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Majority rule

a fundamental principle of traditional democratic theory that requires that the majority's desire be respected. Remember how the USC LIMITED majority rule.

Checks & Balances

A system that allows each branch of government to limit the powers of the other branches in order to prevent abuse of power

Unitary System

a government that gives all key powers to the national or central government


a form of government in which power is divided between the federal, or national, government and the states ---- that two or more levels of government have formal authority over the same land and people.

Expressed Powers

Those delegated powers of the National Government that are spelled out, expressly, in the Constitution; also called the "enumerated powers"

Implied Powers

Powers of the federal government that go beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. They are derived from the "elastic clause" (necessary & proper clause)

Cooperative Federalism

system in which both federal government and state governments cooperate in solving problems and completing projects.

Categorical Grant

money granted by the federal government to the states for a narrow purpose (e.g. school lunch program) rather than for a broad purpose (e.g. transportation) MOST COMMON type of grant!

Block Grant

Broad grant with few strings attached; given to states by the federal government for general categories of activity, such as secondary education or health services. They contribute to the growing number of state and local employees.

Reserved Powers

Powers not specifically granted to the federal government or denied to the states. Held by the states through the 10th Amendment.


Requirements imposed by the national government upon the states. Some are unfunded mandates, i.e., they are imposed by the national government, but lack funding.


the transfer of powers and responsibilities from the federal government to the states

Political Culture

The widely shared beliefs, values, and norms concerning the relationship of citizens to government and to one another. America = liberty, political equality, legal equality, equality of opportunity, the rule of law, and limited government)

Political Socialization

Complex process by which people get their sense of political identity, beliefs, and values (FAMILY, school, media, religion, national events-all help to socialize)

Public Opinion

Attitudes about institutions, leaders, political issues, and events.

Political Ideology

A consistent pattern of beliefs about political values and the role of government.

Political Efficacy

a belief that you can take part in politics and make a difference (internal efficacy) or that the government will respond to the citizenry (external efficacy)

Split-Ticket Voting

voting for candidates of different parties for different offices at the same election

Political Party

a group of individuals with broad common interests who organize to nominate candidates for office, win elections, conduct government, and determine public policy

Plurality Election

the winning candidate is the person who recieves more votes than anyone else, but less than half the total.

Single Member District

An electoral district from which only a single candidate is elected to a particular office by the voters of that district. This system favors major parties because only candidates who can gain a large proportion of votes in an election district have a realistic chance of winning

Party Era

historical period dominated by one political party

Critical Election

An election that produces sharp changes in patterns of party loyalty among voters

Party Realignment

the displacement of the majority party by the minority party, usually during a critical election period (1932 FDR victory is classic example...)

Divided Government

the condition in American government wherein the presidency is controlled by one party while the opposing party controls one or both houses of Congress. This pattern has dominated US politics since the early 1970s.

Interest Group

A group made up of people who share common ideas and come together to influence government policy. Unlike political parties, interest groups do not elect people to office...

Political Action Committee (PAC)

A committee set up by a corporation, labor union, or interest group that raises and spends campaign money from voluntary donations

Free Riders

people who benefit from an interest group without making any contributions. Labor Unions and public interest groups often have this problem...

Power Elite Theory

theory that a small number of very wealthy individuals, powerful corporate interest groups, and large financial institutions dominate key policy areas

Pluralist Theory

Theory of democracy in which competition among common interest groups promote ideas to influence politics, (Thus, no one interest group consistently holds political power)

Hyperpluralist Theory

groups are so strong that government is weakened; this is an extreme, exaggerated form of pluralism

Mass Media

Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and other means of popular communication.

Linkage Institutions

institutions such as mass media, interest groups, and political parties, which connect citizens to government

Horse Race Journalism

the tendency of the media to focus on reporting who is ahead and who is behind rather than the important issues of an election.

Congressional Redistricting

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


the drawing of electoral district lines to the advantage of a party or group


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

Franking privilege

The right of members of Congress to send mail to their constituents at the government's expense

standing committees

Permanently established legislative committees that consider and are responsible for legislation within a certain subject area. Examples are the House ways and Means Committees and Senate Judiciary Committee

conference committees

a joint committee appointed to resolve differences in the Senate and House versions of the same bill

House Rules Committee

Determines the rules for debate of each bill, including whether the bill may be amended. This is the most powerful committee in the House.

House Ways & Means Committee

one of the most significant standing committees (permanently organized committees) of the House of Representatives, responsible for initiating all taxation measures.


The system under which committee chairs are awarded to members who have the longest continuous service on the committee


A procedural practice in the Senate (only) whereby a Senator refuses to relinquish the floor and thereby delays proceedings and prevents a vote on a controversial issue. Attempting to "talk a bill to death"...


