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 realigning election, like those in 1932 and 1968, in which a party forges a new and enduring presidential coalition.) A wave election is commonly considered one in which a political party wins a large and lopsided number of House and Senate seats while sustaining minimal losses.”

“In the past 20 years, there have been several wave elections of that type, including 1994 when Republicans netted 54 House and 10 Senate seats; 2006 when Democrats won 31 House and six Senate seats; 2008 when Democrats gained 21 House and eight Senate seats, and—most spectacularly—the last midterm vote, in 2010, when the GOP won 63 House seats and four in the Senate.”

Jacob Smith: “Unfortunately — and surprisingly given the widespread use of this term — there is not a precise definition of this concept. To try to correct this, I have developed my own definition that combines both scholarly rigor with the basic intuition of a wave election being a ‘big win’ for one side at the expense of the other.”

“Specifically, I define a ‘wave election’ to be a congressional election that (1) produces the potential for a political party to significantly affect the political status quo as (2) the result of a substantial increase in seats for that party.”


A “wonk” is a person preoccupied with arcane details of public policy.

Washington Monument strategy

washington monument strategy

The “Washington Monument strategy” is named after a tactic used by the National Park Service to threaten closure of the popular Washington Monument when lawmakers proposed serious cuts in spending on parks.

Roll Call calls it “an old legislative ploy where an agency threatens to close popular services first.”

The strategy is used at all levels of government in an attempt to get the public to rally around government services they take pride in or find useful. Closing libraries on certain days of the week or reducing days of trash pick up  appears to have the same effect.

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, a book not only has to be ambitious; it also needs ‘to be a book one would feel pressure to have read, and read early.’ This need to be ahead of the curve, coupled with demanding jobs that leave little time for reading, pushes people toward the Washington Read.”

The term is not to be confused with the Index Scan, which is when someone glances over the credits and footnotes to see if they’re mentioned.

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 anonymous flyers attacking the other candidate.

The speed and anonymity of communication made possible by modern technologies like the Internet has increased their ability to succeed.

While the manner in which you conduct a whisper campaign will depend on your ultimate goal, eHow lists a few general tips about how to get a whisper campaign underway.


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 the resolution condemning them. Generally, presidents who address Congress do so from the rostrum, but Franklin Roosevelt’s last speech to Congress was given from the well, in a rare acknowledgment of his disability.

The origins of the term are unknown, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives one definition of ‘well’ as “The space on the floor of a law court (between the judge’s bench and the last row of seats occupied by counsel) where the solicitors sit.” It is possible that, as legislatures used to serve judicial functions, the term was transferred to legislative bodies.

witch hunt

A witch hunt is a politically-motivated, often vindictive investigation that feeds on public fears.

The term refers to the witch hunts in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, where many innocent women accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake or drowned.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-WI) search for Communists in the federal government during the 1950s is often referred to as a witch hunt.



“Whistle-stopping” is practice of making political speeches or appearances in many different towns during a short period of time.

The term originates from the time when politicians mainly traveled by train and gave speeches from the back of the train during “whistle-stops” in small towns. The term now covers any means of travel punctuated by multiple short stops, usually arranged by an advance man. The term “flag stop” is used almost interchangeably with “whistle stop.”

The BBC notes that the term “whistle-stopping” originated in America but is now used by European politicians too. The expression may have been used first by the columnist O.O. McIntry, back in 1928. McIntryre wrote about a person who had to admit that his hometown was “some outlandish whistle stop with the conventional red depot.”

President Harry Truman is famous for his long whistle-stop tour while he was running for re-election in 1948. Truman’s campaign tour stretched 31,000 miles and included 352 campaign stops. The tour was planned by Truman’s publicist, a journalist named Charlie Ross. Voters apparently thought of Truman as distant and uncharismatic, and the whistle-stop tour was supposed to give them a fresh look at the president. The president reached three million Americans while he was on the months-long tour.

Of course, Truman and his staff did not invent the whistle stop tour. Abraham Lincoln was famous for campaigning from trains and train stations. After Lincoln was elected president, he spent nearly two weeks traveling from his home in Illinois to Washington DC to be sworn in as president. The extended trip gave Lincoln time to meet with his supporters in whistle stops throughout the country. Along the way, the president-elect survived an assassination attempt (discovered by the railroad detectives).

Almost a hundred and fifty years later, president-elect Barack Obama recreated Lincoln’s famous whistle-stop tour. Obama traveled to his own inauguration by train, following the same route as Lincoln had and stopping along the way to speak to crowds of supporters.

“To the children who hear the whistle of the train and dream of a better life — that’s who we’re fighting for. That’s who needs change,” Obama said at one stop along the way. “And those are the stories that we will gather with us to Washington.”

First ladies have historically done their own whistle stop tours too. Lady Bird Johnson famously carried out a whistle stop tour of the south in order to rally support for President Johnson’s civil rights agenda. Lady Bird spent four miles aboard a train which had been named the “Lady Bird Special,” traveling through eight states and covering 1,628 miles. A southerner herself, Johnson said she wanted her tour to take her “to the land where the pavement runs out and city people don’t often go.”

In 2017, Melania Trump went on what many journalists called her own whistle stop tour. The first lady visited four African nations during a week-long tour of the continent. Her trip was widely seen as an attempt to repair relationships between the Trump administration and African nations. Melania Trump’s tour was not technically a whistle stop tour, but because she made many short stops over a long distance, it was often referred to in that way.