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purple state

A purple state features roughly even numbers of Democratic and Republican supporters in a presidential election.

It’s also a term used for a swing state on an electoral map. It is purple because it could either go blue or red. They are sometimes shown as gray on a map instead of purple.

Origins and History

The purple state concept emerged from media usage of red to represent Republicans and blue to represent Democrats in electoral maps. The 2000 presidential election was the first occasion for the common use of the red and blue colors to indicate candidate support. From 2004 to present, closely divided states have been called purple states due to the mixture of red and blue.

Purple states are often called battleground states or swing states because of their importance to presidential candidates. In national elections, a majority of states are likely to go Democratic or Republican from the outset. This baked-in status leads to a rush by national campaigns to win purple state voters every four years.

Google Trends shows that “purple state” has been more consistently searched since 2004 than “battleground state” or “swing state.” There is a regular spike in “swing state” every presidential election but both terms took a back seat to “purple state” around the 2016 election.

The roster of swing states has expanded and contracted based on developments between elections. Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History identified 11 purple states in the 2004 presidential election: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The Washington Post named 10 battleground states in 2008 including Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, and Virginia. FiveThirtyEight identified up to 16 potential swing states in 2016 with new additions like Arizona, Georgia, and Maine.

As the concept of purple states emerged, there was a segment of political observers who disagreed with red and blue states. Professor Robert Vanderbei of Princeton University published maps starting with the 2000 election that used red and blue shades to indicate relative partisan support. Vanderbei argued that even his maps are misleading because they apply the same shades for metro areas and small towns without indicating population.

Proponents of the Purple America idea say that most voters across the country already live in purple states. This argument suggests that the average voter lives in a state with blue urban areas and red rural areas in conflict each election. Supporters of standard electoral mapping argue that red and blue states reflect the realities of presidential elections under the Electoral College.

Examples

London School of Economics (February 18, 2020): “Nevada became a US state in 1864, during the Civil War, giving it the motto ‘Battle Born.’ It is a battleground state politically, a ‘purple’ state.”

Vox (October 9, 2019): “But even if Texas isn’t a purple state, it is a gigantic state and therefore an important one. And the switch from R+20 to R+11 matters.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts (March 6, 2008): “Despite Obama’s strength in red-state caucuses and McCain’s appeal as a moderate, this analysis keeps the number of “purple” states – those neither safely red nor blue but still up for grabs – at its original 19, at least this stage of the most wide-open presidential contest in at least a half century.”

 

 

political football

To take an issue that is non-partisan and turn it into a partisan one. Political parties do this to gain an advantage over the other party, tossing an issue back-and-forth as a “football.”

The term can refer to the game of political football, where parties do this, or the issue itself. In the former case, parties are playing political football; in the latter, the issue is a political football.

The first known use of the term dates back to 1857, where it was used in a Maine newspaper.

pussyfoot

To sidestep an issue as to not take a side.

The term was popularized in politics by Teddy Roosevelt. Contrary to what some may believe, the term is not meant as a gendered insult. It is called pussyfooting due to the quiet and stealthy way cats walk.

If a politician were to remain noncommittal on an issue in order to avoid backlash, it could be said they were pussyfooting.

Potomac fever

The condition where a politician is gripped by a desire to stay in government, whether to make a change or for power’s sake.

The term describes a politician who never intended to stay in Washington, D.C. (which is adjacent to the Potomac River) but eventually “gets infected” and decides to stay for a long time.

puppet state

A country that claims to be independent, but is controlled by an outside state or other power. Puppet states are not recognized by international law.

A puppet state has the appearance of being independent. It typically has things like its own flag, constitution, system of government, etc., but still cedes control to another power.

Examples of puppet states include countries that were under the Soviet bloc, like Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Mongolia. Some puppet governments are implemented through military force, like Vichy France in WWII. Many colonized countries in Africa and Asia would become puppet states controlled by their colonizers. Examples of this are pre-1960s Vietnam, India, and the Congo.

pol

A shorthand word for politician. Occasionally, it is used to describe anyone active in politics, including experts and political junkies.

plumbers

A task force who worked for Richard Nixon to stop classified information from getting out and gather information on political enemies. They were known as plumbers because of their attempts to plug leaks out of the White House.

The plumbers were involved in many covert and illegal activities, from stealing information to discredit the leaker of the Pentagon Papers to the Watergate burglary. The agents worked to protect the Committee for the Re-Election of the President as well.

