Government Terms

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activation One of three key consequences of electoral campaigns for voters, in which the voter is activated to contribute money or ring doorbells instead of just voting. See also reinforcement and conversion.
actual group That part of the potential group consisting of members who actually join. See also interest group.
administrative discretion The authority of administrative actors to select among various responses to a given problem. Discretion is greatest when routines, or standard operating procedures, do not fit a case.
advertising According to David Mayhew, one of three primary activities undertaken by members of Congress to increase the probability of their reelection. Advertising involves contacts between members and their constituents between elections. See also credit claiming and position taking.
affirmative action A policy designed to give special attention to or compensatory treatment of members of some previously disadvantaged group.
agents of socialization Families, schools, television, peer groups, and other influences that contribute to political socialization by shaping formal and especially informal learning about politics.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 A law passed in 1990 that requires employers and public facilities to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities and prohibits discrimination against these individuals in employment.
amicus curiae briefs Legal briefs submitted by a “friend of the court” for the purpose of raising additional points of view and presenting information not contained in the briefs of the formal parties. These briefs attempt to influence a court’s decision.
Anti-Federalists Opponents of the American Constitution at the time when the states were contemplating its adoption. They argued that the Constitution was a class-based document, that it would erode fundamental liberties, and that it would weaken the power of the states. See also Federalists and U.S. Constitution.
antitrust policy A policy designed to ensure competition and prevent monopoly, which is the control of a market by one company.
appellate jurisdiction The jurisdiction of courts that hear cases brought to them on appeal from lower courts. These courts do not review the factual record, only the legal issues involved. Compare original jurisdiction.
appropriations bill An act of Congress that actually funds programs within limits established by authorization bills. Appropriations usually cover one year.
arms race A tense relationship beginning in the 1950s between the Soviet Union and the United States whereby one side’s weaponry became the other side’s goad to procure more weaponry, and so on.
Articles of Confederation The first constitution of the United States, adopted by Congress in 1777 and enacted in 1781. The Articles established a national legislature, the Continental Congress, but most authority rested with the state legislatures.
authorization bill An act of Congress that establishes, continues, or changes a discretionary government program or an entitlement. It specifies program goals and maximum expenditures for discretionary programs. Compare appropriations bill.
balance of trade The ratio of what is paid for imports to what is earned from exports. When more is imported than exported, there is a balance-of-trade deficit.
beats Specific locations from which news frequently emanates, such as Congress or the White House. Most top reporters work a particular beat, thereby becoming specialists in what goes on at that location.
bicameral legislature A legislature divided into two houses. The U.S. Congress and every American state legislature except Nebraska’s are bicameral.
bill A proposed law, drafted in precise, legal language. Anyone can draft a bill, but only a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate can formally submit a bill for consideration.
Bill of Rights The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, drafted in response to some of the Anti-Federalist concerns. These amendments define such basic liberties as freedom of religion, speech, and press and offer protections against arbitrary searches by the police and being held without talking to a lawyer.
blanket primaries Elections to select party nominees in which voters are presented with a list of candidates from all the parties. Voters can then select some Democrats and some Republicans if they like. See also primaries.
block grants Federal grants given more or less automatically to states or communities to support broad programs in areas such as community development and social services. Compare categorical grants.
broadcast media Television and radio, as compared with print media.
budget A policy document allocating burdens (taxes) and benefits (expenditures). See also balanced budget amendment.
budget resolution A resolution binding Congress to a total expenditure level, supposedly the bottom line of all federal spending for all programs.
bureaucracy According to Max Weber, a hierarchical authority structure that uses task specialization, operates on the merit principle, and behaves with impersonality. Bureaucracies govern modern states.
cabinet A group of presidential advisors not mentioned in the Constitution, although every president has had one. Today the cabinet is composed of 13 secretaries and the attorney general.
campaign strategy The master game plan candidates lay out to guide their electoral campaign.
capitalism An economic system in which individuals and corporations, not the government, own the principal means of production and seek profits. Pure capitalism means the strict noninterference of the government in business affairs. Compare mixed economy.
casework Activities of members of Congress that help constituents as individuals; cutting through bureaucratic red tape to get people what they think they have a right to get. See also pork barrel.
categorical grants Federal grants that can be used only for specific purposes, or “categories,” of state and local spending. They come with strings attached, such as nondiscrimination provisions. Compare block grants.
caucus (congressional) A group of members of Congress sharing some interest or characteristic. Most are composed of members from both parties and from both houses.
caucus (state party) A meeting of all state party leaders for selecting delegates to the national party convention. Caucuses are usually organized as a pyramid.
censorship Governmental regulation of media content.
census A valuable tool for understanding demographic changes. The Constitution requires that the government conduct an “actual enumeration” of the population every 10 years. See also demography.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) An agency created after World War II to coordinate American intelligence activities abroad. It became involved in intrigue, conspiracy, and meddling as well.
checks and balances An important part of the Madisonian model designed to limit government’s power by requiring that power be balanced among the different governmental institutions. These institutions continually check one another’s activities. This system reflects Madison’s goal of setting power against power. See also separation of powers.
city manager An official appointed by the city council who is responsible for implementing and administrating the council’s actions. More than one-third of U.S. cities use the council-manager form of government.
civic duty The belief that in order to support democratic government, a citizen should always vote.
civil disobedience A form of political participation that reflects a conscious decision to break a law believed to be immoral and to suffer the consequences. See also protest.
civil law The body of law involving cases without a charge of criminality. It concerns disputes between two parties and consists of both statutes and common law. Compare criminal law.
civil liberties The legal constitutional protections against government. Although our civil liberties are formally set down in the Bill of Rights, the courts, police, and legislatures define their meaning.
civil rights Policies designed to protect people against arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by government officials or individuals.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 The law that made racial discrimination against any group in hotels, motels, and restaurants illegal and forbade many forms of job discrimination. See also civil rights movement and civil rights policies.
civil rights movement A movement that began in the 1950s and organized both African Americans and whites to end the policies of segregation. It sought to establish equal opportunities in the political and economic sectors and to end policies that erected barriers between people because of race.
civil service A system of hiring and promotion based on the merit principle and the desire to create a nonpartisan government service. Compare patronage.
class action suits Lawsuits permitting a small number of people to sue on behalf of all other people similarly situated.
Clean Air Act of 1970 The law that charged the Department of Transportation (DOT) with the responsibility of reducing automobile emissions.
closed primaries Elections to select party nominees in which only people who have registered in advance with the party can vote for that party’s candidates, thus encouraging greater party loyalty. See also primaries.
coalition A group of individuals with a common interest upon which every political party depends. See also New Deal Coalition.
coalition government When two or more parties join together to form a majority in a national legislature. This form of government is quite common in the multiparty systems of Europe.
Cold War War by other than military means usually emphasizing ideological conflict, such as that between the United States and the Soviet Union from the end of World War II until the 1990s.
collective bargaining Negotiations between representatives of labor unions and management to determine acceptable working conditions.
collective good Something of value (money, a tax write-off, prestige, clean air, and so on) that cannot be withheld from a group member.
command-and-control policy According to Charles Schultze, the existing system of regulation whereby government tells business how to reach certain goals, checks that these commands are followed, and punishes offenders. Compare incentive system.
commercial speech Communication in the form of advertising. It can be restricted more than many other types of speech but has been receiving increased protection from the Supreme Court.
commission government A form of municipal government in which voters elect individuals to serve as city commissioners who will have legislative responsibilities to approve city policies and executive responsibilities to direct a functional area of city government, such as public safety or public works. See also mayor­council government and council­manager government
committee chairs The most important influencers of the congressional agenda. They play dominant roles in scheduling hearings, hiring staff, appointing subcommittees, and managing committee bills when they are brought before the full house.
committees (congressional) See conference committees, joint committees, select committees, and standing committees.
common law The accumulation of judicial decisions applied in civil law disputes.
comparable worth The issue raised when women who hold traditionally female jobs are paid less than men for working at jobs requiring comparable skill.
conference committees Congressional committees formed when the Senate and the House pass a particular bill in different forms. Party leadership appoints members from each house to iron out the differences and bring back a single bill. See also standing committees, joint committees, and select committees.
Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 An act designed to reform the congressional budgetary process. Its supporters hoped that it would also make Congress less dependent on the president’s budget and better able to set and meet its own budgetary goals.
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) A counterweight to the president’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The CBO advises Congress on the probable consequences of budget decisions and forecasts revenues.
Connecticut Compromise The compromise reached at the Constitutional Convention that established two houses of Congress: the House of Representatives, in which representation is based on a state’s share of the U.S. population, and the Senate, in which each state has two representatives. Compare New Jersey Plan and Virginia Plan.
consent of the governed According to John Locke, the required basis for government. The Declaration of Independence reflects Locke’s view that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed.
conservatism A political ideology whose advocates fear the growth of government, deplore government’s drag on private-sector initiatives, dislike permissiveness in society, and place a priority on military needs over social needs. Compare liberalism.
conservatives Those who advocate conservatism. Compare liberals.
constitution A nation’s basic law. It creates political institutions, assigns or divides powers in government, and often provides certain guarantees to citizens. Constitutions can be either written or unwritten. See also U.S. Constitution.
constitutional courts Lower federal courts of original jurisdiction created by Congress by the Judiciary Act of 1789. Compare legislative courts.
consumer price index (CPI) The key measure of inflation that relates prices in one year to prices for a base year that are figured as 100.
containment doctrine A foreign policy strategy advocated by George Kennan that called for the United States to isolate the Soviet Union, “contain” its advances, and resist its encroachments by peaceful means if possible, but by force if necessary.
continuing resolutions When Congress cannot reach agreement and pass appropriations bills, these resolutions allow agencies to spend at the level of the previous year.
conversion One of three key consequences of electoral campaigns for voters, in which the voter’s mind is actually changed. See also reinforcement and activation.
cooperative federalism A system of government in which powers and policy assignments are shared between states and the national government. They may also share costs, administration, and even blame for programs that work poorly. Compare dual federalism.
council­manager governmen A common form of government used by municipalities in which voters elect a city council (and possibly an independent mayor) to make public policy for the city. The city council, in turn, appoints a professional city manager to serve as chief executive of the city and to administer public policy. See also mayor-council government and commission government.
Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) A three-member body appointed by the president to advise the president on economic policy.
council of governments (COG) Councils in many areas of the country where officials from various localities meet to discuss mutual problems and plan joint, cooperative action.
county A political subdivision of state government that has a set of government officers to administer some local services—often on behalf of the state. Called a parish in Louisiana and a borough in Alaska. See also county government.
county government A unit of local government that serves as the administrative arm of state government at the local level. It has many social service and record-keeping responsibilities. See also county.
courts of appeal Appellate courts empowered to review all final decisions of district courts, except in rare cases. In addition, they also hear appeals to orders of many federal regulatory agencies. Compare district courts.
Craig v. Boren In this 1976 Supreme Court decision, the Court determined that gender classification cases would have a “heightened” or “middle level” of scrutiny. In other words, the courts were to show less deference to gender classifications than to more routine classifications, but more deference than to racial classifications.
credit claiming According to David Mayhew, one of three primary activities undertaken by members of Congress to increase the probability of their reelection. It involves personal and district service. See also advertising and position taking.
criminal law16 The body of law involving a case in which an individual is charged with violating a specific law. The offense may be harmful to an individual or society and in either case warrants punishment, such as imprisonment or a fine. Compare civil law.
crisis A sudden, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous event requiring the president to play the role of crisis manager.
critical election An electoral “earthquake” whereby new issues emerge, new coalitions replace old ones, and the majority party is often displaced by the minority party. Critical election periods are sometimes marked by a national crisis and may require more than one election to bring about a new party era. See also party realignment.
cruel and unusual punishment Court sentences prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory death sentences for certain offenses are unconstitutional, it has not held that the death penalty itself constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. See also Furman v. Georgia, Gregg v. Georgia, and McClesky v. Kemp.
Declaration of Independence The document approved by representatives of the American colonies in 1776 that stated their grievances against the British monarch and declared their independence.
deficit An excess of federal expenditures over federal revenues. See also budget.
democracy A system of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the public’s preferences.
demography The science of population changes. See also census.
deregulation The lifting of restrictions on business, industry, and other professional activities for which government rules had been established and that bureaucracies had been created to administer.
détente A slow transformation from conflict thinking to cooperative thinking in foreign policy strategy and policymaking. It sought a relaxation of tensions between the superpowers, coupled with firm guarantees of mutual security.
Dillon’s Rule The idea that local governments have only those powers that are explicitly given them by the states. This means that local governments have very little discretion over what policies they pursue or how they pursue them. It was named for Iowa Judge John Dillon, who expressed this idea in an 1868 court decision.
direct democracy Government controlled directly by citizens. In some U.S. states, procedures such as the initiative, the referendum, and the recall give voters a direct impact on policymaking and the political process by means of the voting booth and can therefore be considered forms of direct democracy.
direct mail A high-tech method of raising money for a political cause or candidate. It involves sending information and requests for money to people whose names appear on lists of those who have supported similar views or candidates in the past.
district courts The 91 federal courts of original jurisdiction. They are the only federal courts in which no trials are held and in which juries may be empanelled. Compare courts of appeal.
dual federalism A system of government in which both the states and the national government remain supreme within their own spheres, each responsible for some policies. Compare cooperative federalism.
Earned Income Tax Credit A “negative income tax” that provides income to very poor individuals in lieu of charging them federal tax.
elastic clause The final paragraph of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to pass all laws “necessary and proper” to carry out the enumerated powers. See also implied powers.
electioneering Direct group involvement in the electoral process. Groups can help fund campaigns, provide testimony, and get members to work for candidates, and some form political action committees (PACs).
electoral college A unique American institution, created by the Constitution, providing for the selection of the president by electors chosen by the state parties. Although the electoral college vote usually reflects a popular majority, the winner-take-all rule gives clout to big states.
elite The upper class in a society that utilizes wealth for political power. According to the elite and class theory of government and politics, elites control policies because they control key institutions.
elite and class theory A theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization. Compare hyperpluralism, pluralist theory, and traditional democratic theory.
