We have compiled this beginner list of common terms that are used and taken as understood in politics. Make use of it to better understand politics and who, what or how decisions in government affect you.
We know we don’t have every terminology listed and defined below, so help us out by sharing some you may know. Just use the form below to help better educate the next person. Thank You!
Absentee Voting: A way people can vote when they can’t get to their polling place. They vote on a special form and mail it in.
Appropriation: An act of Congress that enables Federal agencies to spend money for specific purposes.
Assistant Minority Leader: Assists the minority leader in the Senate, rounds up votes.
Baiting: Tormenting or teasing by saying annoying or cruel things.
Balanced Budget: A balanced budget occurs when total revenues equal total outlays for a fiscal year.
Bias: A leaning in favor of or against something or someone; partiality or prejudice.
Bills: A legislative proposal that if passed by both the House and the Senate and approved by the President becomes law. Each bill is assigned a bill number. HR denotes bills that originate in the House and S denotes bills that originate in the Senate.
Calendar Wednesday: A procedure in the House of Representatives during which each standing committees may bring up for consideration any bill that has been reported on the floor on or before the previous day. The procedure also limits debate for each subject matter to two hours.
Campaign: A series of planned actions for getting someone elected.
Candidate: A person who seeks, or who has been suggested for an office or award.
Citizen: A person who is a member of a country or state; citizens have certain duties and rights.
Cloture: A motion generally used in the Senate to end a filibuster. Invoking cloture requires a vote by 3/5 of the full Senate. If cloture is invoked further debate is limited to 30 hours, it is not a vote on the passage of the piece of legislation.
Committee of the Whole: A committee including all members of the House. It allows bills and resolutions to be considered without adhering to all the formal rules of a House session, such as needing a quorum of 218. All measures on the Union Calendar must be considered first by the Committee of the Whole.
Congressional Districts (CD): The 435 areas in which the nation is divided for the purpose of electing members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Each district is to be as proportional in population size as practicable within a given state.
Constituency: All of the voters in a particular district.
Constituent: Having the right to vote or elect; any of the voters represented by a particular official.
Concurrent Resolutions: A type of legislation designated by H Con Res or S Con Res that is often used to express the sense of both chambers, to set annual budget or to fix adjournment dates. Concurrent resolutions are not signed by the President and therefore do not hold the weight of law.
Co-Sponsor: A member or members that add his or her name formally in support of another members bill. In the House a member can become a co-sponsor of a bill at any point up to the time the last authorized committee considers it. In the Senate a member can become a co-sponsor of a bill anytime before the vote takes place on the bill.
The Corrections Calendar: A list of bills selected by the Speaker of the House in consultation with the Minority leader that will be considered in the House and debated for one hour. Generally, bills are selected because they focus on changing laws, rules or regulations that are judged to be outdated or unnecessary. A 3/5 majority of those present and voting is required to pass bills on the Corrections Calendar.
Debate: Face-to-face discussion of candidates’ views on issues.
Democracy: Government by the people, through free and frequent elections.
Discharge Petition: A petition that if signed by a majority of the House, 218 members, requires a bill to come out of a committee and be moved to the floor of the House.
Discharge Resolution: In the Senate, a special motion that any Senator may introduce to relieve a committee of consideration of a bill before it.
Editorial: Expressed opinions intended to persuade viewers and listeners by taking a side.
Election: The process whereby eligible persons vote to determine who will hold a political office.
Election Day: The day reserved for people to vote. In general elections, it is by tradition the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Primary elections are also usually held on Tuesdays.
Electoral College: The voters, or electors, of each state that formally elect the United States President and Vice President. Each state has as many electoral college votes as it does U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators in Congress.
Federal: Of or describing a union of states having a central government or pertaining to that government.
Filibuster: An informal term for extended debate or other procedures used to prevent a vote on a bill in the Senate.
Franchise: The constitutional right to vote.
Germane: Relevant to the bill or business either chamber is addressing. The House requires an amendment to meet a standard of relevance, being germane, unless a special rule has been passed.
G.O.P.: Letters that stand for Grand Old Party, the nickname of the Republican party.
Grassroots: The involvement of common citizens.
Gubernatorial Election: The selection of a governor by a state’s voters.
Hopper: Box on House Clerk’s desk where members deposit bills and resolution to introduce them.
The House Calendar: A list of all the public bills that do not address money and may be considered by the House of Representatives.
Hype: Slang for political ads. i.e. slick short TV commercials.
Incumbent: A person now holding an office.
Independent: A candidate not belonging to one of the major political parties.
Issues: Problems, ideas to be talked about, questions, decided upon and voted on.
Joint Resolutions: A type of legislation designated by H J Res or S J Res that is treated the same as a bill unless it proposes an amendment to the Constitution. In this case, 2/3 majority of those present and voting in both the House and the Senate and 3/4 ratification of the states are required for the Constitutional amendment to be adopted.
Landslide: An election in which one candidate defeats the other by a very large margin.
Law: An act of Congress that has been signed by the President or passed over his veto by Congress. The two digits before the hyphen correspond to the Congress, and the one or more digits after the hyphen refer to the numerical sequence in which the bills were signed by the President during that Congress.
Majority/Minority Leader: Leads the majority party in Congress. There is a majority and minority leader for each house of Congress.
Majority Whip: Assists the leader, rounds up votes for the majority party, heads group of deputy whips. There is one in each house of Congress.
Minority Whip: In the House, assists the minority leader, rounds up votes, heads large forum of deputy and assistant whips.
Motion to Recommit: A motion that requests a bill be send back to committee for further consideration. Normally, the motion is accompanied by instructions concerning what the committee should change in the legislation or general instructions such as that the committee should hold further hearings.
Motion to Table: A motion that is not debatable and that can be made by any Senator or Representative on any pending question. Agreement to the motion is equivalent to defeating the question tabled.
Mudslinging: Negative, often personal, frequently inaccurate or exaggerated attacks of the opposition.
Municipal: Relating to a city or town or its governing body.
Nominee: The person that a political party chooses to represent it in a general election. This is called nomination.
Non-partisan: Not supporting or controlled by a group or a cause.
Override a Veto: If the President disapproves a bill and sends it back to Congress with his objections, Congress may try to override his veto and enact the bill into law. Neither house is required to attempt to override a veto. The override of a veto requires a recorded vote with a two-thirds majority in each chamber. The question put to each house is: “Shall the bill pass, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding?”
Partisan: A strong, often emotional supporter of a person or cause; can apply to a group as well as individuals.
Party: A group of people who join together because they share many ideas about what the government should do.
Platform: A public statement of the principles, objectives, and policy of a political party, a plan.
Political Action Committee (PAC): An organization created to raise money in support or opposition of a particular candidate or candidates. A PAC must be registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and may be formed by any group, including businesses, labor unions, and special interest groups.
Private Bill: A bill that is introduced on behalf of a specific individual and that if enacted into law only applies to the specific person or organization the bill concerns. Often, private bills address immigration or naturalization issues.
The Private Calendar: A list of all the private bills that are to be considered by the House. It is called on the first and third Tuesday of every month.
Public Bill: A bill that applies to the general public, if enacted into law.
Poll: A place where votes are cast; also refers to a survey to assess public opinion or to forecast an election.
Pollster: A person or company that researches public opinion.
Precinct: An administrative division of voters by neighborhood; smallest political unit in U.S. politics. Cities and counties are divided into precinct polling districts that have varying numbers of registered voters based on State law.
Preliminary Election: Preliminary elections or just preliminaries, are similar to primaries as they are both processes by which voters can indicate their preference for a candidate in general, in an upcoming general election, local election, or by-election, with the goal of narrowing the field of candidates. However, preliminaries are nn-party specific unlike the premise of primary elections.
Primary Election: Primary elections or often just primaries, are the process by which voters can indicate their preference for their party’s candidate, or a candidate in general, in an upcoming general election, local election, or by-election, with the goal of narrowing the field of candidates.
Public: Of or having to do with the people as a whole.
Quorum: The number of Representatives or Senators that must be present before business can begin. In the House 218 members must be present for a quorum. In the Senate 51 members must be present however, Senate can conduct daily business without a quorum unless it is challenged by a point of order.
Ratified: Formal approval by voters or other persons.
Referendum: The legal process of submitting to the voters for their approval or rejection of proposed state or rejection of proposed state of local laws or constitutional amendments.
Resolution: A type of legislation (H Res or S Res) that is adopted only by the house that introduces it, and deals with issues concerning the operation of that house only.
Rhetoric: The ability to use language effectively. The undue use of exaggeration or display. The art of influencing others through the use of words.
Rider: An informal term for an amendment or provision that is not relevant to the legislation where it is attached.
Simple Resolutions: A type of legislation designated by H Res or S Res that is used primarily to express the sense of the chamber where it is introduced or passed. It only has the force of the chamber passing the resolution. A simple resolution is not signed by the President and cannot become Public Law.
Sponsor: The original member who introduces a bill.
Substitute Amendment: An amendment that would replace existing language of a bill or another amendment with its own.
Suspension of the Rules: A procedure in the House that limits debate on a bill to 40 minutes, bars amendments to the legislation and requires a 2/3 majority of those present and voting for the measure to be passed.
Term: The length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on how long terms of office may be before the officeholder must be subject to re-election, and some how many terms may be served before the officeholder is inelligible for re-election.
Unbiased: Without favor or blame, objective.
The Union Calendar: A list of all bills that address money and may be considered by the House of Representatives. Generally, bills contained in the Union Calendar can be categorized as appropriations bills or bills raising revenue.
Veto: A power that allows the President, a governor or a mayor to refuse approval of a piece of legislation. Federally, a President returns a vetoed bill to the Congress, generally with a message. Congress can accept the veto or attempt to override the veto by a 2/3 majority of those present and voting in both the House and the Senate.