a the National Party Convention. 

15 of 76

Presidential Caucuses.

A state- based series of meetings for the selection of a party's candidate for the presidency. Held in a few geographically large but thinly populated states, caususes atract unrepresentatvie and very low turnouts. They fulfill the same functions as presidential primaries. 

16 of 76

Super Tuesday.

A tuesday in Early February when a number of states coincide in their presidential primaries in order to try gain influence in their region in the selection of major party presidential candidates. 

17 of 76

Front Loading.

The phenomenon by which an increasing number of states schedule their presidential primaries or caucuses earlier in the cycle, in an attempt to increase the importance of their state in choosing major party presidential candidates. 

18 of 76

Closed Primary.

A primary election in which only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic Primary and vice versa. 

19 of 76

Open Primary.

A primary election in whcih any registered voter van vote in the primary of either party. 

20 of 76

McGovern-Fraser Commission.

The commision established by thr Democratic Party following the 1968 presidential election to reccomend reforms to the presidential nomination process. The commission was largely responsible for the singinficant reforms that democratised the presdiential candiates selection system, starting with the 1972 election cycle. 

21 of 76

Balanced Ticket.

A tactic used by a presidental candiate in selecting the vice-presidential candidate in an attempt to increase voter appeal for their ticket. 

22 of 76

National Party Convention.

The meeting held once every 4 years by each of the major- and some minor- parties to select their presidential and vice presidential candidates and write a party platfrom. 

23 of 76

Party Platform.

A statement of a Party's policies for an upcomign presidential election that is used during the campaign to win support from voters. it contains the polciies that the party's candiates intends to pursue if elected president. 

24 of 76

Acceptance Speech.

the nationally televised speech delivered by a Party's prsdiential candiate in prime time on the final night of the National Party Convetnion. 

25 of 76

Super PACs.

Fundraising committees which are permitted to receive unlimtied contributions and make unlimited expenditures aimed at either electing or defeating candidates in federal elections. Otherwise known as independent expenditure-only committees (IEOCs), they are forbidden from making any direct contributions to federal candidates or parties. 

26 of 76

Presidential Debates.

Debates held between the two makor party presidential candidates (usually three in number) that occur during Spetmeber and octover of the presidential election year. There is also traditiomally one debate between the two vice-presidential candidates. 

27 of 76

Gender Gap.

The gap between the support given to a candidate by women and the supprot given to the same candidate by men. In US elections, women have traditionally supported Democratic candidates more than men, while the reverse has been true of Republican candidates. 

28 of 76

Electoral College.

The insittuion established by the Founding Fatehrs to elect the president indirectly. The Electoral College never meets. Instead, the presidential Electors who make up the Electoral College meet in their state capitals to cast ballots for president and the vice-president. 

29 of 76

Congressional Elections.

Elections held every two years for the whole of the House of Representative and one third of the Senate. 

30 of 76

Mid Term Elections.

The elections for the whole of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate that occur mindway through the president's 4 -year term of office. 

31 of 76

Congressional District.

A geographic division of a state from which a memebr of the House of representatives is elected. Congressional districts within a state are denoted by numbers; thus a House meber represents, for example, the 32nd district of California or the 10th disrict of New York. 

32 of 76

Locality Rule.

A state law that requires members of the House of Representatives to be resident not just within the state but also within the congressional district they represent. 

33 of 76

Coattails Effect.

The effect of a strong candidate for a party at the top of the ticket helping other candidates of the same party get elected at the same time. 

34 of 76

Split Ticket Voting.

The practice of voting for candidates of two or more parties for different offices at the same election. The opposite- voting for candidates of the same party for different offices at the same election- is called straight ticket voting. 

35 of 76


A Mechanism, commonly known as an initative, by whcih citizens of a state can place proposed laws- and in some states, consittuional emendemnts- on the state ballot. 

36 of 76

Compassionate Conservative.

A term popularised by Geroge W. Bush druing his 2000 Presidential election campaign to denote a strand of conservative Republican philosophy which took a more compassioante view on such issues as welfare, education, immigration and poverty. 