Endangered Species Act of 1973 This law requires the federal government to protect actively each of the hundreds of species listed as endangered—regardless of the economic effect on the surrounding towns or region.
entitlement programs Policies for which expenditures are uncontrollable because Congress has in effect obligated itself to pay X level of benefits to Y number of recipients. Each year, Congress’s bill is a straightforward function of the X level of benefits times the Y number of beneficiaries. Social Security benefits are an example.
enumerated powers Powers of the federal government that are specifically addressed in the Constitution; for Congress, these powers are listed in Article I, Section 8, and include the power to coin money, regulate its value, and impose taxes. Compare implied powers.
environmental impact statement (EIS) A report filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that specifies what environmental effects a proposed policy would have. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that whenever any agency proposes to undertake a policy that is potentially disruptive of the environment, the agency must file a statement with the EPA.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) An agency of the federal government created in 1970 and charged with administering all the government’s environmental legislation. It also administers policies dealing with toxic wastes. The EPA is the largest federal independent regulatory agency.
equal opportunity A policy statement about equality holding that the rules of the game should be the same for everyone. Most of our civil rights policies over the past three decades have presumed that equality of opportunity is a public policy goal. Compare equal results.
equal protection of the laws Part of the Fourteenth Amendment emphasizing that the laws must provide equivalent “protection” to all people. As one member of Congress said during debate on the amendment, it should provide “equal protection of life, liberty, and property” to all a state’s citizens.
equal results A policy statement about equality holding that government has a duty to help break down barriers to equal opportunity. Affirmative action is an example of a policy justified as promoting equal results rather than merely equal opportunities.
Equal Rights Amendment A constitutional amendment passed by Congress in 1978 and sent to the state legislatures for ratification, stating that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Despite substantial public support and an extended deadline, the amendment failed to acquire the necessary support from three-fourths of the state legislatures.
establishment clause Part of the First Amendment stating “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
European Union (EU) An alliance of the major western European nations which coordinates monetary, trade, immigration, and labor policies, making its members one economic unit. An example of a regional organization.
exclusionary rule The rule that evidence, no matter how incriminating, cannot be introduced into a trial if it was not constitutionally obtained. The rule prohibits use of evidence obtained through unreasonable search and seizure.
executive orders Regulations originating from the executive branch. Executive orders are one method presidents can use to control the bureaucracy; more often, though, presidents pass along their wishes through their aides.
exit polls Public opinion surveys used by major media pollsters to predict electoral winners with speed and precision.
expenditures Federal spending of revenues. Major areas of such spending are social services and the military.
extradition A legal process whereby an alleged criminal offender is surrendered by the officials of one state to officials of the state in which the crime is alleged to have been committed.
factions Interest groups arising from the unequal distribution of property or wealth that James Madison attacked in Federalist Paper No. 10. Today’s parties or interest groups are what Madison had in mind when he warned of the instability in government caused by factions.
federal debt All the money borrowed by the federal government over the years and still outstanding. Today the federal debt is about $5.5 trillion.
Federal Election Campaign Act A law passed in 1974 for reforming campaign finances. The act created the Federal Election Commission (FEC), provided public financing for presidential primaries and general elections, limited presidential campaign spending, required disclosure, and attempted to limit contributions.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) A six-member bipartisan agency created by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974. The FEC administers the campaign finance laws and enforces compliance with their requirements.
Federal Reserve System The main instrument for making monetary policy in the United States. It was created by Congress in 1913 to regulate the lending practices of banks and thus the money supply. The seven members of its Board of Governors are appointed to 14-year terms by the president with the consent of the Senate.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) The independent regulatory agency traditionally responsible for regulating false and misleading trade practices. The FTC has recently become active in defending consumer interests through its truth-in-advertising rule and the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
federalism A way of organizing a nation so that two levels of government have formal authority over the same land and people. It is a system of shared power between units of government. Compare unitary government.
Federalist Papers A collection of 85 articles written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison under the name “Publius” to defend the Constitution in detail. Collectively, these papers are second only to the U.S. Constitution in characterizing the framers’ intents.
Federalists Supporters of the U.S. Constitution at the time the states were contemplating its adoption. See also Anti-Federalists and Federalist Papers.
feminization of poverty The increasing concentration of poverty among women, especially unmarried women and their children.
filibuster A strategy unique to the Senate whereby opponents of a piece of legislation try to talk it to death, based on the tradition of unlimited debate. Today, 60 members present and voting can halt a filibuster.
fiscal federalism The pattern of spending, taxing, and providing grants in the federal system; it is the cornerstone of the national government’s relations with state and local governments. See also federalism.
fiscal policy The policy that describes the impact of the federal budget—taxes, spending, and borrowing—on the economy. Unlike monetary policy, which is mostly controlled by the Federal Reserve System, fiscal policy is almost entirely determined by Congress and the president, who are the budget makers. See also Keynesian economic theory.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The federal agency formed in 1913 and assigned the task of approving all food products and drugs sold in the United States. All drugs, with the exception of tobacco, must have FDA authorization.
foreign policy A policy that involves choice taking, like domestic policy, but additionally involves choices about relations with the rest of the world. The president is the chief initiator of foreign policy in the United States.
formula grants Federal categorical grants distributed according to a formula specified in legislation or in administrative regulations.
fragmentation A situation in which responsibility for a policy area is dispersed among several units within the bureaucracy, making the coordination of policies both time-consuming and difficult.
free exercise clause A First Amendment provision that prohibits government from interfering with the practice of religion.
free-rider problem The problem faced by unions and other groups when people do not join because they can benefit from the group’s activities without officially joining. The bigger the group, the more serious the free-rider problem. See also interest group.
frontloading The recent tendency of states to hold primaries early in the calendar in order to capitalize on media attention. At one time, it was considered advantageous for a state to choose its delegates late in the primary season so that it could play a decisive role. However, in recent years, votes cast in states that have held late primaries have been irrelevant given that one candidate had already sewn up the nomination early on.
full faith and credit clause A clause in Article IV, Section 1, of the Constitution requiring each state to recognize the official documents and civil judgments rendered by the courts of other states.
gender gap A term that refers to the regular pattern by which women are more likely to support Democratic candidates. Women tend to be significantly less conservative than men and are more likely to support spending on social services and to oppose the higher levels of military spending.
Government The institutions and processes through which public policies are made for a society.
government corporation A government organization that, like business corporations, provides a service that could be provided by the private sector and typically charges for its services. The U.S. Postal Service is an example. Compare independent regulatory agency and independent executive agency.
governor The elected chief executive of state government who directs the administration of state government and the implementation of public policy in the state.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Named for its sponsors and also known as the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Act, legislation mandating maximum allowable deficit levels each year until 1991, when the budget was to be balanced. In 1987, the balanced budget year was shifted to 1993, but the Act was abandoned in 1991.
grandfather clause One of the methods used by Southern states to deny African Americans the right to vote. In order to exempt illiterate whites from taking a literacy test before voting, the clause exempted people whose grandfathers were eligible to vote in 1860, thereby disenfranchising the grandchildren of slaves. The grandfather clause was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1913. See also poll taxes and white primary.
gross domestic product The sum total of the value of all the goods and services produced in a nation.
GS (General Schedule) rating A schedule for federal employees, ranging from GS 1 to GS 18, by which salaries can be keyed to rating and experience. See civil service.
Hatch Act A federal law prohibiting government employees from active participation in partisan politics.
health maintenance organizations (HMOs) Organizations contracted by individuals or insurance companies to provide health care for a yearly fee. Such network health plans limit the choice of doctors and treatments. About 60 percent of Americans are enrolled in HMOs or similar programs.
high-tech politics A politics in which the behavior of citizens and policymakers and the political agenda itself are increasingly shaped by technology.
home rule The practice by which municipalities are permitted by the states to write their own charters and change them without permission of the state legislature, within limits. Today this practice is widely used to organize and modernize municipal government. See also local charter.
House Rules Committee An institution unique to the House of Representatives that reviews all bills (except revenue, budget, and appropriations bills) coming from a House committee before they go to the full House.
