Glossary of Political Terms

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actuarial science

The discipline that applies mathematics, statistics and probability theory to assess risk in human affairs such as insurance, issuing finance, and in some cases sentencing in criminal justice. e.g.  health insurance companies on average charge women higher rates than men because statistics show women seek medical help more often.

ad hominem

Latin for “to the man”. Attacking the presenter of an argument rather than the argument itself. Aka  “playing the man, not the ball”.


Less-than-subtle political propaganda disseminated through the media and performing arts. Term derived from the then department of Agitation and Propaganda of the Soviet Union.


Greek for gathering place or assembly. The town square in ancient Greek city states used for political discussions and decision making as well as other activities such as artistic and spiritual gatherings.

absent vote

A vote cast by voters who are out of their division but still within their State or Territory which may be cast at any polling place in that State or Territory.

absolute majority

(50%+1 vote). A term used to compare the least votes a winning candidate may need in a preferential single member voting system compared with that of first- past-the-post systems of other countries where a “majority” may well be less than 50%.  Also a concept used in some parliamentary votes where a simple majority of all members present is not enough.


A diplomatic agreement that does not have the same binding force as a treaty.


Temporary interruption during a parliamentary session.

administrative law

That segment of public law that is used to challenge the decisions of government officials and / or delegated legislation. Excluding policy decisions made by people’s elected representatives, where it is deemed electoral popular support authorises the office holder to be unrestrained in their decision making as long as it is within the law, all civil / public servants, from the Prime Minister down can be challenged in court (as long as the plaintiff has standing) on the “reasonableness” of their administrative actions or even on their failure to act. Over time the authority of A.L. has been extended to so called public bodies: NGOs, Quangos and other organisations which otherwise would have discretionary power over the rights of their members.

adversarial system

The system of law, as exists in the Anglo-American world, where an issue is argued in court by two opposing sides, the prosecutor or plaintiff, and the defence. Opposite to the inquisitorial system where a judge or panel of judges call evidence and interrogate witnesses, as exists in many European countries. 

affirmative action

Legislative programs which aim to create minority equality in employment, university placements, housing  and other government beneficial situations even though, most of the time, outright discrimination against so called majorities is not ostensibly advocated.

agrarian socialist

Originally applying to non urban, pre-industrial revolution peoples with traditional, conservative attitudes, those who believe in the collective ownership and control of primary industries, and to a lesser extent secondary industries, for the benefit of all, but otherwise not that committed to other socialist beliefs such as progressive/liberal approaches to domestic or international social concerns.

Saul Alinsky

Described by opponents as an organisational genius, an American political activist, although never aligned with any political party, who, through his book Rules for Radicals, propagated ideas for poor communities to successfully politically organise. Prominent in the 60’s with college students and other counter-culture movements. Book is now popular with both sides of the political divide.


The devotion to the interests of others above that of the self. The opposite of egoism.

amicus curiae

Latin for ‘friend of the court’. A party, generally an advocacy group, who is granted permission by an appellate court to be involved in proceedings even though it was not directly involved in the original case. The motivation for the A.C. is that the final court decision may set an important precedent and their confidence in the existing litigants is less than complete.


A condition of lawlessness and disorder brought about by the absence of any controlling authority.

ancien régime

The government and social system that was swept away by the French Revolution. An administration and associated government programs that have been superseded.


A state or society ruled by men where moral authority and control of property may also be exclusively in the hands of males. Aka  andrarchy or phallocracy.


Opposition to the influence of religion in government and legislative affairs.


A member of communist party machine; derogatory term for a political party zealot.

approval voting

First Past the Post’ voting but with the added concept that one can tick (approve of) as many candidates’ names as one wishes, but in no order of preference. A variant of preferential voting eliminating the chances of minority candidates winning when too many mainstream candidates run against each other.


Temporary or permanent suspension of hostilities in war by mutual agreement.

Australian ballot

Original name given to the secret ballot due to the fact it originated there.


A form of government where unlimited power is held by one single individual.


A limited form of independence where, for example, a state or colony can control its own domestic affairs but has no say over its foreign affairs.


A member of Parliament (government or opposition) who is not in a leadership role in their party but merely sits literally on the back bench.

balance of power

The leverage a small party in the legislature possesses, in being able to give, or hold back, voting support to a large, albeit still minority party, to allow it to have a majority on a vote.


A method of secret voting, normally in a written form.

ballot paper

A paper handed to each voter on election day to be marked, showing the names of the candidates (and sometimes the parties) who are standing for election.

banana republic

A small country economically dependent on a single agrarian export commodity (traditionally a banana exporting, maritime state of the West Indies or Central America), with a corrupt government. Term derived by author O. Henry for a short story involving the fictional Republic of Anchuria.


