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Terms Definitions
Legitimacy A characterization of elections by political scientists meaning that they are almost universally accepted as a fair and free method of selecting political readers. When this is high, as in the United States, even the losers accept the results peacefully.
Referendum A state-level method of direct legislation that gives voters a chance to approve or disapprove proposed legislation or a proposed constitutional amendment.
Initiative Petition A process permitted in some states whereby voters may put proposed changes in the state constitution to a vote if sufficient signatures are obtained on petitions calling for such a referendum.
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.
Political Efficacy The belief that one's political participation really matters - that one's vote can actually make a difference.
Civic Duty The belief that in order to support democratic government, a citizen should always vote.
Voter Registration A system adopted by the states that requires votes to register well in advance of Election Day. A few states permit Election Day registration.
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 their driver's license.
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.
Policy Voting Electoral choices that are made on the basis of the voter's policy preferences and on the basis of where candidates stand on policy issues.
Electoral College A unique American institution, created by the Constitution, providing for the selection of the President by electors chosen by the state parties.
Retrospective Voting A theory of voting in which voters essentially ask this simple question: "what have you done for me lately?"
Nomination The official endorsement of a candidate for office by a political party. Success requires momentum, money, and media attention
Campaign Strategy The master game plan candidates lay out to guide their electoral campaign
National Party Convention The supreme power within each of the parties.
Caucus Meetings of state party leaders for selecting delegates to the national convention
Presidential Primary Elections in which voters in a state vote for a nominee (or delegates pledged to the nominee)
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.
Super Delegates Democratic leaders who automatically get a delegate slot
Frontloading The tendency of states to hold primaries early to capitalize on media attention.
National Primary A proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries, which would replace these electoral methods with a nationwide primary held early in the election year
Regional Primary A proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries to replace these electoral methods with a series of primaries held in each geographic region
Party Platform A political party's statement of its goals and policies for the next four years. It is the best formal statement of a party's beliefs.
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.
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 (FCC) A six-member bipartisan agency created by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974. The FEC administers and enforces campaign finances laws.
Presidential Campaign Election Fund Money from the $3 federal income tax check-off goes into this fund, which is then distributed to qualified candidates to subsidize their presidential campaigns.
Matching Funds Contributions of up to $250 are matched from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to candidates for the presidential nomination who qualify and agree to meet various conditions, such as limiting their overall spending
Soft Money Political contributions (not subject to contribution limits) earmarked for party-building expenses or generic party advertising
Political Action Committee Created by law in 1974 to allow corporations, labor unions and other interest groups to donate money to campaigns
Party Competition Battle between Democrats and Republicans for the control of public offices
Political Party Voluntary association of people who seek to control the government through common principles based on peaceful and legal actions
Linkage Institutions The channels through which people's concerns become political issues on the government's policy agenda (elections, political parties)
Nomination The official endorsement of a candidate for office by a political party
Rational Choice Theory Theory that assumes individuals act in their own best interest carefully weighing out the costs and benefits of possible alternatives
Party Image The voter's perception of what the Republicans or Democrats stand for; help shape party identification
Party Identification A citizen's self-proclaimed preference for one party or the other
Ticket Splitting Voting with one party for one office and the other for other offices (Example: American voting norm)
Party Machines A type of political party organization that relies heavily on material inducements to win votes and to govern
Patronage A job, promotion or contract given for political reasons rather than merit; used by party machines
Closed Primaries Only people who have registered with the party can vote for that party's candidates
Open Primaries Voters decide on Election Day whether they want to vote in the Democrat or Republican primary
Blanket Primaries Voters are presented with a list of candidates from all parties
National Convention The meeting of party delegates every four years to choose a presidential ticket and the party's platform
National Committee One of the institutions that keeps the party operating between conventions
National Chairperson Responsible for day-to-day activities of the party
Coalition A group of individuals with a common interest upon which every political party depends
New Deal Coalition Basic elements were the urban working class, ethnic groups, Catholics, and Jews, the poor, southerners, African Americans, and intellectuals
Responsible Party Model Parties should offer clear choices to the voters, who can then use those choices as cues to their own preferences of candidates
Critical Election An electoral "earthquake" where new issues and new coalitions emerge
Party Realignment The displacement of the majority party by the minority party, usually during a critical election
Party Dealignment Disengagement of people from parties as evidenced by shrinking party identification
Third Parties Electoral contenders other than the two party parties; rarely win elections
High-Tech Politics A politics in which the behavior of citizens and policymakers and the political agenda itself are increasingly shaped by technology
Mass Media evision, radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and other means of popular communication because they reach and influence the masses
Media Events Events purposely staged for the media that nonetheless look spontaneous. These can be stages by almost anybody
Press Conference Meetings at public officials with reporters
Investigative Journalism The use of in-depth reporting to unearth scandals, scams, and schemes putting reporters and politicians opposite each other
Print Media Newspapers and magazines
Broadcast Media Television and radio; Brought government and politics into peoples' homes
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates use of airways, communications via radio, television, telephone, cable, and satellite
Narrowcasting edia programming on cable TV or the Internet that is focused on one topic and aimed at a particular audience. Examples include MTV, and ESPN
Chains Massive media conglomerates that account for over four-fifths of the nation's daily newspaper circulation
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.
Trial Balloons An intentional news leak for the purpose of assessing the political reaction.
Sound Bites Short video clips of approximately 10 seconds, typically all that is shown from a politician's speech or activities on the nightly television news
Talking head A show 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.
Right-of Reply Rule If a person is attacked on a broadcast other than the news then that person has a right to reply via the same situation
Policy Agenda The issues that attract the serious attention of public officials and other people actively involved in politics at the time.
Policy Entrepreneurs People who invest their political "capital" in an issue to get it placed high on governmental agenda; Use media to raise awareness of issue
Interest Group An organization of people with shared policy goals entering the policy process at several points to try to achieve those goals. They pursue their goals in many arenas.
Pluralist Theory A theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each on pressing for its own preferred policies
Elite 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
Hyperpluralist Theory A theory of government and politics contending that groups are so strong that government is weakened. It is an extreme exaggerated, or perverted form or pluralism.
Subgovernments A network of groups within the American political system that exercise a great deal of control over specific policy areas. Also known as iron triangles, they 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 policy.
Potential Group All the people who might be interest group members because they share some common interest. It is almost always larger than an actual group.
Actual Group The part of the potential group consisting of members who actually join
Collective Good Something of value (money, a tax write-off, prestige, clean air, and so on) that cannot be withheld from a group member.
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 problem.
Olson's law of Large Groups Advanced by Mancur Olson, a principle stating that "the larger the group, the further it will fall short of providing an optimal amount of collective good."
Selective Benefits Goods (such as information publications, travel discounts, and group insurance rates) that a group can restrict to those who pay their annual dues.
Single Issue Group 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.
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."
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 (PAC)
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.
Class Action Lawsuits Lawsuits permitting a small number of people to sue on behalf of all other people similarly situated.
Union Shop A provision found in some collective bargaining agreements requiring all employees of a business to join within a short period, usually 30 days, and to remain members as a condition of employment
Right to work laws A state law forbidding requirements that workers must join a union to hold their jobs. These laws were specifically permitted by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.
Public interest lobbies According to Jeffery Berry, organizations that seek "a collective good, the achievement of which will not selectively and materially benefit the membership of activities of the organization."
Local Elections when people elect local officials (Mayor, City Council, County Commissioners)
Midterm Elections The election of national officials at the mid point of a presidential Term
General Elections election day is on first Tuesday after the first Monday in November
Runoff Elections When a local candidate does not receive a majority of votes there is another date set for the top 3 candidates
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