House Ways and Means Committee The House of Representatives committee that, along with the Senate Finance Committee, writes the tax codes, subject to the approval of Congress as a whole.
hyperpluralism A theory of government and politics contending that groups are so strong that government is weakened. Hyperpluralism is an extreme, exaggerated, or perverted form of pluralism. Compare elite and class theory, pluralist theory, and traditional democratic theory.
impeachment The political equivalent of an indictment in criminal law, prescribed by the Constitution. The House of Representatives may impeach the president by a majority vote for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
implementation The stage of policymaking between the establishment of a policy and the consequences of the policy for the people whom it affects. Implementation involves translating the goals and objectives of a policy into an operating, ongoing program. See also judicial implementation.
implied powers Powers of the federal government that go beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. The Constitution states that Congress has the power to “make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution” the powers enumerated in Article I. Many federal policies are justified on the basis of implied powers. See also McCulloch v. Maryland, elastic clause, and enumerated powers.
incentive system According to Charles Shultze, a more effective and efficient policy than command-and-control; in the incentive system, marketlike strategies are used to manage public policy.
income The amount of funds collected between any two points in time. Compare wealth.
income distribution The “shares” of the national income earned by various groups.
income taxes Shares of individual wages and corporate revenues collected by the government. The first income tax was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1895, but the Sixteenth Amendment explicitly authorized Congress to levy a tax on income. See also Internal Revenue Service.
incorporation doctrine The legal concept under which the Supreme Court has nationalized the Bill of Rights by making most of its provisions applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
incrementalism The belief that the best predictor of this year’s budget is last year’s budget, plus a little bit more (an increment). According to Aaron Wildavsky, “Most of the budget is a product of previous decisions.”
incumbents Those already holding office. In congressional elections, incumbents usually win.
independent executive agency The government not accounted for by cabinet departments, independent regulatory agencies, and government corporations. Its administrators are typically appointed by the president and serve at the president’s pleasure. The Veterans Administration is an example.
independent regulatory agency A government agency responsible for some sector of the economy, making and enforcing rules supposedly to protect the public interest. It also judges disputes over these rules. The Interstate Commerce Commission is an example. Compare government corporation and independent executive agency.
individualism The belief that individuals should be left on their own by the government. One of the primary reasons for the comparatively small scope of American government is the prominence of this belief in American political thought and practice.
INF Treaty The elimination of intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) through an agreement signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev during the May 1988 Moscow summit. It was the first treaty to reduce current levels of nuclear weapons.
inflation The rise in prices for consumer goods. Inflation hurts some but actually benefits others. Groups such as those who live on fixed incomes are particularly hard hit, while people whose salary increases are tied to the consumer price index but whose loan rates are fixed may enjoy increased buying power.
initiative A process permitted in some states whereby voters may place proposed changes in the state constitution on a state referendum if sufficient signatures are obtained on petitions calling for such a referendum. See also legislative proposal and constitutional convention.
instructed delegate A legislator who mirrors the preferences of his or her constituents. Compare trustee.
interdependency Mutual dependency, in which the actions of nations reverberate and affect one another’s economic lifelines.
interest group An organization of people with shared policy goals entering the policy process at several points to try to achieve those goals. Interest groups pursue their goals in many arenas.
intergovernmental relations The workings of the federal system—the entire set of interactions among national, state, and local governments.
Internal Revenue Service The office established to collect federal income taxes, investigate violations of the tax laws, and prosecute tax criminals.
investigative journalism The use of detective-like reporting to unearth scandals, scams, and schemes, putting reporters in adversarial relationships with political leaders.
iron triangles Iron triangles—composed of bureaucratic agencies, interest groups, and congressional committees or subcommittees—have dominated some areas of domestic policymaking. Iron triangles are characterized by mutual dependency, in which each element provides key services, information, or policy for the others.
isolationism A foreign policy course followed throughout most of our nation’s history, whereby the United States has tried to stay out of other nations’ conflicts, particularly European wars. Isolationism was reaffirmed by the Monroe Doctrine.
Joint Chiefs of Staff The commanding officers of the armed services who advise the president on military policy.
joint committees Congressional committees on a few subject-matter areas with membership drawn from both houses. See also standing committees, conference committees, and select committees.
judicial activism A judicial philosophy in which judges make bold policy decisions, even charting new constitutional ground. Advocates of this approach emphasize that the courts can correct pressing needs, especially those unmet by the majoritarian political process.
judicial implementation How and whether court decisions are translated into actual policy, affecting the behavior of others. The courts rely on other units of government to enforce their decisions.
judicial interpretation A major informal way in which the Constitution is changed by the courts as they balance citizens’ rights against those of the government. See also judicial review.
judicial restraint A judicial philosophy in which judges play minimal policymaking roles, leaving that strictly to the legislatures. Compare judicial activism.
judicial review The power of the courts to determine whether acts of Congress, and by implication the executive, are in accord with the U.S. Constitution. Judicial review was established by John Marshall and his associates in Marbury v. Madison. See also judicial interpretation.
justiciable disputes A constraint on the courts, requiring that a case must be capable of being settled by legal methods.
Keynesian economic theory The theory emphasizing that government spending and deficits can help the economy weather its normal ups and downs. Proponents of this theory advocate using the power of government to stimulate the economy when it is lagging. See also fiscal policy.
laissez-faire The principle that government should not meddle in the economy. See also capitalism.
legislative courts Courts established by Congress for specialized purposes, such as the Court of Military Appeals. Judges who serve on these courts have fixed terms and lack the protections of constitutional court judges.
legislative oversight Congress’s monitoring of the bureaucracy and its administration of policy, performed mainly through hearings.
legislative veto The ability of Congress to override a presidential decision. Although the War Powers Resolution asserts this authority, there is reason to believe that, if challenged, the Supreme Court would find the legislative veto in violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.
legitimacy A characterization of elections by political scientists meaning that they are almost universally accepted as a fair and free method of selecting political leaders. When legitimacy is high, as in the United States, even the losers accept the results peacefully.
libel The publication of false or malicious statements that damage someone’s reputation.
liberalism A political ideology whose advocates prefer a government active in dealing with human needs, support individual rights and liberties, and give higher priority to social needs than to military needs.
liberals Those who advocate liberalism. Compare conservatives.
lieutenant governor Often the second-highest executive official in state government, who is elected with the governor as a ticket in some states and is elected separately in others. May have legislative and executive branch responsibilities.
limited government The idea that certain things are out of bounds for government because of the natural rights of citizens. Limited government was central to John Locke’s philosophy in the seventeenth century, and it contrasted sharply with the prevailing view of the divine rights of monarchs.
line-item veto The power possessed by 42 state governors to veto only certain parts of a bill while allowing the rest of it to pass into law.
linkage institutions The channels or access points through which issues and people’s policy preferences get on the government’s policy agenda. In the United States, elections, political parties, and interest groups are the three main linkage institutions.
litigants The plaintiff and the defendant in a case.
lobbying According to Lester Milbrath, a “communication, by someone other than a citizen acting on his own behalf, directed to a governmental decisionmaker with the hope of influencing his decision.”
local charter An organizational statement and grant of authority from the state to a local government, much like a state or federal constitution. States sometimes allow municipalities to write their own charters and to change them without permission of the state legislature, within limits. See also home rule.
majority leader The principal partisan ally of the Speaker of the House or the party’s wheel horse in the Senate. The majority leader is responsible for scheduling bills, influencing committee assignments, and rounding up votes on behalf of the party’s legislative positions.
majority rule A fundamental principle of traditional democratic theory. In a democracy, choosing among alternatives requires that the majority’s desire be respected. See also minority rights.
mandate theory of elections The idea that the winning candidate has a mandate from the people to carry out his or her platforms and politics. Politicians like the theory better than political scientists do.
mass media Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and other means of popular communication. They are a key part of high-tech politics. See also broadcast media and print media.
mayor­council governmen One of three common forms of municipal government in which voters elect both a mayor and a city council. In the weak-mayor form, the city council is more powerful; in the strong-mayor form, the mayor is the chief executive of city government. See also council­manager government
McCarthyism The fear, prevalent in the 1950s, that international communism was conspiratorial, insidious, bent on world domination, and infiltrating American government and cultural institutions. It was named after Senator Joseph McCarthy and flourished after the Korean War.
McGovern-Fraser Commission A commission formed at the 1968 Democratic convention in response to demands for reform by minority groups and others who sought better representation.
means-tested programs Government programs available only to individuals below a poverty line.
media events Events purposely staged for the media that nonetheless look spontaneous. In keeping with politics as theater, media events can be staged by individuals, groups, and government officials, especially presidents.
Medicaid A public assistance program designed to provide health care for poor Americans. Medicaid is funded by both the states and the national government. Compare Medicare.
Medicare A program added to the Social Security system in 1965 that provides hospitalization insurance for the elderly and permits older Americans to purchase inexpensive coverage for doctor fees and other expenses. Compare Medicaid.
melting pot The mixing of cultures, ideas, and peoples that has changed the American nation. The United States, with its history of immigration, has often been called a melting pot.
merit plan A hybrid system of appointment and election used to select judges in 17 states. In this system the governor appoints the states judges from a list of recommended persons; an appointed judge then serves a short “trial run” term, after which a retention election is held. If voters approve retention by a majority vote, then the judge continues in office for a lengthy term.
merit principle The idea that hiring should be based on entrance exams and promotion ratings to produce administration by people with talent and skill. See also civil service and compare patronage.
minority leader The principal leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.
minority majority The emergence of a non-Caucasian majority, as compared with a white, generally Anglo-Saxon majority. It is predicted that, by about 2060, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans together will outnumber white Americans.
minority rights A principle of traditional democratic theory that guarantees rights to those who do not belong to majorities and allows that they might join majorities through persuasion and reasoned argument. See also majority rule.
mixed economy An economic system in which the government is deeply involved in economic decisions through its role as regulator, consumer, subsidizer, taxer, employer, and borrower. The United States can be considered a mixed economy. Compare capitalism.
monetarism An economic theory holding that the supply of money is the key to a nation’s economic health. Monetarists believe that too much cash and credit in circulation produces inflation. See also monetary policy.
monetary policy Based on monetarism, monetary policy is the manipulation of the supply of money in private hands by which the government can control the economy. See also the Federal Reserve System, and compare fiscal policy.
Motor Voter Act Passed in 1993, this Act went into effect for the 1996 election. It requires states to permit people to register to vote at the same time they apply for drivers’ licenses. This should lessen the bureaucratic hassles of voter registration, though critics charge that it may also increase registration fraud.
multinational corporations Large businesses with vast holdings in many countries. Many of these companies are larger than most governments.
municipalities Another name for cities, also known by the legal term municipal corporations; denotes a government created by charter granted from the state government or by home rule charter approved by local voters.
narrowcasting As opposed to the traditional “broadcasting,” the appeal to a narrow, particular audience by channels such as ESPN, MTV, and C-SPAN, which focus on a narrow particular interest.
national chairperson One of the institutions that keeps the party operating between conventions. The national chairperson is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the party and is usually hand-picked by the presidential nominee. See also national committee.
national committee One of the institutions that keeps the party operating between conventions. The national committee is composed of representatives from the states and territories. See also national chairperson.
national convention The meeting of party delegates every four years to choose a presidential ticket and write the party’s platform.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) The law passed in 1969 that is the centerpiece of federal environmental policy in the United States. The NEPA established the requirements for environmental impact statements.
national health insurance A compulsory insurance program for all Americans that would have the government finance citizens’ medical care. First proposed by President Harry S Truman, the plan has been soundly opposed by the American Medical Association.
National Labor Relations Act A 1935 law, also known as the Wagner Act, that guarantees workers the right of collective bargaining, sets down rules to protect unions and organizers, and created the National Labor Relations Board to regulate labor­management relations
national party convention The supreme power within each of the parties. The convention meets every four years to nominate the party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates and to write the party’s platform.
national primary A proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries systems who would replace these electoral methods with a nationwide primary held early in the election year.
National Security Council An office created in 1947 to coordinate the president’s foreign and military policy advisors. Its formal members are the president, vice president, secretary of state, and secretary of defense, and it is managed by the president’s national security advisor.
natural rights Rights inherent in human beings, not dependent on governments, which include life, liberty, and property. The concept of natural rights was central to English philosopher John Locke’s theories about government, and was widely accepted among America’s founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson echoed Locke’s language in drafting the Declaration of Independence.
New Deal Coalition A coalition forged by Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats, who dominated American politics from the 1930s to the 1960s. Its basic elements were the urban working class, ethnic groups, Catholics and Jews, the poor, Southerners, African Americans, and Democratic intellectuals.
New Jersey Plan The proposal at the Constitutional Convention that called for equal representation of each state in Congress regardless of the state’s population. Compare Virginia Plan and Connecticut Compromise.
newspaper chains Newspapers published by massive media conglomerates that account for almost three-quarters of the nation’s daily circulation. Often these chains control broadcast media as well.
nomination The official endorsement of a candidate for office by a political party. Generally, success in the nomination game requires momentum, money, and media attention.
nonrenewable resources Minerals and other re-sources that nature does not replace when they are consumed. Many commonly used energy resources, such as oil and coal, are nonrenewable.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Created in 1949, an organization whose members include the United States, Canada, most Western European nations, and Turkey, all of whom agreed to combine military forces and to treat a war against one as a war against all. Compare Warsaw Pact.
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) An office that grew out of the Bureau of the Budget, created in 1921, consisting of a handful of political appointees and hundreds of skilled professionals. The OMB performs both managerial and budgetary functions, and although the president is its boss, the director and staff have considerable independence in the budgetary process. See also Congressional Budget Office.
Office of Personnel Management (OPM) The office in charge of hiring for most agencies of the federal government, using elaborate rules in the process.
Olson’s law of large groups Advanced by Mancur Olson, a principle stating, “the larger the group, the further it will fall short of providing an optimal amount of a collective good.” See also interest group.
open primaries Elections to select party nominees in which voters can decide on election day whether they want to participate in the Democratic or Republican contests. See also primaries.
opinion A statement of legal reasoning behind a judicial decision. The content of an opinion may be as important as the decision itself.
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) An economic organization, consisting primarily of Arab nations, that controls the price of oil and the amount of oil its members produce and sell to other nations. The Arab members of OPEC caused the oil boycott in the winter of 1973­1974
original intent A view that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the original intent of the framers. Many conservatives support this view.
original jurisdiction The jurisdiction of courts that hear a case first, usually in a trial. These are the courts that determine the facts about a case. Compare appellate jurisdiction.
party competition The battle of the parties for control of public offices. Ups and downs of the two major parties are one of the most important elements in American politics.
party dealignment The gradual disengagement of people and politicians from the parties, as seen in part by shrinking party identification.
party eras Historical periods in which a majority of voters cling to the party in power, which tends to win a majority of the elections. See also critical election and party realignment.
party identification A citizen’s self-proclaimed preference for one party or the other.
party image The voter’s perceptions of what the Republicans or Democrats stand for, such as conservatism or liberalism.
party machines A type of political party organization that relies heavily on material inducements, such as patronage, to win votes and to govern.
party neutrality A term used to describe the fact that many Americans are indifferent toward the two major political parties. See also party dealignment.
party platform A political party’s statement of its goals and policies for the next four years. The platform is drafted prior to the party convention by a committee whose members are chosen in rough proportion to each candidates strength. It is the best formal statement of the party’s beliefs.
party realignment The displacement of the majority party by the minority party, usually during a critical election period. See also party eras.
patronage One of the key inducements used by machines. A patronage job, promotion, or contract is one that is given for political reasons rather than for merit or competence alone. Compare civil service and the merit principle.
