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Perception of popular support for a program or policy based on the margin of electoral victory won by a candidate who proposed it during a campaign

Retrospective Voting

Voting for or against a candidate or party on the basis of past performance in office


Candidate currently in office seeking reelection

Name Recognition

Public awareness of a political candidate - whether they know his or her name


In politics, a reference to people running against incumbent officeholders

Franking Privilege

Free use of the US mails granted to members of Congress to promote communication with constituents

Campaign Strategy

Plan for a political campaign, usually including a theme, an attempt to define the opponent or the issues, and an effort to coordinate images and messages in news broadcasts and paid advertising

Negative Campaigning

Speeches, commercials, or advertising attacking a political opponent during a campaign

Focus Group

In a political context, a small number of people brought together in a comfortable setting to discuss and respond to themes and issues, allowing campaign managers to develop and analyze strategies

Photo Ops

Staged opportunities for the media to photograph the candidate in a favorable setting

Sound Bites

Concise and catchy phrases that attract media coverage


In politics, to activate supporters to work for candidates and turn out on Election Day

Issue Ads

Ads that advocate policy positions rather than explicitly supporting or opposing particular candidates

Political Action Committee (PAC)

Organizations that solicit and receive campaign contributions from corporations, unions, trade associations, and ideological and issue-oriented groups, and their members, then distribute these funds to political candidates

Federal Election Commission (FEC)

Agency charged with enforcing federal election laws and disbursing public presidential campaign funds

Retail Politics

Direct candidate contact with individual voters

Front-End Strategy

Presidential political campaign strategy in which a candidate focuses on winning early primaries to build momentum

Spin Doctor

Practitioner of the art of spin control, or manipulation of media reporting to favor one's own candidate


The scheduling of presidential primary elections early in the year

Electoral College

The 538 presidential electors apportioned among the states according to their congressional representation (plus three for the District of Columbia) whose votes officially elect the president and vice president of the United States

Swing States

States that are not considered to be firmly in the Democratic or Republican column

Mass Media

All means of communication with the general public, including television, newspapers, magazines, radio, books, recordings, motion pictures, and the internet


Journalistic exposes of corruption, wrongdoing, or mismanagement in government, business, and other institutions of society

Equal-Time Rule

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirement that broadcasters who sell time to any political candidate must make equal time available to opposing candidates at the same price

Information Overload

Situation in which individuals are subjected to so many communications that they cannot make sense of them


Deciding what events, topics, presentations, and issues will be given coverage in the news

"Feeding Frenzy"

Intense media coverage of a scandal or event that blocks out most other news


Writings that are false and malicious and are intended to damage an individual

Selective Perception

Mentally screening out information or opinions with which one disagrees

Agenda Setting

Deciding what will be decided, defining the problems and issues to be addressed by decision makers

Horse-Race Coverage

Media coverage of electoral campaigns that concentrates on who is ahead and who is behind, and neglects the issues at stake


Oral statements that are false and malicious and are intended to damage an individual

Television Malaise

Generalized feelings of distrust, cynicism, and powerlessness stemming from television's emphasis on the negative aspects of American life


The learning of a culture and its values

Prior Restraint

Government actions to restrict publication of a magazine, newspaper, or books on grounds of libel, obscenity, or other legal violations prior to actual publication of the work

Sullivan Rule

Court guideline that false and malicious statements regarding public officials are protected by the First Amendment unless it can be proven they were known to be false at the time they were made or were made with "reckless disregard" for their truth or falsehood

Name Recognition

Public awareness of a candidate - whether they even know his or her name

Political Parties

Organizations that seek to achieve power by winning public office

Responsible Party Model

System in which competitive parties adopt a platform of principles, recruiting candidates and directing campaigns based on the platform, and holding their elected officials responsible for enacting it

Party Polarization

The tendency of the Democratic Party to take more liberal positions and the Republican Party to take more conservative positions on key issues


Political Party's entry in a general election race


Political party's selection of its candidate for a public office

Primary Election

Elections to choose party nominees for public office, may be open or closed


Tightly disciplined party organization, headed by a boss, that relies on material rewards - including patronage jobs - to control politics


Appointment to public office based on party loyalty

Divided Party Government

One party controls the presidency while the other party controls one or both houses of Congress

Nonpartisan Elections

Elections in which candidates do not officially indicate their party affiliation, often used for city, country, school board, and judicial elections


Nominating process in which party leaders select the party's nominee


Division of a city for electoral or administrative purposes or as a unit for organizing political parties


Subdivision of a city, country, or ward for election purposes

Closed Primaries

Primary elections in which voters must declare (or have previously declared) their party affiliation and can cast a ballot only in their own party's primary election

Open Primaries

Primary elections in which a voter may cast a ballot in either party's primary election


Organized efforts by one party to get its members to cross over in a primary and defeat an attractive candidate in the opposition party's primary

Runoff Primary

Additional primary held between the top two vote-getters in a primary in which no candidate has received a majority of the vote

General Election

Election to choose among candidates nominated by parties and/or independent candidates who gained access to the ballot by petition


Nominating process in which delegates from local party organizations select the party's nominees

Presidential Primaries

Primary elections in the states in which voters in each party can choose a presidential candidate for its party's nomination. Outcomes help determine the distribution of pledged delegates to each party's national nominating convention


Accredited voting members of a party's national presidential nominating convention


Statement of principles adopted by a political party at its national convention (specific portions of the platform are known as planks); a platform is not binding on the party's candidates

Party Identification

Self-described identification with a political party, usually in response to the question, "Generally speaking, how would you identify yourself: as a Republican, Democrat, independent, or something else?"


Declining attractiveness of the parties to the voters, a reluctance to identify strongly with a party, and a decrease in reliance on party affiliation in voter choice


Long-term shift in social-group support for various political parties that creates new coalitions in each party

Proportional Representation

Electoral system that allocates seats in a legislature based on the proportion of votes each party receives in a national election

Interest Group

Organization seeking to directly influence government policy


Tendency of democratic governments to allow the faint preferences of the majority to prevail over the intense feelings of minorities

Trade Associations

Interest groups composed of businesses in specific industries

Organized Sclerosis

Society encrusted with so many special benefits to interest groups that everyone's standard of living is lowered

Public-Interest Groups

Interest groups that claim to represent broad classes of people or the public as a whole

Single-Interest Groups

Organizations formed to support or oppose government action on a specific issue

Ideological Organizations

Interest groups that pursue ideologically based (liberal or conservative) agendas


Person working to influence government policies and actions


Activities directed at government officials with the hope of influencing their decisions

Public Relations

Building and maintaining goodwill with the general public


Meeting and talking with decision makers, a prerequisite to direct persuasion

Grassroots Lobbying

Attempts to influence government decisions making by inspiring constituents to contact their representatives


A joining together of interest groups (or individuals) to achieve a common goal


Giving or offering anything of value in an effort to influence government officials in the performance of their duties

Iron Triangle

Mutually supportive relationships among interest groups, government agencies, and legislative committees with jurisdiction over a specific policy area

Revolving Doors

The movement of individuals from government positions to jobs in the private sector, using the experience, knowledge, and contacts they acquired in government employment


Legal dispute brought before a court

Amicus Curiae

Person or group other than the defendant or the plaintiff or the prosecution that submits an argument in a case for the court's consideration

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