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Majority rule
Majority Rule

  • A doctrine by which a numerical majority of an organized group holds the power to make decisions binding on all in the group. Nonetheless, the Constitution originally contained a number of provisions that limited majority rule like the electoral college, selection of state senators, and life tenure for SC justices.

Checks and balances
Checks and Balances

  • The powers (as judicial review, the presidential veto, and the congressional override) conferred on each of the three branches of government by which each restrains the others from exerting too much power.

Unitary system
Unitary System

  • A sovereign state governed as one single unit in which the central government is supreme and any administrative divisions (subnational units) exercise only powers that the central government chooses to delegate.


  • A form of government dividing power between a central government and regional units

Expressed powers
Expressed Powers

  • Powers written down for Congress in the Constitution. Section 8. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

Implied powers
Implied Powers

  • Powers that are not stated in the Constitution, but are implied by the government's need to carry out its functions. Article I, Section 8, Clause 18. Also called the "Necessary and Proper" clause, the actual sweep of the implied powers referred to here remain a point of contention among constitutional scholars to this day. Examples of the exercise of the implied powers clause include the creation of institutions not foreseen directly in the Constitution such as a national bank and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Reserved powers
Reserved Powers

  • Powers not specifically granted to the national government or denied to the states. Reserved powers are held by the states through the tenth amendment.

Cooperative federalism
Cooperative Federalism

  • National, state, and local governments interact cooperatively and collectively to solve common problems, rather than making policies separately but more or less equally or clashing over a policy in a system dominated by the national government.

Categorical grant
Categorical Grant

  • Grants which may be spent only for narrowly-defined purposes. Additionally, recipients of categorical grants are often required to match a portion of the federal funds. About 90% of federal aid dollars are spent for categorical grant.

Block grant
Block Grant

  • A consolidated grant of federal funds, formerly allocated for specific programs, that a state or local government may use at its discretion for such programs as education or urban development.


  • Rules telling states what they must do to comply with federal guidelines. Unfunded mandates require state and local governments to provide services or comply with regulations without the provision of funding.


  • A movement to transfer the responsibilities of governing from the federal government to state and local governments.

Political culture
Political Culture

  • A set of widely shared political beliefs and values. America’s political culture in characterized by strong support for individual liberty, political equality, the rule of law, and limited government.

Political socialization
Political Socialization

  • The process by which individuals acquire their political beliefs and attitudes. The family is the most important agent of socialization.

Public opinion
Public Opinion

  • The collective opinion of many people on some issue, problem, etc., esp. as a guide to action, decision, or the like.

Political ideology
Political Ideology

  • A cohesive set of beliefs about politics, public policy, and the role of government.

Political efficacy
Political Efficacy

  • The belief that political participation makes a difference.

Split ticket voting
Split-Ticket Voting

  • When you vote for candidates from different parties in the same election. Recent elections have witnessed a significant increase in split-ticket voting as the number of voters who identify themselves as independents increases.

Political party
Political Party

  • An organization whose aim is to gain control of the government apparatus, usually through the election of its candidates to public office.

Plurality election
Plurality Election

  • The winning candidate is the person who receives more votes than anyone else, but less than half of the total.

Single member district
Single-Member District

  • Each district votes on one person to represent them in a legislative body. In a plurality system, a winner must earn more votes than his opponent - even if his total is fewer than 50 percent. In a majority system, there are run-offs to ensure a lead candidate receives the majority of voters’ support.

Party era
Party Era

  • A historical period dominated by one political party.

Critical election
Critical Election

  • An election when significant groups of voters change their traditional patterns of party loyalty.

Party realignment
Party Realignment

  • The majority party is displaced by the minority party, thus ushering in a new party era.

Divided government
Divided Government

  • A situation in which one party controls the White House and another party controls one or both houses of the United States Congress.

Interest group
Interest Group

  • An organization that seeks to influence political decisions.

Political action committee pac
Political Action Committee (PAC)

  • A committee formed by business, labor, or other interest groups to raise money and make contribution to the campaigns of political candidates whom they support.