Pendleton Civil Service Act Passed in 1883, an Act that created a federal civil service so that hiring and promotion would be based on merit rather than patronage.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey A 1992 case in which the Supreme Court loosened its standard for evaluating restrictions on abortion from one of “strict scrutiny” of any restraints on a “fundamental right” to one of “undue burden” that permits considerably more regulation.
plea bargaining An actual bargain struck between the defendant’s lawyer and the prosecutor to the effect that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser crime in exchange for the state’s promise not to prosecute the defendant for the more serious one.
pluralist theory A theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each one pressing for its own preferred policies. Compare elite and class theory, hyperpluralism, and traditional democratic theory.
pocket veto A veto taking place when Congress adjourns within 10 days of having submitted a bill to the president, who simply lets it die by neither signing nor vetoing it. See also veto.
policy agenda According to John Kingdon, “the list of subjects or problems to which government officials, and people outside of government closely associated with those officials, are paying some serious attention at any given time.”
policy differences The perception of a clear choice between the parties. Those who see such choices are more likely to vote.
policy entrepreneurs People who invest their political “capital” in an issue. According to John Kingdon, a policy entrepreneur “could be in or out of government, in elected or appointed positions, in interest groups or research organizations.”
policy gridlock A condition that occurs when no coalition is strong enough to form a majority and establish policy. The result is that nothing may get done.
policy impacts The effects a policy has on people and problems. Impacts are analyzed to see how well a policy has met its goal and at what cost.
policy implementation The stage of policymaking between the establishment of a policy and the consequences of the policy for the people whom it affects. Implementation involves translating the goals and objectives of a policy into an operating, ongoing program. See also judicial implementation.
policymaking institutions The branches of government charged with taking action on political issues. The U.S. Constitution established three policymaking institutions—the Congress, the presidency, and the courts. Today, the power of the bureaucracy is so great that most political scientists consider it a fourth policymaking institution.
policymaking system The process by which political problems are communicated by the voters and acted upon by government policymakers. The policymaking system begins with people’s needs and expectations for governmental action. When people confront government officials with problems that they want solved, they are trying to influence the government’s policy agenda.
policy voting Voting that occurs when electoral choices are made on the basis of the voters’ policy preferences and on the basis of where the candidates stand on policy issues. For the voter, policy voting is hard work.
political action committees (PACs) Funding vehicles created by the 1974 campaign finance reforms. A corporation, union, or some other interest group can create a PAC and register it with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which will meticulously monitor the PAC’s expenditures.
political culture An overall set of values widely shared within a society.
political efficacy The belief that one’s political participation really matters—that one’s vote can actually make a difference.
political ideology A coherent set of beliefs about politics, public policy, and public purpose. It helps give meaning to political events, personalities, and policies. See also liberalism and conservatism.
political issue An issue that arises when people disagree about a problem and a public policy choice.
political participation All the activities used by citizens to influence the selection of political leaders or the policies they pursue. The most common, but not the only, means of political participation in a democracy is voting. Other means include protest and civil disobedience.
political party According to Anthony Downs, a “team of men [and women] seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election.”
political questions A doctrine developed by the federal courts and used as a means to avoid deciding some cases, principally those involving conflicts between the president and Congress.
political socialization According to Richard Dawson, “the process through which an individual acquires his [or her] particular political orientations—his [or her] knowledge, feelings, and evaluations regarding his [or her] political world.” See also agents of socialization.
politics According to Harold Lasswell, “who gets what, when, and how.” Politics produces authoritative decisions about public issues.
poll taxes Small taxes, levied on the right to vote, that often fell due at a time of year when poor African-American sharecroppers had the least cash on hand. This method was used by most Southern states to exclude African Americans from voting registers. Poll taxes were declared void by the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964. See also grandfather clause and white primary.
pork barrel The mighty list of federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities, businesses, colleges, and institutions in the district of a member of Congress.
position taking According to David Mayhew, one of three primary activities undertaken by members of Congress to increase the probability of their reelection. It involves taking a stand on issues and responding to constituents about these positions. See also advertising and credit taking.
potential group All the people who might be interest group members because they share some common interest. A potential group is almost always larger than an actual group.
poverty line A method used to count the number of poor people, it considers what a family would need to spend for an “austere” standard of living.
precedent How similar cases have been decided in the past.
presidential approval An evaluation of the president based on many factors, but especially on the predisposition of many people to support the president. One measure is provided by the Gallup Poll.
presidential coattails The situation occurring when voters cast their ballots for congressional candidates of the president’s party because they support the president. Recent studies show that few races are won this way.
presidential primaries Elections in which voters in a state vote for a candidate (or delegates pledged to him or her). Most delegates to the national party conventions are chosen this way.
press conferences Meetings of public officials with reporters.
press secretary The person on the White House staff who most often deals directly with the press, serving as a conduit of information. Press secretaries conduct daily press briefings.
print media Newspapers and magazines, as compared with broadcast media.
prior restraint A government’s preventing material from being published. This is a common method of limiting the press in some nations, but it is unconstitutional in the United States, according to the First Amendment and as confirmed in the 1931 Supreme Court case of Near v. Minnesota.
privileges and immunities clause A clause in Article IV, Section 2, of the Constitution according citizens of each state most of the privileges of citizens of other states.
probable cause The situation occurring when the police have reason to believe that a person should be arrested. In making the arrest, the police are allowed legally to search for and seize incriminating evidence. Compare unreasonable searches and seizures.
progressive tax A tax by which the government takes a greater share of the income of the rich than of the poor—for example, when a rich family pays 50 percent of its income in taxes and a poor family pays 5 percent. Compare regressive tax and proportional tax.
project grants Federal grants given for specific purposes and awarded on the basis of the merits of applications. A type of the categorical grants available to states and localities.
proportional representation An electoral system used throughout most of Europe that awards legislative seats to political parties in proportion to the number of votes won in an election. Compare with winner-take-all system.
proportional tax A tax by which the government takes the same share of income from everyone, rich and poor alike—for example, when a rich family pays 20 percent and a poor family pays 20 percent. Compare progressive tax and regressive tax.
protest A form of political participation designed to achieve policy change through dramatic and unconventional tactics. See also civil disobedience.
public goods Goods, such as clean air and clean water that everyone must share.
public interest The idea that there are some interests superior to the private interest of groups and individuals, interests we all have in common. See also public interest lobbies.
public interest lobbies According to Jeffrey Berry, organizations that seek “a collective good, the achievement of which will not selectively and materially benefit the membership or activities of the organization.” See also lobbying and public interest.
public opinion The distribution of the population’s beliefs about politics and policy issues.
public policy A choice that government makes in response to a political issue. A policy is a course of action taken with regard to some problem.
random digit dialing A technique used by pollsters to place telephone calls randomly to both listed and unlisted numbers when conducting a survey. See also random sampling.
random sampling The key technique employed by sophisticated survey researchers, which operates on the principle that everyone should have an equal probability of being selected for the sample. See also sample.
