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flip-flop

A “flip-flop” is a sudden reversal of opinion or policy by a politician, usually running for office.

NPR notes the term “has been a fixture in popular American parlance at least since the 1880s. A New York Tribune writer in …

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Richards effect

The “Richards effect” is the phenomenon in which polls consistently underestimate support for female candidates relative to white male candidates.

The termed was coined by political scientists Christopher Stout and Reuben Kline who noted that in the 1990 Texas gubernatorial …

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frugging

“Frugging” is an unethical fundraising tactic where a telemarketer falsely claims to be a researcher conducting a poll, when in reality the “researcher” is attempting to solicit a donation.

The Washington Post cites Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions advocacy group as …

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by-election

A “by-election” is an election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections.

It’s also frequently referred to as a special election.

Typically, a by-election occurs when the incumbent has resigned or died, but …

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professional left

Left-leaning pundits, paid activists, and heads of liberal institutions.

The term “professional left” was coined by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in an interview with The Hill when he dismissed the concerns of liberals frustrated with President Obama: “I …

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agitprop

Agitprop is political propaganda, especially in the form of art or literature, which is used to advance a political stance.

The term originated in Soviet Russia and is an abbreviation of agitatsiya propaganda (agitation propaganda.) Propaganda was a key aspect …

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Spin Alley

“Spin Alley” is the place designated after a political debate where reporters interview analysts and campaign operatives who attempt to “spin” the news coverage of the event.

A video from the 2008 presidential campaign shows what “spin alley” looked like …

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leak

A leak in politics is the spread of secret, often unfavorable, news about a politician to the media by someone in his or her inner circle.

Some leaks by politicians are intentional, also called a trial balloon, so that …

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blue-slipping

If the Senate initiates appropriations legislation, the House practice is to return it to the Senate with a blue piece of paper attached citing a constitutional infringement since all measures are supposed to originate in the House. The practice of …

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Godwin’s Law

Godwin’s Law is a term first promulgated in 1990 by author and lawyer Mike Godwin. Originally intended as a lesson in information “memetics,” or how the evolution of information spreads and evolves on the Internet, the term is used to …

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money blurt

A money blurt is the strategy of using a politician’s controversial statements to attract a large number of campaign donors.

Washington Post: “Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark …

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Astrotweeting

“Astrotweeting” is the creation of fake Twitter profiles to show support for a political candidate.

Bill White described the practice in an Texas Monthly interview about his 2010 race against Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R):

There were also some silly

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dummymander

“Dummymander” is a play on the term “gerrymander,” and it refers to a redrawing of a district map that actually ends up benefiting the opposite party that was designed to help.

When a political party in power reshapes …

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psephology

Psephology is the scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting.

The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used …

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money bomb

A “money bomb” is an intense grassroots online fundraising effort over a brief fixed time period to support a candidate for election.

The term was first applied to a fundraising effort on behalf of the 2008 presidential campaign of Rep. …

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lettermarking

Lettermarking is when lawmakers send letters to government agencies in an attempt to direct money to projects in their home districts.

Jacob Sullum: “While none of these requests is legally binding, agencies are loath to antagonize the legislators who …

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heck of a job

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.

The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in …

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invisible primary

An invisible primary is said to begin when a candidate formally announces their plans to run for office. The invisible primary comes to a close when the actual primary season begins.

The invisible primary is a testing-ground for candidates and …

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flake rate

“Flake rate” is a calculation of people who sign up to volunteer for political canvassing or events but do not participate.

Flake rate is presented as a percentage of volunteers who initially sign up for campaign activities but ultimately decline …

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push card

A “push card” is a small, easy access, wallet-sized campaign sign typically given to a potential voter during door-to-door canvassing or at an event.

They’re also sometimes called palm cards because they’re designed to be small enough to fit in …

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cracker vote

The “cracker vote” refers to native Floridian white voters, whose families have typically lived in the state for generations.

Former President Bill Clinton told CNN in late 2008 that he would travel to Florida on behalf of Barack Obama’s presidential …

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soft power

Soft power is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option rather than the use of coercion.

The phrase was first coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in the late 1980s and is now widely used in international …

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turkey farm

In politics, a “turkey farm” refers to a government agency or department that is staffed primarily with political appointments and other patronage hires. In particular, it is used to refer to hires that are underqualified but are put in …

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Washington Read

The “Washington Read” is the phenomenon by which, through a form of intellectual osmosis, a book is absorbed into the Washington atmosphere, according to the Washingtonian magazine.

“According to former White House speechwriter Dan McGroarty, to qualify as a Washington …

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incumbent rule

The “incumbent rule” is a rule of thumb used by pollsters that says incumbents rarely get a higher percentage in the election than they receive in polls, and that voters still undecided on the very last poll tend to “break” …

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teabaggers

A term “teabaggers” is a derogatory nickname used to refer to supporters of the conservative “Tea Party” movement.

CBS News: “It’s the sort of word you might expect to hear from a smirking 14-year-old boy: Critics of the Tea …

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Farley file

A Farley file is a log kept by politicians on people they have met previously.

It’s named for James Aloysius Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley kept a file …

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red herring

A “red herring” is a political diversion which draws attention away from something of significance.

Michael Quinlan notes the term likely originates from an article published on February 14, 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the Weekly Political Register. …

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carpetbagger

A “carpetbagger” is a politician who runs for office or tries to appeal to a constituency in a geographic area where he or she has no roots or connection.

The term traces its roots back to the Civil War era, …

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Mama Grizzlies

“Mama Grizzlies” is a metaphor used by 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for conservative women.

In speeches during the 2010 midterm election campaign, Palin challenged these “mama grizzlies” to rise up and “take this country back” and invoked …

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bunk

“Bunk” is empty or nonsense talk.

In 1820, Rep. Felix Walker from Ashville, North Carolina justified his long-winded and somewhat irrelevant remarks about the Missouri Compromise by arguing that his constituents had elected him “to make a speech for Buncombe.” …

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political suicide

“Political suicide” is an unpopular action that is likely to cause a politician’s subsequent defeat at the polls or be cause for him or her to resign from public office.

However, as William Safire notes in Safire’s Political Dictionary, …

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cuff links gang

According to Time, a “cuff links gang” refers to the group of friends who helped Franklin D. Roosevelt run for Vice President in 1920 “and to whom he gave sets of cuff links in remembrance of that unfortunate political …

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gypsy moth Republican

A “gypsy moth Republican” is a pejorative term used by conservative Republicans to describe a moderate members of their party who represent a Northeastern or Midwestern urban part of the United States — an area that is also the habitat …

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advance man

The “advance man” is someone who makes arrangements and handles publicity for the candidate during a campaign. The advance man travels to a location ahead of the candidate’s arrival and sets everything up so that things run smoothly for the …

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patriot

A patriot is a person who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.

However, a patriot does not necessarily support their leader’s actions or a nation’s policies. For example, the colonists who rebelled against British control during the American Revolution also …

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candy desk

The “candy desk” is where a supply of candy is kept in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. George Murphy (R-CA) originated the practice of keeping a supply of candy in his desk for the enjoyment of his colleagues in 1965. In …

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sacred cow

A “sacred cow” is any program, policy, or person that is regarded as being beyond attack or untouchable. The term references the status held by cows in Hindu culture, where the cow is regarded as a sacred animal.

For instance, …

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bundling

“Bundling” is the practice of rounding up contributions from friends and associates to bypass campaign finance limits.

San Antonio News-Express: “Welcome to the world of bundlers: a semi-secretive though perfectly legal practice in which super-duper fundraisers deliver bundles …

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stemwinder

A “stemwinder” is a rousing political speech that galvanizes a crowd to take action.

The Word Detective notes the term is “one of those grand old words that have traveled so far from their origins that nearly all traces of …

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killer amendment

The use of a “killer amendment” is a legislative strategy of using an amendment to severely change a bill’s intent for the purpose of killing a bill that would otherwise pass.

The member proposing the amendment would not vote in …

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boll weevil Democrat

A Boll weevil Democrat was a conservative southern Democrat in the mid 1900s, largely known for his opposition to civil rights. They used the term because the boll weevil, a southern pest, could not be eliminated by pesticides – politicians …

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favorite son

A favorite son candidate is one who draws their support from the home state or from the broader region. Sometimes the term is also used for someone with little to no support outside of their own region. 

In the past, …

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czar

A “czar” is an unofficial title used to refer to high-ranking executive branch appointments.

Czars are usually given responsibility for a specific policy area and do not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They usually have an official …

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cookie-cutter campaigns

A “cookie-cutter campaigns” are political campaigns run by political consultants who use virtually identical strategies in different jurisdictions. The typical sign of such campaigns are websites or direct mail advertisements that use identical layouts and stock photographs.

The increased number …

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full Ginsburg

The “full Ginsburg” refers to an appearance by one person on all five major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, State of the Union on …

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chum

“Chum” is campaign gear such as bumper stickers, lawn signs, and campaign buttons.

The term is derived from the bait used to catch fish because in a political campaign these items are frequently used to entice volunteers and voters to …

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RINO

Republican In Name Only (RINO) is a disparaging term that refers to a Republican candidate whose political views are seen as insufficiently conforming to the party line.

The phrase, without the RINO acronym, became first popularized during the Theodore …

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Shivercrats

Shivercrats were a conservative faction of the Texas Democratic Party in the 1950s named for Texas Gov. Allan Shivers (D).

The term was first used in 1952 after Shivers backed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

Interestingly, …

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push poll

A “push poll” is a form of interactive marketing in which political operatives try to sway voters to believe in certain policies or candidates under the guise of an opinion poll.

More akin to propaganda than an actual unbiased opinion …

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triangulation

The act of a political candidate presenting his or her views as being above and between the left and right sides of the political spectrum. It’s sometimes called the “third way.”

The term was first used by political consultant Dick …

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petitioning

Petitioning is a phase in a campaign where organizers collect signatures to put a candidate’s name on the ballot.

How many signatures are needed depends on the jurisdiction and the office sought; some states allow candidates to pay a fee …

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gaffe

A “gaffe” is an unintentional comment that causes a politician embarrassment.

The term often refers to a politician inadvertently saying something publicly that they privately believe is true, but would ordinarily not say because it is politically damaging.

Michael Kinsley

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whisper campaign

A whisper campaign is a method of persuasion using rumors, innuendos or other sneaky tactics to create false impressions about a political candidate while not being detected spreading them. For example, a campaign might create use automated phone calls or …

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Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” refers to the news media, especially with regards to their role in the political process.

The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates. …

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mudslinging

In politics, “mudslinging” is a tactic used by candidates or other politicians in order to damage the reputation of a rival politician by using epithets, rumors or mean-spirited innuendos or insults. The term is often used interchangeably with the more …

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inside baseball

The term “inside baseball” refers to any subject matter which is considered too highly specialized to be appreciated by the general public. In politics, inside baseball usually refers to the technical details and the finer points of political strategy, as …

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well

The “well” of the U.S. House of Representatives is the area in front of the rostrum.

Members wishing to speak generally do so from the well, and Congressmen who are censured are required to stand in the well to hear …

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Committee of the Whole

The Committee of the Whole is a procedural device used to expedite debates in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To use it, the House adjourns and enters into a committee, with all representatives being members – this procedure allows congressmen …

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franking privileges

Franking privileges allow lawmakers to send mail to constituents without having to pay postage. A copy of the member’s signature replaces the stamp on the envelope. Authentic signatures of famous individuals are valuable collectors’ items.

Franking privileges in Congress date …

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sergeant-at-arms

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have a sergeant-at-arms, whose job it is to maintain order in the legislative chamber.

In the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms can also be instructed to request the presence of senators if not …

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body man

A “body man” is an assistant who follows a political figure around the clock, providing logistical assistance for daily tasks ranging from paperwork to meals. This is different than the advance man who typically prepares solely for campaign events.

The …

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vote-a-rama

U.S. Senate rules include a special section for consideration of the annual Budget resolution. The Budget is not subject to filibuster, but all amendments must be germane and are voted on consecutively without real debate.

During a vote-a-rama, each amendment …

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