Free riders
Free Riders

  • People who benefit from an interest group without making any contributions.

Power elite theory
Power Elite Theory

  • Argues that a small minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks, holds the most power independent of a state's democratic elections process.

Pluralist theory
Pluralist Theory

  • Political power in society does not lie with the electorate, nor with a small concentrated elite, but is distributed between a wide number of groups.

Hyperpluralist theory
Hyperpluralist Theory

  • The theory that government policy is weakened and often contradictory because there are son many competing interest groups.

Mass media
Mass Media

  • Means of communication such as newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet that can reach large, widely dispersed audiences.

Linkage institutions
Linkage Institutions

  • A social structure or system that connects people to government. Examples include the media, special interest groups, political parties, and elections.

Horse race journalism
Horse Race Journalism

  • The tendency of the media to cover campaigns by emphasizing how candidates stand in the polls instead of where they stand on the issues.

Congressional redistricting
Congressional Redistricting

  • The reallocation of the number of representatives each state has in the House of Representatives.


  • The dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.


  • An officeholder who is seeking reelection. Incumbency is the single most important factor in determining the outcome of congressional elections.

Franking privilege
Franking Privilege

  • The right of members of Congress to mail newsletters to their constituents at the government’s expense.

Standing committees
Standing Committees

  • Permanent committees with specified responsibilities for Congress.

Conference committees
Conference Committees

  • An ad hoc joint committee of a bicameral legislature, which is appointed by, and consists of, members of both chambers to resolve disagreements on a particular bill.

House rules committee
House Rules Committee

  • Sets the guideline for floor debate. It gives each bill a rule that places the bill on the legislative calendar, limits time for the debate, and determines the type of amendments that will be allowed.

House ways and means committee
House Ways and Means Committee

  • House committee that handles tax bills.


  • Unwritten rule in both houses of Congress reserving committee chairs to members of the committee with the longest records of continuous service.


  • A way of delaying or preventing action on a bill by using long speeches and unlimited debate to “talk a bill to death.”


  • A Senate motion to end a filibuster. Cloture requires a three-fifths vote.


  • The exchange of support or favors, esp. by legislators for mutual political gain as by voting for each other's bills.


  • Congressional review of the activities of an executive agency, department, or office.

Delegate role of representation
Delegate Role of Representation

  • When members of Congress cast votes based on the wishes of their communities.

Closed primary
Closed Primary

  • A type of direct primary limited to registered party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote.


  • The recent pattern of states holding primaries early in order to maximize their media attention and political influence. Three-fourths of the presidential primaries are now held between February and mid-March.

Soft money
Soft Money

  • Money contributed to a political candidate or party that is not subject to federal regulations.

527 group
527 Group

  • A tax-exempt organization created for the purpose of influencing the election or appointment of public officials. Refers to political organizations that are not regulated by the Federal Election Commission and are not subject to the same contribution limits as political action committees.

Majority rule

  • The power or right vested in one branch of a government to cancel or postpone the decisions, enactments, etc., of another branch, esp. the right of a president, governor, or other chief executive to reject bills passed by the legislature.

Line item veto
Line Item Veto

  • The power of the executive to veto particular items of a bill without having to veto the entire bill.

Executive agreement
Executive Agreement

  • An agreement, usually pertaining to administrative matters and less formal than an international treaty, made between chiefs of state without senatorial approval.

Executive privilege
Executive Privilege

  • The principle that members of the executive branch of government cannot legally be forced to disclose their confidential communications when such disclosure would adversely affect the operations or procedures of the executive branch.

Lame duck period
Lame-Duck Period

  • The period of time in which the president’s term is about to come to an end. Presidents typically have less influence during a lame duck period.


  • Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures.

Executive order
Executive Order

  • An order having the force of law issued by the president of the U.S. to the army, navy, or other part of the executive branch of the government.

Iron triangle
Iron Triangle

  • The policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, the bureaucracy (executive) (sometimes called "government agencies"), and interest groups.