rational-choice theory A popular theory in political science to explain the actions of voters as well as politicians. It assumes that individuals act in their own best interest, carefully weighing the costs and benefits of possible alternatives.
reapportionment The process of reallocating seats in the House of Representatives every 10 years on the basis of the results of the census.
recall A procedure that allows voters to call a special election for a specific official in an attempt to throw him or her out of office before the end of his or her term. Recalls are only permitted in 17 states, are seldom used because of their cost and disruptiveness, and are rarely successful.
reconciliation A congressional process through which program authorizations are revised to achieve required savings. It usually also includes tax or other revenue adjustments.
referendum A state-level method of direct legislation that gives voters a chance to approve or disapprove proposed legislation or a proposed constitutional amendment.
regional primaries A proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries to replace these electoral methods with regional primaries held early in the election year.
regressive tax A tax in which the burden falls relatively more heavily upon low-income groups than upon wealthy taxpayers. The opposite of a progressive tax, in which tax rates increase as income increases.
regulation The use of governmental authority to control or change some practice in the private sector. Regulations pervade the daily lives of people and institutions.
reinforcement One of three key consequences of electoral campaigns for voters, in which the voter’s candidate preference is reinforced. See also activation and conversion.
representation A basic principle of traditional democratic theory that describes the relationship between the few leaders and the many followers.
republic A form of government that derives its power, directly or indirectly, from the people. Those chosen to govern are accountable to those whom they govern. In contrast to a direct democracy, in which people themselves make laws, in a republic the people select representatives who make the laws.
responsible party model A view favored by some political scientists about how parties should work. According to the model, parties should offer clear choices to the voters, who can then use those choices as cues to their own preferences of candidates. Once in office, parties would carry out their campaign promises.
retrospective voting A theory of voting in which voters essentially ask this simple question: “What have you done for me lately?”
revenues The financial resources of the federal government. The individual income tax and Social Security tax are two major sources of revenue. Compare expenditures.
right to privacy According to Paul Bender, “the right to keep the details of [one’s] life confidential; the free and untrammeled use and enjoyment of one’s intellect, body, and private property ... the right, in sum, to a private personal life free from the intrusion of government or the dictates of society.” The right to privacy is implicitly protected by the Bill of Rights. See also Privacy Act.
right-to-work law A state law forbidding requirements that workers must join a union to hold their jobs. State right-to-work laws were specifically permitted by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.
sample A relatively small proportion of people who are chosen in a survey so as to be representative of the whole.
sampling error The level of confidence in the findings of a public opinion poll. The more people interviewed, the more confident one can be of the results.
school districts Units of local government that are normally independent of any other local government and are primarily responsible for operating public schools.
search warrant A written authorization from a court specifying the area to be searched and what the police are searching for. The Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant to prevent unreasonable searches and seizures.
secretary of defense The head of the Department of Defense and the president’s key advisor on military policy; a key foreign policy actor.
secretary of state The head of the Department of State and traditionally a key advisor to the president on foreign policy.
select committees Congressional committees appointed for a specific purpose, such as the Watergate investigation. See also joint committees, standing committees, and conference committees.
selective benefits Goods (such as information publications, travel discounts, and group insurance rates) that a group can restrict to those who pay their yearly dues. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has built up a membership list of 32 million senior citizens through offering a variety of such goods.
selective perception The phenomenon that people often pay the most attention to things they already agree with and interpret them according to their own predispositions.
self-incrimination The situation occurring when an individual accused of a crime is compelled to be a witness against himself or herself in court. The Fifth Amendment forbids self-incrimination. See also Miranda v. Arizona.
Senate Finance Committee The Senate committee that, along with the House Ways and Means Committee, writes the tax codes, subject to the approval of Congress as a whole.
senatorial courtesy An unwritten tradition whereby nominations for state-level federal judicial posts are not confirmed if they are opposed by the senator from the state in which the nominee will serve. The tradition also applies to courts of appeal when there is opposition from the nominee’s state senator, if the senator belongs to the president’s party.
Senior Executive Service (SES) An elite cadre of about 11,000 federal government managers, established by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, who are mostly career officials but include some political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation.
seniority system A simple rule for picking committee chairs, in effect until the 1970s. The member who had served on the committee the longest and whose party controlled Congress became chair, regardless of party loyalty, mental state, or competence.
separation of powers An important part of the Madisonian model that requires each of the three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—to be relatively independent of the others so that one cannot control the others. Power is shared among these three institutions. See also checks and balances.
Shays’ Rebellion A series of attacks on courthouses by a small band of farmers led by revolutionary war Captain Daniel Shays to block foreclosure proceedings.
Simpson-Mazzolli Act An immigration law, named after its legislative sponsors that as of June 1, 1987, requires employees to document the citizenship of their employees. Civil and criminal penalties can be assessed against employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants.
single-issue groups Groups that have a narrow interest, tend to dislike compromise, and often draw membership from people new to politics. These features distinguish them from traditional interest groups.
Social Security Act A 1935 law passed during the Great Depression that was intended to provide a minimal level of sustenance to older Americans and thus save them from poverty.
social welfare policies Policies that provide benefits to individuals, particularly to those in need. Compare civil rights policies.
socialized medicine A system in which the full cost of medical care is borne by the national government. Great Britain and the former Soviet Union are examples of countries that have socialized medicine. Compare Medicaid and Medicare.
soft money Political contributions earmarked for party-building expenses at the grass-roots level (buttons, pamphlets, yard signs, etc.). Unlike money that goes to the campaign of a particular candidate, such party donations are not subject to contribution limits.
solicitor general A presidential appointee and the third-ranking office in the Department of Justice. The solicitor general is in charge of the appellate court litigation of the federal government.
sound bites Short video clips of approximately 15 seconds, which are typically all that is shown from a politician’s speech or activities on the nightly television news.
Speaker of the House An office mandated by the Constitution. The Speaker is chosen in practice by the majority party, has both formal and informal powers, and is second in line to succeed to the presidency should that office become vacant.
special districts Limited-purpose local governments called districts or public authorities that are created to run a specific type of service, such as water distribution, airports, public transportation, libraries, and natural resource areas.
standard operating procedures Better known as SOPs, these procedures are used by bureaucrats to bring uniformity to complex organizations. Uniformity improves fairness and makes personnel interchangeable. See also administrative discretion.
standing committees Separate subject-matter committees in each house of Congress that handle bills in different policy areas. See also joint committees, conference committees, and select committees.
standing to sue The requirement that plaintiffs have a serious interest in a case, which depends on whether they have sustained or are likely to sustain a direct and substantial injury from a party or an action of government.
stare decisis A Latin phrase meaning “let the decision stand.” The vast majority of cases reaching appellate courts are settled on this principle.
statutory construction The judicial interpretation of an act of Congress. In some cases where statutory construction is an issue, Congress passes new legislation to clarify existing laws.
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Renamed “Star Wars” by critics, a plan for defense against the Soviet Union unveiled by President Reagan in 1983. SDI would create a global umbrella in space, using computers to scan the skies and high-tech devices to destroy invading missiles.
street-level bureaucrats A phrase coined by Michael Lipsky, referring to those bureaucrats who are in constant contact with the public and have considerable administrative discretion.
subgovernments A network of groups within the American political system which exercise a great deal of control over specific policy areas. Also known as iron triangles, subgovernments are composed of interest group leaders interested in a particular policy, the government agency in charge of administering that policy, and the members of congressional committees and subcommittees handling that policy.
subnational governments Another way of referring to state and local governments. Through a process of reform, modernization, and changing intergovernmental relations since the 1960s, subnational governments have assumed new responsibilities and importance.
suffrage The legal right to vote, extended to African Americans by the Fifteenth Amendment, to women by the Nineteenth Amendment, and to people over the age of 18 by the Twenty-sixth Amendment.
superdelegates National party leaders who automatically get a delegate slot at the Democratic national party convention.