Derogatory term for a politician who panics easily and shows signs of caving when newer, creative, or more ideological policies their party advocates start to come under criticism.

bell the cat

An impractical suggestion that highlights the short sightedness of the theorist advocating a problem’s solution which, however, will not in work in practice, or be politically lethal for the party proposing it. Derived from a fable about a group of mice who decide the best way to be warned when the cat is near is for someone to place a bell around its neck, only to find there are no volunteers to perform that task.


A small entity whose characteristics happen to reflect that of the whole state or nation. The American state of Nevada is a bellwether state for presidential elections in that, with only one exception, it has voted the same as the whole country for a century. The Australian electorate of Eden-Monaro has voted in a government MP at every election since 1972. A bellwether is a ram with a bell attached to indicate to the farmer where the flock is when not in sight.

the Beltway

A term to describe the politically and socially insular community of Washington DC. Derived from Interstate Highway 495 which circumnavigates Washington forming a “belt”. One would be, metaphorical speaking, inside or outside the Beltway. The term is sometimes used in other countries although in Britain the equivalent concept is “the Westminster Bubble”.

benign neglect

A type of laissez-faire policy, where, in response to calls for government funding or regulation to address a recently developed problem, a ‘do nothing’ approach is alternatively undertaken in the belief that, over time, it will improve, or at least not hurt, the interests of the "neglected" group.

bicameral / unicameral

Government with either two or one house of legislature. France, Sweden, South Korea and New Zealand all have unicameral governments.


A person who refuses to discuss, consider or listen to, beliefs or theories contrary to his own. Derived from the Middle Ages French term of abuse for religious Normans who would frequently use the term “By God”.


The name for proposed legislation entered into the house / houses of parliament to be debated upon for approval. If approved at all stages it then becomes an act and thus law.

bill of attainder

No longer practiced ancient writ or act of Parliament to declare someone guilty of a crime and/or subject to punishment without benefit of trial. Attainder, meaning taintedness, also meant that any party guilty of a capital crime lost all civil rights including property, and if not life, then right to reputation. Still exercised in the 20th century in Australian states where a convicted capital felon, Darcy Dugan, was denied the right to sue for defamation and a dangerous inmate, Gregory Kable, was not released after his full prison term was served due to an act of parliament.

bill of rights

Aka Charter of Rights or Declaration of Rights. A list of entrenched fundamental human rights as perceived by the declarer. Whereas a nation’s enacted laws are deemed to protect people from the harmful deeds of their fellow citizens, a B.o.R is deemed to protect the citizenry from the excesses of their rulers. Term derived from the 1689 Bill of Rights enacted by the British Parliament after the Glorious Revolution.


Adjective to describe a situation where the normally opposing political parties come together to agree on an initiative. Technically two parties coming together.


To track down a political candidate to a public event and get in a position to ask him/her questions on issues they would rather not talk about, and to ask follow-up questions if answers are evasive. A bird dog is a retriever who runs into the bushes and flushes birds out into the open. Term has also been used in 2016 US presidential campaign by some players to go well further by inciting violence at opposition campaign rallies.

black letter law

A law where there may have been conjecture as to its meaning, but where appellate courts have subsequently settled the issue.

block voting

In multi-member electorates, each voter having the same number of votes as the number of vacant seats (must tick off [say] three names). This has the effect of minimising the chances of minority candidates winning seats.


The standardized, non-specific parts of editorials, presentations, contracts or emails traditionally made and expected, in addition to the specific. A speech on a particular policy issue would be described as B. if it added nothing to what had been said many times before. Derived from original 1892 American Press Association offices which happened to be housed next to a sheet-iron processing plant, and third rate, filler, news articles issued became known as B.


A wasteful government financed infrastructure developed at a cost much greater than its value, undertaken for local or political gain.


Marxist term now used to describe middle class professionals living a relatively luxurious life style.

Bradley effect

Aka Shy Tory Factor. A theory to explain the discrepancy sometimes noticed between pre-election polling and election results where the “socially acceptable” candidate or proposition did not win. It is alleged that some respondents, when speaking to pollsters, feel uncomfortable in not declaring their support for the so called “flavour or the month” or “political correct” candidate or position, and thus declare what they think is expected of them, even though in the privacy of the polling booth they will vote otherwise. Named after well-known African-American Tom Bradley, who attempted to be the first elected black governor in the US, but lost the 1982 Californian gubernatorial election despite previously being ahead in the polls.

branch stacking

Australian concept related to candidate manipulation in larger political parties. An act by a member of a party to enhance his/her chances of being chosen as a candidate in an upcoming election by arranging, and paying membership fees, for a suitably large number of people, who may or may not have any interest in politics, to join the party in the relevant electorate/branch for no other reason than to support that member.