Time ranks the activities of Nixon’s plumbers as one of the top 10 abuses of power of all time. Although Nixon denied knowledge of the plumbers activities, tapes subpoenaed during the Watergate investigation revealed years of political espionage and illegal surveillance.

play in Peoria

A phrase meaning how well something will appeal to the heartland or mainstream America. In politics, it is a gauge of how the average American will react to a policy or proposal.

Peoria is an actual city in Illinois. The phrase originated in the late 19th century, when vaudeville performers would say that if a show could be successful in Peoria, it could be successful anywhere (because Peoria was seen as an unremarkable city).

Richard Nixon popularized the phrase in political circles. He would ask how something would play in Peoria to ask how the average voter would respond to whatever he was planning.

peace at any price

A term outlining the philosophy of appeasement, in which supporters argue that peace is worth the cost asked by an enemy. It was once used as a positive term, but became an attack on appeasement after World War II.

Peace at any price is often linked with former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who is famous for attempting to appease Nazi Germany before WWII. He signed the Munich Pact, which gave Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. The failure of Chamberlain’s attempt for peace, combined with the cost of an entire nation in that attempt, turned “peace at any price” into an attack on appeasement.

It is also sometimes referred to as “peace at any cost.”

peace through strength

peace through strength

The accumulation of military power and security assets by a country to encourage an amenable diplomatic atmosphere with other countries.

Origins and History

The phrase peace through strength is attributed to the policies of Roman Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117 to 138. Hadrian strengthened the empire’s frontier security with walls in modern-day England, Switzerland, and Germany. The emperor also encouraged the use of non-residents as defense forces to bolster existing troops. Elizabeth Speller’s Following Hadrian included the passage, “His agenda was clear: peace through strength, or failing that, peace through threat.”

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows that peace through strength was non-existent in American texts until 1937. Bernard Baruch’s 1952 book Peace through Strength and Cold War tensions brought the term phrase into the fore. Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater used peace through strength in a September 1964 speech, saying that he promised “an administration that will keep the peace and keep faith with freedom at the same time.”

In American politics, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan cemented the phrase during his 1980 campaign. He argued that President Jimmy Carter’s administration failed to maintain the “margin of safety” between the United States and the Soviet Union. Reagan advocated for negotiation with the declining Soviet Union as well as a significant military buildup to thwart the global spread of communism.

After his election, the Reagan administration demonstrated peace through strength by promoting increased funding for strategic nuclear weapons, new weapon systems, and quick-strike forces. Reagan’s advisors also advocated for the capability to defeat Soviet military assets moving anywhere in the world. The president met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for direct talks on five occasions between 1985 and 1988.

Reagan’s use of peace through strength is often attributed as a cause for the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The Republican Party platform included this phrase in every election from 1980 to 2016. The 2016 platform mentioned this concept by stating, “As Americans and as Republicans we wish for peace – so we insist on strength.” The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute issues Peace Through Strength Awards each year to public officials who have supported American security and freedom.

Examples

The Hill (December 3, 2019): “Thirty years have passed since President Reagan left office, but his vision for ‘peace through strength’ still defines the world view of Americans, who remain steadfast in their support for a strong military that both keeps the peace and advances the values of freedom and democracy abroad.”

Foreign Policy (October 15, 2013): “Peace through strength is not a lonely position. In fact, there are numerous voices in the United States and in Israel calling for more political and diplomatic pressure and engagement.”

The Washington Post (August 19, 1980): “Ronald Reagan accepted the endorsement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars today with a pledge to pursue a policy of ‘peace through strength’ that he said would restore ‘a defense capability that provides a margin of safety for America.’”

party line

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 terms of a party-line vote. A party-line vote is when most or all politicians vote with their party on a proposal. For example, if there are 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the Senate, a party line vote would be 51-49 Republican.

Forbes: “Party-line voting has become the new normal. As recently as the early 1970s, party unity voting was around 60% but today it is closer to 90% in both the House and Senate.”

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 puts a key slice of the party faithful in conflict with the national agenda — nationally, support for immigration reform tends to be high and bipartisan.”

patronage

Patronage is the power of a political official to fill government positions with people of their choosing. In many cases this leads to nepotism and favoritism.

In the U.S., there have been many fights against patronage since the mid-1800s. After the assassination of James Garfield by a man who was overlooked for a patronage-given position, many laws were formed to force officials to be qualified to do their job. Major patronage systems in the U.S. lasted until about the 1970s, when Chicago ended theirs.