Superfund A $1.6 billion fund created by Congress in the late 1970s and renewed in the 1980s to clean up hazardous waste sites. Money for the fund comes from taxing chemical products.
supply-side economics An economic theory, advocated by President Reagan, holding that too much income goes to taxes and too little money is available for purchasing and that the solution is to cut taxes and return purchasing power to consumers. Supply-side economics has widened the gap between government revenues and expenditures.
supremacy clause Article VI of the Constitution, which makes the Constitution, national laws, and treaties supreme over state laws when the national government is acting within its constitutional limits.
Supreme Court The pinnacle of the American judicial system. The Court ensures uniformity in interpreting national laws, resolves conflicts among states, and maintains national supremacy in law. It has both original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction, but unlike other federal courts, it controls its own agenda.
symbolic speech Nonverbal communication, such as burning a flag or wearing an armband. The Supreme Court has accorded some symbolic speech protection under the First Amendment. See Texas v. Johnson.
Taft-Hartley Act A 1947 law giving the president power to halt major strikes by seeking a court injunction and permitting states to forbid requirements in labor contracts forcing workers to join a union. See also right-to-work law.
talking head A shot of a person’s face talking directly to the camera. Because this is visually unappealing, the major commercial networks rarely show a politician talking one-on-one for very long. See also sound bites.
tariff A special tax added to imported goods to raise the price, thereby protecting American businesses and workers from foreign competition.
tax expenditures Defined by the 1974 Budget Act as “revenue losses attributable to provisions of the federal tax laws which allow a special exemption, exclusion, or deduction.” Tax expenditures represent the difference between what the government actually collects in taxes and what it would have collected without special exemptions.
tax incidence The proportion of income a particular group pays in taxes.
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Once called “Aid to Families With Dependent Children,” the new name for public assistance to needy families.
term limits Laws to restrict legislators from serving more than a fixed number of years or terms in office. Since 1990, 21 states have adopted term limits for state legislators. Although similar term limits have been proposed for federal legislators (senators and representatives), a constitutional amendment on term limitations has twice failed to pass Congress, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that state-imposed term limits on members of Congress were unconstitutional.
third parties Electoral contenders other than the two major parties. American third parties are not unusual, but they rarely win elections.
ticket-splitting Voting with one party for one office and with another party for other offices. It has become the norm in American voting behavior.
town meeting A special form of direct democracy under which all voting-age adults in a community gather once a year to make public policy. Now only used in a few villages in upper New England, originally many municipalities in the United States were run by town meeting. The growth of most cities has made them too large for this style of governance.
township21 A political subdivision of local government that is found in 20 states and often serves to provide local government services in rural areas. It is a particularly strong form of local government—comparable to a municipality—in the Northeast.
traditional democratic theory A theory about how a democratic government makes its decisions. According to Robert Dahl, its cornerstones are equality in voting, effective participation, enlightened understanding, final control over the agenda, and inclusion.
transfer payments Benefits given by the government directly to individuals. Transfer payments may be either cash transfers, such as Social Security payments and retirement payments to former government employees, or in-kind transfers, such as Food Stamps and low-interest loans for college education.
transnational corporations Businesses with vast holdings in many countries—such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s—many of which have annual budgets exceeding that of many foreign governments.
trial balloons An intentional news leak for the purpose of assessing the political reaction.
uncontrollable expenditures Expenditures that are determined by how many eligible beneficiaries there are for some particular program. According to Lance LeLoup, an expenditure is classified as uncontrollable “if it is mandated under current law or by a previous obligation.” Three-fourths of the federal budget is uncontrollable. Congress can change uncontrollable expenditures only by changing a law or existing benefit levels.
unemployment rate As measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the proportion of the labor force actively seeking work but unable to find jobs.
unfunded mandates When the federal government requires state and local action but does not provide the funds to pay for the action.
union shop A provision found in some collective bargaining agreements requiring all employees of a business to join the union within a short period, usually 30 days, and to remain members as a condition of employment.
unitary government A way of organizing a nation so that all power resides in the central government. Most governments today, including those of Great Britain and Japan, are unitary governments. Compare federalism.
United Nations (UN) Created in 1945, an organization whose members agree to renounce war and to respect certain human and economic freedoms. The seat of real power in the UN is the Security Council.
unreasonable searches and seizures Obtaining evidence in a haphazard or random manner, a practice prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Both probable cause and a search warrant are required for a legal and proper search for and seizure of incriminating evidence.
unwritten constitution The body of tradition, practice, and procedure that is as important as the written constitution. Changes in the unwritten constitution can change the spirit of the Constitution. Political parties and national party conventions are a part of the unwritten constitution in the United States.
U.S. Constitution The document written in 1787 and ratified in 1788 that sets forth the institutional structure of U.S. government and the tasks these institutions perform. It replaced the Articles of Confederation. See also constitution and unwritten constitution.
veto The constitutional power of the president to send a bill back to Congress with reasons for rejecting it. A two-thirds vote in each house can override a veto. See also legislative veto and pocket veto.
Virginia Plan The proposal at the Constitutional Convention that called for representation of each state in Congress in proportion to that state’s share of the U.S. population. Compare Connecticut Compromise and New Jersey Plan.
voter registration A system adopted by the states that requires voters to register well in advance of election day. Although a few states permit election day registration for presidential elections, advance registration dampens voter turnout.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 A law designed to help end formal and informal barriers to African-American suffrage. Under the law, federal registrars were sent to Southern states and counties that had long histories of discrimination; as a result, hundreds of thousands of African Americans were registered and the number of African-American elected officials increased dramatically.
War Powers Resolution A law, passed in 1973 in reaction to American fighting in Vietnam and Cambodia, requiring presidents to consult with Congress whenever possible prior to using military force and to withdraw forces after 60 days unless Congress declares war or grants an extension. Presidents view the resolution as unconstitutional. See also legislative veto.
Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 A law intended to clean up the nation’s rivers and lakes. It requires municipal, industrial, and other polluters to secure permits from the Environmental Protection Agency for discharging waste products into waters. According to the law, polluters are supposed to use “the best practicable [pollution] control technology.”
Watergate The events and scandal surrounding a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972 and the subsequent cover-up of White House involvement, leading to the eventual resignation of President Nixon under the threat of impeachment.
wealth The amount of funds already owned. Wealth includes stocks, bonds, bank deposits, cars, houses, and so forth. Throughout most of the last generation, wealth has been much less evenly divided than income.
whips Party leaders who work with the majority leader to count votes beforehand and lean on waverers whose votes are crucial to a bill favored by the party.
white primary One of the means used to discourage African-American voting that permitted political parties in the heavily Democratic South to exclude African Americans from primary elections, thus depriving them of a voice in the real contests. The Supreme Court declared white primaries unconstitutional in 1941. See also grandfather clause and poll taxes.
winner-take-all system An electoral system in which legislative seats are awarded only to the candidates who come in first in their constituencies. In American presidential elections, the system in which the winner of the popular vote in a state receives all the electoral votes of that state. Compare with proportional representation.
writ of certiorari A formal document issued from the Supreme Court to a lower federal or state court that calls up a case.
writ of habeas corpus A court order requiring jailers to explain to a judge why they are holding a prisoner in custody.