Political Parties Terms
Get down with the lingo.
BipartisanThis term refers to cooperation between the major parties. When Democrats and Republicans unite behind a shared objective, we label their efforts as bipartisan.
When two opposing groups or political parties cooperate and agree, it's termed an bipartisan effort.
Blanket PrimaryPrimaries are the state elections that determine how the state's delegations to Republican and Democratic national conventions will vote. In some states, the delegation is bound by the results of the primary; in others, the primary results serve only as a statement of preference to the state delegations. Primaries are held in the late winter/early spring preceding the November general elections.
In blanket primaries, voters are not restricted to participating in only one party's primary. All ballots list candidates from all of the parties and voters may vote for individuals from different parties. For example, a voter may vote for a Republican to represent the Republican Party in the race for the United States Senate while voting for a Democrat to represent the Democratic Party in the governor's race.
In 2000, the United States Supreme Court ruled that blanket primaries undermined the integrity of the parties' nominating processes and violated voters' Constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.
Buckley V. ValeoThis 1976 United States Supreme Court ruling determined that the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment protected the right of Political Action Committees (PACs) to spend unlimited amounts of money indirectly on a political campaign. The government may restrict direct contributions to a candidate, but it may not limit the amount spent on a candidate's behalf so long as the PAC's efforts are not coordinated by the candidate's campaign committee.
CaucusA caucus is a meeting of party members. One type of caucus is a meeting called to select party nominees. Several states hold caucuses rather than primaries to select their presidential nominees.
Private meeting of political party to select a candidate
Meeting held by people working towards same goal
Closed PrimaryPrimaries are the state elections that determine how the state's delegations to Republican and Democratic national conventions will vote. In some states, the delegation is bound by the results of the primary; in others, the primary results serve only as a statement of preference to the state delegations. Primaries are held in the late winter/early spring preceding the November general elections.
Critical Or Realigning ElectionsTerms used to identify periodic elections in which a new political coalition or party of enduring importance emerges. The elections of 1800, 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932, and 1980 are considered critical or realigning elections. Some analysts believe that the presidential election of 2008 will prove a realigning election.
Democratic PartyWhile the followers of Thomas Jefferson were often labeled Democrats, most historians trace the Democratic Party to Andrew Jackson and the coalition of southern, western, and mid-Atlantic voters he forged in 1828. Jackson's Democrats favored a small national government and argued that federal intervention in the economy would only serve a small economic elite. They did, however, encourage government removal of Native Americans in order to open western lands to white migrants and war with Mexico in order to expand the western domain.
This Democratic Party divided over the issue of slavery during the 1850s and remained a viable party only in the South into the 1870s. But during the 1890s, the party expanded its support among western farmers by supporting the free coinage of silver.
In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt united union members, immigrants, minority and low-income voters, non-Protestants, Southerners, urbanites, and intellectuals within a "New Deal Coalition" that served as the base of the party for the next 40 years.
Some analysts argue that Barack Obama has added new elements to the Democratic coalition, including younger voters and professionals in post-industrial metropolises alienated by the Republican Party's conservative positions on social and cultural issues such as abortion and gay rights.
Federal Election Campaign ActPassed in 1971 and amended in 1974, this law placed limits on campaign spending, established elaborate reporting requirement for campaign donations, and created the Federal Election Commission to monitor these requirements. Under this law, presidential candidates may receive federal funding if they demonstrate a broad base of public support. For the 2008 presidential election, they could meet this requirement by raising $5000 in each of 20 states through contributions under $250. If a candidate accepts public money, he or she is required to limit on all spending to an amount set by the federal government. In 2008, that limit was $84.1 million. In 2008, the law also set a $2300 limit on all individual contributions to candidates and a $28,500 limit on contributions to national parties. The act also set fundraising and spending requirements for Political Action Committees.
Federal Elections CommissionThe FEC is the federal agency charged with monitoring the fundraising and spending requirements of the Federal Election Act.
Federalist PartyThe Federalists, led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong national government. Reading broadly into the Constitution (loose constructionism), they argued that government power should be used to promote economic development through the creation of a national bank and the construction of federally-financed roads, harbors, and bridges. Federalists believed that America's economic future depended on the cultivation of strong commercial ties with Great Britain. And they argued that America's emerging manufacturing sector should be encouraged through protectionist measures such as tariffs.
