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public opinion

The distribution of the population's beliefs about politics and policy issues.


statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it.


A valuable tool for understanding demographic changes. The U.S. Constitution requires that the government conduct an "actual enumeration" of the population every 10 years.

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 this.

minority majority

The emergence of a non-Caucasian majority, as compared with a White, generally Anglo-Saxon majority. It is predicted that by about 2045, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans together will outnumber White Americans.

political culture

An overall set of values widely shared within a society.


The process of reallocating seats in the House of Representatives every 10 years on the basis of the results of the census.

political socialization

The process through which a young person acquires political orientations as they grow up, based on inputs from parents, teachers, the media, and friends.


A relatively small proportion of people who are chosen in a survey so as to be representative of the whole.

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.

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.

random digit dialing

A technique used by pollsters to place telephone calls randomly to both listed and unlisted numbers when conducting a survey.

exit poll

Public opinion surveys used by major media pollsters to predict electoral winners with speed and precision.

political ideology

A coherent set of beliefs about politics, public policy, and public purpose. It helps give meaning to political events, personalities, and policies.

gender gap

A term that refers to the regular pattern by which women are more likely to support Democratic candidates.

political participation

All the various activities used by citizens to influence the selection of political leaders or the policies they pursue.


A form of political participation designed to achieve policy change through dramatic and unconventional tactics.

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.


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 this is high, even the losers accept the results peacefully.


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 to laws to a vote if a sufficient number of legitimate signatures are obtained.

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 voters 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. Politicans like the theory better than political scientists do.

policy voting

Electoral choices that are made on the basis of the voters' policy preferences and on the basis of where the 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. Does not always reflect the national popular vote and gives an advantage to small states.

retrospective voting

A theory of voting in which voters essentially ask this simple question: "What have you done for me lately?".

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