Although often associated with corruption, patronage is not always seen as a negative. Many government positions are allocated through the patronage system, including many appointed by the President.

poison the well

A rhetorical device often used by politicians where adverse information is pre-emptively presented 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 pouring poison into sources of fresh water before an invading army, to diminish the attacking army’s strength.

plausible deniability

Plausible deniability is the ability to deny any involvement in illegal or unethical activities, because there is no clear evidence to prove involvement. The lack of evidence makes the denial credible, or plausible. The use of the tactic implies forethought, such as intentionally setting up the conditions to plausibly avoid responsibility for one’s future actions.

The term is used both in law and in politics. In politics, plausible deniability usually applies to the practice of keeping the leadership of a large organization uninformed about illicit actions that the organization is carrying out. The leaders then have “plausible deniability” if they are ever questioned about those illicit actions. In other words, they truly don’t know about any illegal actions, and so they are automatically clear of blame.

The term was first coined when the Church Committee, a committee of the US Senate, was investigating US intelligence agencies during the 1970s. The committee found that the CIA had carried out a plot to try and assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro; the Church Committee believed that the president was supportive of the action. However, the president was able to plausibly deny any knowledge of the plot against Castro, since he truly had no knowledge of the specifics of the plan.

Of course, the concept of plausible deniability goes back further than the Church Committee. Likewise, the roots of the term also go further back, at least as far as a National Security Council paper which was issued in 1948, during the presidency of Harry Truman. That paper notably defined covert operations as “all activities…which are conducted or sponsored by this Government against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups but which are so planned and executed that any US Government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons and that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.”

In modern politics, the term plausible deniability often comes up in discussions of political campaigns.  Plausible deniability allows candidates to keep their hands clean when their campaigns, or their supporters, use unsavory campaign tactics and launch dirty attacks against other candidates. For example, some journalists charged that George W Bush’s first presidential campaign deliberately used surrogates in order to smear Bush’s political rivals; by giving the surrogates the dirty work, the campaign escaped public backlash.

Plausible deniability can also refer to a politician’s attempt to test the waters, by quietly trying out how the public might respond to certain acts. In 2015, journalists wrote that Joe Biden wanted to maintain plausible deniability even as he explored a possible White House run. Biden quietly visited certain states and met with certain political power players, without definitively committing himself to throw his hat in the ring. This allowed the former vice president to evaluate his chances of winning the race, without risking the humiliation or loss of faith that could come with trying and failing.

During the Trump administration, some pundits have argued that the president took the concept of plausible deniability to a new level. They argue that the president speaks with a deliberate lack of clarity, implying damaging things but never actually saying them. They believe that the president uses a combination of nonverbal communication, dog whistles, and implication in order to make allegations about his political enemies.

press gaggle

An informal briefing by the White House press secretary that is on the record but video recording is not allowed. It can occur anywhere, such as on Air Force One, but it often describes the informal interactions between the press and the press secretary that occur before a formal White House briefing.

The term likens the members of the press corps to  a “gaggle of geese” honking.

Washington Monthly: “Gaggles historically refer to informal briefings the press secretary conducts with the press pool rather than the entire press corps. They used to happen in the morning, they were more or less off the record, and their purpose was mostly to exchange information – the president’s schedule and briefing schedule, from the administration side; heads-up on likely topics or early comment on pressing issues, from the news side. Briefings were what everybody knows them to be.”

pen and pad briefing

A press briefing held by lawmakers or White House officials at which video and photography is not allowed.

While reporters used to gather around the person doing the briefing with their pads of paper and pens, they now typically use a voice recorder.

ping pong

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 one another until they finally have an agreed-upon version of the bill. But even ping-ponging can take different forms and some people use the term generically to refer to any informal negotiations.”

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 hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it’s crazy. They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Gibbs later clarified he was primarily referring to the people “who chatter on cable TV news.”

permanent campaign

First explored by Sidney Blumenthal in his 1980 book, The Permanent Campaign, which explained how the breakdown in political parties forced politicians to govern in different ways. Instead of relying on patronage and party machines, politicians increasingly used political consultants to help them monitor their job approval numbers and media exposure.

However, the theory of the permanent campaign is also credited to political strategist Patrick Caddell who wrote a memo for President-elect Jimmy Carter just after his election in 1976 in which he asserted “governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.”

Time: “Thus Caddell gave a name — the Permanent Campaign — to a political mind-set that had been developing since the beginning of the television age. It has proved a radical change in the nature of the presidency. Every President since Lyndon Johnson has run his Administration from a political consultant’s eye view. Untold millions have been spent on polling and focus groups. Dick Morris even asked voters where Bill Clinton should go on vacation. The pressure to “win” the daily news cycle — to control the news — has overwhelmed the more reflective, statesmanlike aspects of the office.”

push card

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 the palm of your hand.

political suicide

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, “these suicides, like the report of Mark Twain’s death, are usually exaggerations. Actions unpopular on their face can be take as evidence of courage.”

politics ain’t beanbag

A response to politicians who complain about the rough and tumble of the campaign trail, below-the-belt shots from their opponents or unfair treatment from the media.