37 of 76


A view that seeks to change, the poltical, economic and social status quo in favour of the well-being, rights and liberties of the individual, and especially those who are generally disadvantaged by society. 

38 of 76


A view that seeks to defed the political, economic and social statys quo and therfore tends to oppose changes in the institutions and structures of society. 

39 of 76


A term used to denotea state of affairs in which members of one party regularly group together in opposition to the members of another party. Partisanship is therefore typified by high levels of party discipline, frequent occurences of party-line voting, and little if any cooperation and compromise between politicians of different parties. 

40 of 76

Two Party System.

A party system in which two major parties regularly win the vast majority of votes in general elections regularly capture nerly all f the seats in the legislature and alternately control the executive branch of government. 

41 of 76

Party Decline.

The theory, popular in the last three decadesof the 20th century, that political parties were in decline in terms of membership, functions and importance- both in elections and in Congress. 

42 of 76

Party Renewal.

The Theory which suggests that parties, far from being in decline, are increasingly important in elections, in fundraising and in Congress. 

43 of 76

Contract With America.

The Republican Party policy dcument that was behind the party's campaign to win control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 mid-terms. The brain-child of Repblican congressmen Newt Gingrich, it laid out ten policies that Republicans promsied to bring to a vote on the House floor during the first 100 days of the new Congress, if they won the elction- which they did. The policies included a balanced budget constitutional amendment, anti crime legislation, welfare reform and congressional term limits. 

44 of 76


A theory which suggests that political power in a society does not rest simply with the electorate  or with the governign elite, but is distributed amongst a number of groups representing widely different interests within society. 

45 of 76


A theory which suggests that poltical power in a society rests with a small group who gain power through wealth, family status or intellectual superiority. 

46 of 76

Pressure Group.

An organised interest group in which members hold similar beliefs and actively pursue ways to influence government 

47 of 76

Political Action Committee.

Pressure groups that collect money from their members and then give it to candidates and political parties that support their interests. 

48 of 76


An attempt to exert influence on the policy-making, legislative or judicial process by individuals or organised groups. 

49 of 76

Revolving door syndrome.

The practice by which former members of congress for the executive branch take up well-paid jobs with Washington based lobbying firms and then use their expertise and contacts to lobby the institution of which they were once a member. 

50 of 76

iron triangle.

A term used to describe a strong relationship between pressure groups. the relevant congressional committee and the relevant govt department or agency in an attempt to guarentee the polciy otcoms to benefit all three parties involved. 

51 of 76

Direct action.

A form of pressure group activity that most often favours the use of non-violent physical protes over the more traditional forms of lobbying such as e-mailing petitions. 

52 of 76

Committee system.

The committee syste f Congress is made up of many different types of committee, which perform legislative and investigatory functions. the most imorant type of committee is the standing committee whih are policy specialists . the fact that it is only in the committee rooms that members of the executive branch can be directly questioned gives the committee system an added importance. 

53 of 76

Seniority rule.

A rl stating that the chair of a congressional committee wil be the member of the majoirty party with the longest continuous service on that committee. 

54 of 76


A device by which n individul, or group of senators, can attempt to talk a bil to death by using delaying tactics. it derives from senators rights of unimited debae. A three-fifths vote is required to end a fillibuster.  

55 of 76

Presidential veto.

A power vested in the president by Article II of the Constitution, by which he may return a bill to Congress unsigned, along wit the reasons for his objections. Congress may overide a presidential veto by two-thirds vote in both houses. 

56 of 76


the term can be used a number of different ways. Representation can be understood in terms of how legislators represent their constituents. in this sense there are tree differet models of representation- the truestee model, the delegate model nd the mandate model. But the term can also be understood in terms of wo represents the electorate. This is called the resemblence model of reresentation and considers how representative legislators are in terms of such factors as gender and race. 

57 of 76


A term derived from traffic jams at major interesections of US cities, signifying the failure to get action on policy proosals and legislation in Congress. Gridlock is thought to be exacerbated by divided government and partisanship. 