Belligerent diplomatic relations where at least one party is prepared to risk all and go to the brink of war/ economic ruin/ or whatever calamitous situation, to get what they want. In modern times the most artful in this practice would be the government of North Korea.

bully pulpit

An office, place or high order which gives one the opportunity to propagate one’s views. Term coined by Teddy Roosevelt who thought the American presidency gave an immense platform to advocate his positions on many issues. At the time, ‘bully’ had the positive meaning of superb or wonderful.


Not a law but a government rule or regulation. see ‘delegated legislation’.


A local election held to fill a suddenly vacated (single member voting) seat due to death, resignation etc.     see also Casual Vacancy


The ‘board of directors’ of executive government.  Made up of the President / Prime Minister as chairman and each director as a secretary or minister responsible for the relevant government departments such as defence, environment, trade etc.

Caesar’s wife

‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.’ The maxim that family or close associates of a prominent pubic figure must go to extra lengths to keep themselves above suspicion of wrongdoing. Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia after it was suspected, but not proven, that she aided a third party to commit the crime of sacrilege.


A state ruled by a caliph, who is considered to be the chief Islamic civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor in line from Muhammad.

Camp David

Country house retreat of the American President


A person who stands for election to political office. In Australia candidates can be nominated by political parties or stand as independents.


An economic system based on the recognition of private property rights, where prices are dictated by supply and demand, and where the means of production and distribution of goods and services derive from privately owned resources, or capital, operating within an unregulated market.

caretaker government

A type of governance where those in power refrain from significant actions such as undertaking major legislative programs or senior judicial or public service appointments, but only maintain necessary normal administrative duties. The reason for this is that power would be in transition due to an election being due or being called suddenly due to the success of a vote of no confidence, or some other situation where legitimate democratic government has to be restored.


A pejorative term to describe outsiders taking advantage of a situation where others would normally be expected to benefit. A carpet bag was a fashionable form of luggage of the time used by northern “Yankees”, political appointees or businessmen, who moved down to southern states during the American post-Civil War Reconstruction era taking advantage of the instability, power vacuum and fire sale prices of the property market.


Daughter of the Trojan king Priam in Homer’s Illiad, who not only possessed the gift of prophecy but was cursed by the god Apollo in that she would never be believed. Someone who predicts calamitous events if specific policy decisions are not undertaken, but who is generally ignored.

casting vote

A vote that the presiding officer of decision-making body, who normally does not vote so as to give an impression of impartiality, has the option to exercise when it would have an effect. Sometimes the CV is the only vote the officer has (Speaker of UK House of Commons, President of US Senate), but otherwise it is in addition to his/her normal vote.

casual vacancy [Aust.]

A suddenly vacated Senate seat filled not by an election but by State government appointment.

casus belli

The alleged justification for acts of war.


A closed meeting of members of a political party or faction. Also the term for a group of people within an establishment with a common political leaning. In Australia the term is used to describe the parliamentary members of the ALP.

cause célèbre

Fr. for ‘famous case’. A controversy (often a court case) arousing high public interest because of policy issues at stake. Examples would be the Dreyfus affair, the Scopes Monkey Trial and the American Roe v Wade Supreme Court case.


Popular British 19th century working class movement advocating electoral reform. Named after their Peoples’ Charter of six demands: universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, secret ballot, no qualifications to enter parliament, pay for MPs and annual elections. Despite at one stage having three million signatures on a petition to Parliament, the movement eventually disbanded without witnessing any reforms.

chain migration

Aka serial migration. Term to describe a situation in some countries where the granting of permanent residence to one foreign applicant on whatever grounds (humanitarian, skilled or lottery) will give that new resident rights to bring in their spouse or other family members, which in turn will grant further foreigners rights to enter because of their connections to the previous link, thus creating a seemingly perpetual chain.

Chatham House Rules

Rules / undertakings sometimes declared at public meetings where the identity or affiliation of a speaker cannot later be made public when and if mentioning what was said. The alternative to “on the record” discussions. C.H. is a 18th century London house previously occupied by three Prime Ministers and now by the influential think tank, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

the chattering classes

Derogatory term, originated by British journalist Auberon Waugh, to refer to the “socially conscious” educated, metropolitan middle class, always prepared to express their opinions on current events.