It was first uttered by Mr. Dooley, an Irish-American character created by writer Finley Peter Dunne in an 1895 newspaper column. The full quote: “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.”

psephology

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 by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

patriot

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 called themselves “patriots” when they declared the United States of America an independent nation on July 4, 1776.

Because of this history, the term also has a uniquely American meaning which is embedded in the reverence for the principles established in the Declaration of Independence.

petitioning

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 instead of submitting signatures. In areas with popular initiatives, signatures are needed to put a measure on a ballot.

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 survey,  a push poll is most often used during a political campaign as part of a candidate’s election strategy or by a political party to gain advantage over a rival or rivals.

While push polls are not illegal, many consider them to be unethical, and they generally fall under the umbrella of “dirty” or “negative” campaigning. They often include personal attacks, fear mongering, innuendo, and other psychological tactics to lead those being polled to believe a specific point of view or turn against a specific candidate.

Most push polls are concise and to the point, so that a large number of people can be called in a relatively short period of time, so as to have a maximum effect on public opinion.

As noted by the New York Times, a large number of reputable associations have denounced push polling as a sleazy tactic, and in certain states push polling is regulated.

In fact, over the years, many jurisdictions have tried to enact legislation to control the use of push polls, but such laws have come up against opposition from those who swear by the practice. In 2012, a proposed “push poll law” in New Hampshire ran into head winds from pollsters concerned that such laws would “outlaw message testing, preventing firms from deploying legitimate survey research on behalf of their clients.”

In 2007, a Roll Call opinion piece suggested that the term itself is misleading, noting: “The term ‘push poll’ never should have entered our lexicon, since it does nothing but confuse two very different and totally unrelated uses of the telephone.”

Richard Nixon was one of the pioneers of the push poll, and in his very first campaign in 1946, he used the practice by hiring operatives in his California district to call Democrats and warn them that his opponent was a “communist.”

Most agree that push polling is a negative tactic, but not all campaigns agree on when a survey is actually a true measure of political opinion, and when it is in fact a push poll.

During the 2000 Republican primaries, the campaign of John McCain accused the George W. Bush campaign of push polling in South Carolina by asking questions such whether you would be more likely to vote for or against McCain after learning that his “campaign finance proposals would give labor unions and the media a bigger influence on the outcome of elections.” The Bush camp denied that its survey was in fact a push poll. As described in Slate magazine: “This controversy, which has consumed the media for the past week, misses the point. Every campaign poll that asks about an opponent’s flaws is a push poll.”

This point of view was reiterated by a CBS News article 7 years later, when it was alleged that Mitt Romney’s campaign was a victim of push polling centering on his Mormon faith: “A push poll is political telemarketing masquerading as a poll. No one is really collecting information. No one will analyze the data.”

pocket veto

A legislative tactic that allows the President to indirectly veto a bill.

The U.S. Constitution requires the President to sign a bill within the 10 days if Congress is in session. If Congress is in session and the president fails to sign the bill, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns before the ten days are up and the President does not sign the bill, it will not become law. Ignoring it, or putting it in your pocket, has been called a pocket veto.

photo-op

Short for a “photo opportunity,” an event specifically staged for television news cameras or photographers to increase a politician’s exposure.

The term was reportedly coined during the Nixon administration by Bruce Whelihan, an aide to Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Ziegler would say, “Get ’em in for a picture,” and Whelihan would dutifully announce to the White House press room, “There will be a photo opportunity in the Oval Office.”

pro forma session

A brief meeting (sometimes only several seconds) in which no business is conducted. It is held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

Pro forma sessions can also be used to prevent the President from making recess appointments, pocket-vetoing  bills, or calling the Congress into special session. During a 2007 recess, for example, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, planned to keep the Senate in pro forma session in order to prevent further controversial appointments made by the Bush Administration. Said Reid: “I am keeping the Senate in pro forma [session] to prevent recess appointments until we get this process on track.”

pork barrel projects

Wasteful government expeditures that lawmakers secure for their local districts in an attempt to gain favor with voters.

The term first came into use as a political term just after the Civil War. It’s derived from the practice of plantations distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from large wooden barrels as a reward or for special occasions

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