Ideological ConsensusMost political theorists argue that the American public agrees on a set of broad political values; there is an "ideological consensus" around major political policies and principles. In order to succeed, political parties must reflect this ideological consensus. This strengthens the position of the major parties and limits the likelihood of a successful minor party that strays from this consensus.
IdeopolisA term coined by John Judis and Ruy Teixiera to describe certain post-industrial urban-suburban areas in the United States with economies based on the production of information and services rather than goods and with large populations of professionals. According to Judis and Teixiera, ideopolises have played a large role in the formation of a new Democratic majority as their college-educated and highly-trained work forces are culturally progressive and opposed to the conservative social values of the Republican Party.
IndependentAn independent is a voter that chooses not to register with a political party. The number of independents has grown in recent decades. One scholar estimates that they represent 25-33% of all voters.1
A system of linear equations that has a single solution and a cushy job.
Linkage InstitutionsThese are vehicles through which the public communicates its interests and concerns to the government. Political parties, elections, the media, and interest groups are all linkage institutions.
Minor PartiesWhile the American politics have been characterized by a two-party system, minor or third parties have surfaced periodically, and some have experienced brief success. Some minor parties, such as the Libertarian Party, organize around a political philosophy. Others, such as the Right to Life Party, focus on a single issue. Periodically, a "splinter" party breaks off of one of the major parties. When Theodore Roosevelt was denied the Republican nomination in 1912 he formed the Progressive, or "Bull Moose," Party.
National ConventionPolitical parties hold national conventions during presidential election years in order to select their nominees for president and vice-president and to draft party platforms summarizing their policy objectives. The first party to hold a national convention was the Anti-Masonic Party in 1831.
New Deal CoalitionA combination of voters that elected Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency and continued to vote Democrat for the next 40 years. This coalition includes union members, immigrants, minority and low-income voters, non-Protestants, Southerners, urbanites, and intellectuals.
NonpartisanWhen political decisions or behavior are not driven by party affiliation.
Nonpartisan ElectionsElections in which candidates are not identified by party.
Open PrimaryPrimaries are the state elections that determine how the state's delegations to Republican and Democratic national conventions will vote. In some states, the delegation is bound by the results of the primary; in others, the primary results serve only as a statement of preference to the state delegations. In an open primary, voters need not be a registered party member to vote in a party's primary. They decide on Election Day in which primary to participate.
PartisanBiased; belonging to one party or faction in a dispute
When an individual's or group's political behavior is driven by party affiliation. The term is often used to suggest that party allegiance, rather than public or policy considerations, determines a political position or course of action.
Any policy designed to further only one party's agenda
A partisan is someone who fought during World War II, but not in an actual army. There were lots of partisans in Eastern Europe who hid out in forests during the war, attacking Nazi supply depots and blowing up railroad tracks—that sort of thing. Being a partisan was insanely dangerous; if you were caught, the Nazis usually killed you right away.
PatronageThis refers to the practice of distributing government jobs and contracts by politicians to rewards supporters and donors. Patronage was widely practiced at all levels of government during the nineteenth century, until civil service reform introduced merit-based hiring practices.
This practice of awarding government jobs to political supporters was an important tool for building party loyalty. Widely practiced during the nineteenth century, patronage, or the "spoils system," has been reduced through the introduction of civil service reforms. Now, most federal government jobs are distributed through competitive hiring processes which often include a written examination.
Money given to support the arts. The patrons are the ones who put up the dough so artists could do their stuff. Think Shmoop's gonna patronize you one day? Psht. You gotta finish the course first.
Political Action Committee (PAC)These are political funding organizations introduced after the campaign finance reforms of 1974. They are organized by individuals and groups with a common political objective. Businesses, union members, interest groups, and professional associations form PACs to raise money and finance political campaigns. There are strict limits on the amount of money they may contribute directly to individual candidates. But they may spend unlimited amounts of money indirectly on a candidate's behalf by promoting issues supported by that candidate or raising concerns about the candidate's opponent.
Political PartyA political organization formed primarily to win elections. Parties, to varying degrees, promote a set of ideological or policy objectives. Parties also facilitate the governing process by grouping legislators into blocs of like-minded officials.