58 of 76

Balanced Ticket.

A tatic used by a presidential candidate in selecting the vice-presidential candidate in an attempt to increase voter appeal for their ticket. 

59 of 76

Federal Bureaucracy.

The unselected administrative part of the exec branch of the federal govt, made  of departments, agencies and commissions tha carry out policy on a day-to-day basis. The word bureaucracy also had overtones of red tape, systems dedicated to routine, resistance to change and ineficiency. 

60 of 76

Spoils System.

A system by which govt jobs are awarded to poitical supporters and friends raher than on merit. the term derives from the expression, to the victor belongs the spoils. 

61 of 76

Going Native.

A term used to refer to the situation in whch plitica appointees cease to be advocates for the politican who appointed them- in this case, the president-and instead become advocates for the bureaucracies and special interest associated with their policy area. 

62 of 76

The Cabinet.

The advisory group slected by the president to aid him in makng decisions and coordinating the work of federal govt, membership of which is determined by both trdition and presidential discretion. 

63 of 76

The Executive Office of the President.

The top saff agencies in the White House that give the president help and advice in carrying ut the major duties of his office. Its primary functions are coordination, advice gving and personnel mnagement. 

64 of 76

Imperial Presidency.

A term, popularised by the book of that title written n 1973 by Arthur Schlesinger, used to refer to a residency characterised by the issues and abuse of the powers of the presidency, in particular, it referred to exessive secrecy- sepecally in froeign policy- and hgh handedness in dealing with Congress. 

65 of 76

Strict Constructionist.

A justice of the Supreme Court who interprets the Consition in a strit, literal or conservative fashin, and who tends to stress the retention of as muh power as possibe by the govt ofthe individual states. 

66 of 76

Loose constructionist.

A justie of the Supreme Court who interprets the Consitution in a loose or liberal fashion, and who tends to stress the borad grants of power to the federal govt . 

67 of 76

Judicial Activism.

An approach to judicial decision making that a judge should use his or her psoition to promote desirable social ends. 

68 of 76

Judicial Restraint.

An apporach tp judicial decision making which holds that a judge should defer to the legislative and executiv branches, which are politically accountable to the voters, and should put great stress on the precedent established by previous Court decisions. 

69 of 76

Judicial Review.

The power of the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress, or actions of the executive- or acts or actions of state governments-unconstitution, and thereby null and void. 

70 of 76

Civil Rights.

positive acts of government designed to protect persons against abritrary or discriminatory treatment by government or individuals. LInked to civil rights are civil libeties which are those liberties, mostly spelt out in the Consitution, that guarentee the protection of persons, expression and property from arbitrary interference by government. 

71 of 76

Civil Rights.

positive acts of government designed to protect persons against abritrary or discriminatory treatment by government or individuals. LInked to civil rights are civil libeties which are those liberties, mostly spelt out in the Consitution, that guarentee the protection of persons, expression and property from arbitrary interference by government. 

72 of 76

Due Process.

The term more fully is 'due process of law' and, although no precise legal definition of the term has been made, it is understood to refer to the principle of limited government. there are two types of due process referred to by courts. substantive due process demands that are the substance of the law must not be arbitrary, unreasonable or unconstitutional; procedural ue process demands that the process of law must be fair. 

73 of 76


The mandated movement of schoolchildren between racially homogenous neighbourhoods- white suburbs and black inner cities- to create racially mixed schools in all neighbourhoods. 

74 of 76


A set-aside programme to benefit previously disadvantaged minorities in such areas as higher education and employment. A certain percentage- quota- of places is reserved for people in the previously disadvantaged group. The supreme court found quotas uncostituional in a number of decisions during the 1980's and 90's. 

75 of 76

Affirmative Action.

A programme that entails giving those members of a previously disadvantaged minority group a headstart in such areas as higher education and employment. The term is often regarded as being synomous with 'positive discrimination'. Affirmative action is now required by law for all federal government agencies and for those organisations in receipt of federal funds. 

76 of 76


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all American Politics. resources »