Issue network
Issue Network

  • An alliance of various interest groups and individuals who unite in order to promote a single issue in government policy.

Policy agenda
Policy Agenda

  • A set of issues and problems that policy makers consider important. The mass media play an important role in influencing the issues which receive public attention.

Appellate jurisdiction
Appellate Jurisdiction

  • The authority of a court to hear an appeal from a lower court.

Senatorial courtesy
Senatorial Courtesy

  • An unwritten political custom in the United States whereby the president consults the senior U.S. Senator of his political party of a given state before nominating any person to a federal vacancy within that Senator's state.

Writ of certiorari
Writ of Certiorari

  • Extraordinary writ issued by an appellate court in response to a request for the review the judgment of a judicial office, lower court, or tribunal.

Rule of four
Rule of Four

  • The SC will hear a case if four justices agree to do so.

Solicitor general
Solicitor General

  • The law officer of the U.S. government next below the Attorney General, having charge of appeals, as to the Supreme Court.

Amicus curiae brief
Amicus Curiae Brief

  • A friend of the court brief filed by an interest group or interested party to influence a Supreme Court decision.

Stare decisis
Stare Decisis

  • The doctrine that rules or principles of law on which a court rested a previous decision are authoritative in all future cases in which the facts are substantially the same.

Judicial restraint
Judicial Restraint

  • A view that judges should be reluctant to declare legislative enactments unconstitutional unless the conflict between the enactment and the Constitution is obvious.

Judicial activism
Judicial Activism

  • The practice in the judiciary of protecting or expanding individual rights through decisions that depart from established precedent or are independent of or in opposition to supposed constitutional or legislative intent.

Monetary policy
Monetary Policy

  • The actions of a central bank, currency board, or other regulatory committee, that determine the size and rate of growth of the money supply, which in turn affects interest rates.

Fiscal policy
Fiscal Policy

  • Government spending policies that influence macroeconomic conditions. These policies affect tax rates, interest rates, and government spending, in an effort to control the economy.

Entitlement program
Entitlement Program

  • A government sponsored program that provides mandated benefits to those who meet eligibility requirements. Examples include Social Security and Medicare

Office of management and budget omb
Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

  • The OMB is responsible for preparing the budget that the president submits to Congress.

Civil liberties
Civil Liberties

  • The freedoms of a citizen to exercise customary rights, as of speech or assembly, without unwarranted or arbitrary interference by the government.

Civil rights
Civil Rights

  • The rights to personal liberty established by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and certain Congressional acts, esp. as applied to an individual or a minority group.

Selective incorporation
Selective Incorporation

  • The case-by-case process by which liberties listed in the Bill of Rights have been applied to the states using the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Establishment clause
Establishment Clause

  • A provision of the First Amendment that prohibits Congress from establishing an official government-sponsored religion.

Free exercise clause
Free Exercise Clause

  • A provision of the First Amendment that guarantees each person the right to believe what he or she wants. However, a religion cannot make an act legal that would be otherwise illegal.

Clear and present danger test
Clear and Present Danger Test

  • Judicial interpretation of the first amendment that government may not ban speech unless it poses an immanent threat to society.

Writ of habeas corpus
Writ of Habeas Corpus

  • A writ ordering a prisoner to be brought before a judge  and show cause why the prisoner should not be released.

Bill of attainder
Bill of Attainder

  • An act of legislature finding a person guilty of treason or felony without trial. Illegal according to the Constitution.

Ex post facto law
Ex Post Facto Law

  • A law that makes illegal an act that was legal when committed, increases the penalties for an infraction after it has been committed, or changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. The Constitution prohibits the making of ex post facto law.

Exclusionary law
Exclusionary Law

  • A rule that forbids the introduction of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial.

Miranda warnings
Miranda Warnings

  • Warnings that police must read to suspects prior to questioning that advises them of their rights.

Strict scrutiny
Strict Scrutiny

  • The highest level of judicial scrutiny that is applied esp. to a law that allegedly violates equal protection in order to determine if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest

Affirmative action
Affirmative Action

  • A policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment.