Skip to Content

open convention

A party convention in which delegates are able to vote for the candidate of their choice, and are not tied to the results of primaries or caucuses.

Open conventions were the norm until about 1968. The Democratic Party’s delegates were …

Read More about open convention

off the record

A term used in journalism meaning that the information given to the reporter cannot be attributed to the person saying it. Off the record quotes are often used to protect sources who are giving information that could get them in …

Read More about off the record

cromnibus

A “cromnibus” bill is legislation which combines a long-term omnibus spending bill with a shorter-term continuing resolution.

Marketplace: “It’s that time of year again. No, not the holidays, but Congress’ annual maneuvering to pass a budget. It has to …

Read More about cromnibus

party line

A “party line” is the ideology or the agenda of a political party. The party line consists of most core tenets of a party, as well as anything they are attempting to accomplish.

The phrase is most often used in …

Read More about party line

lid

A “lid” is what White House press secretaries use to indicate that there will be no news coming out of the White House that day. It can also be called a “Full Lid.”

The White House sometimes calls a lid …

Read More about lid

old bull

An “old bull” is a powerful and influential Member of Congress.

Old bulls are typically senior members who have worked their way into positions of power through decades in Congress.…

Read More about old bull

shy voter

A “shy voter” is one who does not admit to supporting a certain candidate to pollsters, but still votes for that candidate in the election.

The term comes from the “Shy Tory Effect,” a phenomenon that found British conservatives greatly …

Read More about shy voter

ego wall

An “ego wall” is where people flaunt their political connections by displaying photos of themselves with more famous people.

The phenomenon is also sometimes called the “glory wall” or “me wall.”

Mike Nichols: “The ego wall is where the …

Read More about ego wall

muckety muck

A person with the highest status or most power in an organization. From a political standpoint, this usually refers to someone in the party leadership or with another influential position.

The term is interchangeable with mucky-muck or muckamuck.…

Read More about muckety muck

youthquake

A “youthquake” is aocial, cultural, or political change brought about by young people. In politics, it is typically used to mean a surge of young voters in a key election.

The term originated in the fashion industry in 1965, when …

Read More about youthquake

party faithful

Those who have been loyal supporters of a party for a long time and make up the party’s base.

Vox points out that the appeasing party faithful can be difficult, as they are sometimes opposed to bipartisanship: “Immigration in particular …

Read More about party faithful

missile gap

“Missile gap” is a Cold War-era phrase that was used to describe the difference in number and power of missiles between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

The term was first used by Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1958 to accuse …

Read More about missile gap

misunderestimate

“Misunderestimate” is a malapropism invented by President George W. Bush that has come to mean “to underestimate by mistake.”

Bush accidentally used the term in a 2000 interview, saying, “They misunderestimated me.” He likely meant to say “underestimated” but the …

Read More about misunderestimate

goo goo

“Goo goo is short for “good government guys,” referring to people who would fight for government reform.

This was used during the 1970s as a derisive term for those who were fighting to clean up city municipalities.

James Merriner writes …

Read More about goo goo

wave election

When one political party makes major gains in the United States House and Senate and the other has few losses.

Mark Barabak: “There is no authoritative definition of a wave election. (Which is not to be confused with a …

Read More about wave election

McConnelling

“McConnelling” is the practice of setting music to awkward, B-roll footage of a politician.

The term was coined after Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) re-election campaign in 2014 posted a two-and-a-half minute video of the senator campaigning set simply to music. …

Read More about McConnelling

cuckservative

A pejorative used by alt-Right conservatives to insult moderate Republicans.

It implies they have sold out and is similar to the term RINO. The term is a combination of ‘Conservative’ and ‘cuckold’ (one whose wife is cheating on him). …

Read More about cuckservative

poison the well

To “poison the well” is to pre-emptively present adverse information to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing what another politician intends to say.

The origin of the term lies in well poisoning, an old wartime practice of …

Read More about poison the well

bed-wetting

“Bed-wetting” refers to someone who expresses doubt or excessive worry about a political outcome.

ABC News reports that David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager and top political adviser, first coined the term in 2008 when Democrats began openly fretting …

Read More about bed-wetting

nuclear option

The “nuclear option” is when the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate disregards a rule or precedent.

This most commonly refers to an effort by the Senate to end a filibuster by a simple majority, even though rules specify that …

Read More about nuclear option

roorback

“Roorback” is a false, dirty or slanderous story used for political advantage, usually about a candidate seeking political office.

In 1940 the Chicago Tribune offered this definition: “A roorback is a false report about some alleged misdeed in a candidate’s …

Read More about roorback

GOTV

GOTV is an acronym for “get out the vote.”

The process by which a political party or campaign urges its supporters to vote in the immediately approaching election.…

Read More about GOTV

tag-team hold

A tag-team hold is when two or more senators agree to circumvent a 2011 resolution limiting secret senate holds to two days.

One senator will inform his party leader of his intent to place a hold.  Before two days pass, …

Read More about tag-team hold

elastic state

An “elastic state” is one whose voting outcome in a presidential election is relatively sensitive or responsive to changes in political conditions, such as a change in the national economic mood.

Nate Silver: “Elastic states are those which have …

Read More about elastic state

entryism

“Entryism” is a political tactic of joining an organization with which you do not agree with the intention of changing it from the inside.

In his 1959 book Masters of Deceit, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described entryist tactics …

Read More about entryism

ping pong

“Ping pong” refers to reconciling the differences between a House-passed bill and a Senate-passed bill by amendments between the chambers, rather than forming a conference committee.

The New Republic: “With ping-ponging, the chambers send legislation back and forth to …

Read More about ping pong

press gaggle

A “press gaggle” is an informal briefing by the White House press secretary that, unlike a backgrounder, is on the record. However, video recording is not allowed.

It can occur anywhere, such as on Air Force One, but it …

Read More about press gaggle

barnstormer

A barnstormer travels around the country or state making political appearances during a political campaign. The phrase was first used when pilots would travel around the country to entertain with their flying skills.

The appearances are typically set up by …

Read More about barnstormer

six-year itch

The “six-year itch” is the election held in the sixth year of a president’s tenure in which the party holding the White House historically loses a substantial number of House and Senate seats.

The Atlantic: “For decades political analysts …

Read More about six-year itch

DINO

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

Read More about DINO

stalking horse

A “stalking horse” is a candidate put forward in an election to conceal an anonymous person’s potential candidacy. If the idea of the campaign proves viable, the anonymous person can then declare their interest and run with little risk of …

Read More about stalking horse

Dorothy Dixer

A “Dorothy Dixer” is a planted or pre-arranged question asked of a government minister by a backbencher of his or her own political party during Parliamentary Question Time.

The term refers to American advice columnist Dorothy Dix’s reputed practice of …

Read More about Dorothy Dixer

Senate hold

A Senate hold is how a senator informally signals his objection to a bill or nomination.

Most congressional actions clear parliamentary hurdles by “unanimous consent” of the Senate, so a senator who intends to object to such procedures can, effectively, …

Read More about Senate hold

bundlers

Political fundraisers who can collect contributions from their networks of friends, family members and business associates and then deliver the checks to the candidate in one big “bundle.” Campaigns often recognize these bundlers with honorary titles.

Bundling has always existed …

Read More about bundlers

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 …

Read More about leak

Mae West hold

A Mae West hold type of Senate hold nicknamed because of the senator’s implied desire to make a deal, rather than block a legislative action entirely.

The reference to movie star Mae West alludes to her frequently misquoted line from …

Read More about Mae West hold

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 …

Read More about Godwin’s Law

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 …

Read More about by-election

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 …

Read More about professional left

honest graft

Honest graft refers to the money-making opportunities that might arise while holding public office. The activities are, strictly speaking, legal, although they might raise eyebrows or provoke criticism.

The term “honest graft” was coined by George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany

Read More about honest graft

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 …

Read More about flip-flop

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 …

Read More about frugging

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 …

Read More about Richards effect

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 …

Read More about Spin Alley

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 …

Read More about agitprop

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 …

Read More about cracker vote

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 …

Read More about money blurt

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 …

Read More about heck of a job

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

Read More about Astrotweeting

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 …

Read More about dummymander

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. …

Read More about red herring

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 …

Read More about lettermarking

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 …

Read More about Washington Read

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. …

Read More about money bomb

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” …

Read More about incumbent rule

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 …

Read More about blue-slipping

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 …

Read More about push card

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 …

Read More about turkey farm

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 …

Read More about candy desk