Organizations of people with similar political beliefs that seek to influence government through the nomination of their candidates
Presidential PrimariesPresidential primaries are the state elections that determine how the states' delegations to Republican and Democratic national conventions will vote. In some states, the delegation is bound by the results of the primary; in others, the primary results serve only as a statement of preference to the state delegations. Primaries are held in the late winter/early spring preceding the November general elections. Some states hold open primaries; other states hold closed primaries.
In a closed primary, only registered party members are allowed to vote in a party's primary.
In an open primary, voters need not be a registered party member to vote in a party's primary. They decide on Election Day in which primary to participate.
In blanket primaries, voters are not restricted to participating in only one party's primary. All ballots list candidates from all of the parties and voters may vote for individuals from different parties. For example, a voter may vote for a Republican to represent the Republican Party in the race for the United States Senate while voting for a Democrat to represent the Democratic Party in a governor's race.
In 2000, the United States Supreme Court ruled that blanket primaries undermined the integrity of the parties' nominating processes and violated their Constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.
Presidential Succession—This refers to the plan for replacing the president should he die, be impeached, or be ruled unable to perform the duties of his office. In such an event, the vice president becomes the president. Should the vice president be unable to assume office, the presidency passes to these officers in the following order: Speaker of the House, President pro tem of the Senate, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, and Secretary of Veteran Affairs.
Primaries are the state elections that determine how the state's delegations to Republican and Democratic national conventions will vote. In some states, the delegation is bound by the results of the primary; in others, the primary results serve only as a statement of preference to the state delegations. Primaries are held in the late winter/early spring preceding the November general elections.
Some states hold open primaries; other states hold closed primaries.
Rational Choice TheoryA theory of political behavior that argues that voters make logical and informed decisions in selecting candidates and voting on issues. Voters have political objectives of their own—values and policies they want to advance—and they make political decisions aimed at advancing those objectives. In turn, this theory argues, candidates adopt positions calculated to satisfy the rational political behavior of the voters.
Reform PartyThis party was organized in 1995 by Ross Perot, three years after his independent campaign for the presidency in 1992. Perot was the party's nominee for the presidency in 1996.
Republican PartyHistorians generally distinguish between the Republican Party led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, also called the Democratic-Republicans, and the Party formed in the 1850s represented by Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election.
Jefferson's Republicans supported a weak national government, restricted in its powers by a narrow reading of the Constitution (strict constructionism). They feared that federal intervention in the economy would benefit only a few wealthy northeasterners, and they believed that agriculture, not manufacturing, should remain the country's economic base. Republicans opposed closer ties to Britain and tended to sympathize with the French in their revolution and subsequent war with the British.
Lincoln's Republican Party was founded in opposition to the expansion of slavery. But they were opposed to slavery less on humanitarian or moral grounds than they were anxious to preserve America's western land for northern-style "free soil" farming. Consequently, once in power, they successfully pursued several measures that promoted western agrarian expansion.
During the 1890s, the Republican Party distanced itself from the agrarian policies of the 1860s. William McKinley, the Republican nominee in 1896, ran as the candidate of business, and his greatest support came from the urban northeast. While many Republicans served as leaders in the reform movement known as Progressivism, during the 1920s, the party's identity as the party of big business and deregulation was further advanced by Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan revitalized the Republican Party by uniting economic libertarians and social conservative with a promise to restore American strength abroad and reduce the size of government at home.
American political party founded by abolitionists in 1854. Their first candidate to become president was Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
Single-Member DistrictsA district in which only one individual is elected to each office. Since several candidates are not elected, minor party candidates are unlikely to win election. Single-member districts are one reason why America's major parties have faced little challenge from minor parties.
Split Ticket VotingThis refers to the growing practice among voters of voting for candidates from different parties in an election. A 1994 study of Los Angeles voters indicated that fewer then one-third of all voters voted a straight party ticket—that is, voted for all Democrats or all Republicans.2
Two-party SystemSince the 1790s, American elections have, for the most part, been contested by two political parties. Periodically, the political coalitions change, and new parties replace old, but the political arena quickly settles into a two-party contest. In other nations, multiparty systems are more common. Voters are presented with more viable options, but governing usually requires the formation of a coalition between the competing parties.
The electoral system of the United States, which ensures that two parties will almost always dominate political affairs.