Senate motion to end a filibuster -- requires a 3/5 vote


An agreement by two or more lawmakers to support each other's bills -- Mutual aid and vote trading among legislators


the effort by congress, through hearings, investigations, and other techniques, to exercise control over the activities of executive agencies

closed primary

a primary election in which only the declared members of a party are allowed to vote for that party's nominees. (no ticket splitting)


the recent tendency of states to hold primaries early in the calendar in order to capitalize on media attention

soft money

Unlimited amounts of money that political parties previously could raise for party-building purposes. Now largely illegal except for limited contributions to state and local parties for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts

527 group

a tax-exempt organization created to influence the political process; 527 groups are not regulated by the Federal Election Commission because they do not coordinate their activities with a candidate for party


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.

line-item veto

Presidential power to strike, or remove, specific items from a spending bill without vetoing the entire package; declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

executive agreement

an agreement, made between the president and another country, that has the force of a treaty but does not require the Senate's "advice and consent" -- the agreement is NOT binding on future POTUS

executive privilege

POTUS power to refuse to disclose confidential information. In U.S. V. Nixon (1974), the SCOTUS ruled that there is no constitutional GUARANTEE of UNQUALIFIED exec. privilege.

lame-duck period

The time between the election of a new political official and when they take office. Refers specifically to the outgoing official's frequent lack of influence of power during that period


A large, complex organization composed of appointed officials

executive order

A directive issued by a president that has the force of law

iron triangle

A policy-making alliance that involves very strong ties among a congressional committee, an interest group, and a federal department or agency. (also called sub-governments)

issue network

a network of people in Washington D.C -- interest groups, congressional staffs, experts in universities and "think tanks", and the mass media -- who regularly discuss and advocate public policies

policy agenda

The list of issues that the federal government pays attention to. The mass media plays an important role in influencing whick issues receive public attention....

appellate jurisdiction

the authority of a court to hear a case appealed from a lower court

senatorial courtesy

a POTUS custom of submitting the names of prospective judicial appointees for approval to Senators from the states in which the appointees are to work (district courts)

writ of certiorari

Order by the Supreme Court directing a lower court to send up the records of a case for review

rule of four

Requirement that a case can only be heard by the Supreme Court if FOUR justices vote to hear the case

Solicitor General

the top government lawyer in all cases before the Supreme Court where the government is a party

amicus curiae brief

"friend of the court" brief filed by an interest group to influence a Supreme Court decision.

stare decisis

Latin for "let the decision stand." Supreme Court policy of following precedent in deciding cases

judicial restraint

a judicial philosophy in which judges play minimal policy making roles, leaving that duty strictly to the legislatures. Precedent and "original intent" are used to decide cases.

judicial activism

the practice of judges using their court decisions to make new public policy in order to advance what they believe to be desirable social goals; often occurs when other branches of government or the states refuse to do so.

monetary policy

The control of the money supply, interest rates, and inflation by the Federal Reserve Board.

fiscal policy

the federal government's efforts to keep the economy stable by increasing or decreasing taxes or government spending

entitlement program

A government sponsored program that provides mandated benefits to those who meet eligibility requirements. Social Security and Medicare are the largest of these programs.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

A division of the Executive Office of the President. This office assists the president in preparing the annual budget that the POTUS submits to Congress.

Civil Liberties

freedoms found primarily in the Bill of Rights that are protected from government interference

Civil Rights

Policies designed to protect people against arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by government officials or individuals. Laws against racial and gender discrimination are good examples...

selective incorporation

the case-by-case process through which the SCOTUS has appled the Bill of Rights to the states by invoking the due process clause of the 14th Amendment

establishment clause

Clause in the First Amendment that says the government may not establish an official, government supported religion.

free exercise clause

the First Amendment clause that protects a citizen's right to believe whatever religion he or she chooses. BUT, a religion cannot make an act legal that would otherwise be illegal!

clear and present danger test

Interpretation of the First Amendment that holds that the government cannot interfere with speech unless the speech presents a clear and present danger that it will lead to evil or illegal acts.

writ of habeas corpus

a court order that requires police to bring a prisoner to court to explain why they are holding the person

bill of attainder

a law that punishes a person accused of a crime without a trial or a fair hearing in court (prohibited in the USC)

exclusionary rule

Requirement that evidence unconstitutionally or illegally obtained be excluded from a criminal trial.

Miranda Warnings

Warnings that must be read to suspects prior to questioning. Suspects must be advised that they have the rights of silence and counsel.

strict scrutiny

The most strict level of SCOTUS examination of a law. If a law discriminates (especially regarding race), the government must show that the challenged classification serves a compelling state interest and that the classification is necessary to serve that interest.

affirmative action

programs designed to enhance opportunities for groups that have suffered discrimination in the past

push poll

a polling technique in which questions are designed to shape the respondent's opinion.


The practice of creating a movement or campaign so that it looks like it was created by concerned citizens as a grassroots movement, but was actually created or controlled by a large organization or group

delegate role of representation

when members of congress cast votes based on the wishes of their constituents

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