Country house retreat of the British Prime Minister

citizens initiated referendum

A democratic vehicle for legislative or constitutional enactment which bypasses the legislature. As exists in Switzerland and some states of the USA, if a petition for a certain proposition can raise a specific number of signatures, then the legislature is compelled to put it to the people at a referendum and then to enact it in law if passed.

civis Romanus sum

(I am a Roman Citizen). The claim by ancient Romans that wherever so they travel in foreign lands they should be afforded full rights and protection, with the understanding that Roman military might would respond to any violations.  Justification used by UK Prime Minister Lord Palmerston in 1850 when blockading Athens to ensure a British citizen there was compensated for the property damage inflicted by a violent Greek mob.

clear and present danger

A concept in American constitutional law to describe a situation where fundamental constitutional principles can be overlooked in exigent circumstances.

client state

A country that is economically or militarily dependent upon another, but not actually controlled politically by the patron state as in the case of a ‘puppet state’.

closed party list

A type of proportional representation voting where the voter has the option to support candidates of a political party but not in his\her order. As opposed to an “open list” system where voters have the choice of either above-the-line or below-the-line voting where the voter either gives only one tick, or individually indicates his/her particular preferences.

closed shop

A place of work where the union has arranged that the employer will only employ those who are its members.


Fr. for ‘ending’ or ‘conclusion’. A motion in legislative systems to bring a filibuster to an end and thus allow a vote on the bill at hand. Aka ‘closure’ or ‘guillotine’.

coattails effect

A popular candidate at an election having the ability to draw votes, not just for himself, but also for his fellow party candidates.

command economy

As compared to the free market, an economy which is mostly under the command of the government.

common law

The law of the land which comes from neither the statute books nor the constitution but from court law reports. Originally that body of law which was common to all parts of England (not customary or local law) and developed over centuries from the English courts to be adopted and further developed in countries using that system. As compared to democratically maintained law, common law is judge maintained and modified law and is valid unless it conflicts with statute law.


The action or process of treating a person as a mere commodity rather than someone possessing civil rights such as autonomy.


The concept of collective, rather than individual, ownership of all the nation’s assets, as well as the duty by those able, to create and / or manage those assets.

comparative advantage

The ability of a party to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal or opportunity cost than another. If country A can produce both apples and oranges cheaper than country B, with apples significantly cheaper, it is more efficient for it to concentrate on growing and exporting only apples while importing oranges, even though the oranges imported would not be as cheap as those if home grown.


A form of federalism where the individual regions that make up the sovereign state exercise a larger degree of autonomy. Often the right to secede and the sole right to raise taxes, the funding of the central government coming from the regions. The pre-Civil War slave states of America united to form the Confederated States of America to maintain states’ rights.

confirmation bias

The tendency to process and analyse information in alignment with one’s own pre-existing beliefs and values.


Often taken as synonymous with right wing with a penchant for censorship and state control to protect against ‘immoral’ personal behaviour, but technically an attitude of belief in the established order and suspicious of change.


A citizen residing in a particular MP’s area or district.


The set of basic rules by which a country or state is governed. Sometimes includes a Bill of Rights.    The ultimate set of laws to which all other laws made by contemporary governments are subservient to. The strength and integrity of a constitution is often reflected by the difficulty it is to be changed.

constitutional referendum

A proposal to alter the Constitution being put to the public vote. In Australia at a referendum the proposed alteration must be approved by a 'double majority': a national majority of voters in the States and Territories; and a majority of voters in a majority of the States.

consumer price index

A measurement of inflation by comparing, at regular intervals, the price (taking weighting into account) of a set of basic consumer goods and services purchased by households.

consumption tax

A tax levied on goods and services such as sales tax, GST, VAT or an excise tax. A tax on the spending of income rather than the earning of it, so as to include people who might otherwise evade income tax such as those in the black economy or successful with tax avoidance schemes.

cordon sanitaire

Fr. for “sanitary cordon”. Originally used to identify a geographical area sealed off to isolate infectious diseases, but now also used to identify the isolation of extremist political parties by other parties not dealing with them in regards to coalitions, voting preferences or any other communications or benefits.

Corn Laws

British import tariffs on grains (rye, malt and wheat) in the early nineteenth century, so as to maintain the high price of local produce which benefited the farm owners, who themselves maintained significant political influence. Opposition advocating free trade as an alternative, from such theorists as Adam Smith, David Hume and David Ricardo, as well as the Anti-Corn Law League, eventually led to their abolition, but unfortunately not before the laws’ exacerbating effects upon the Irish Famine.

coup d’ėtat

Sudden and often violent internal overthrow of a government.

crony capitalism

A free market economic system abused to the degree where some business people have become successful due to their relationships with government. The ‘cronies’ of politicians receive favouritism in legal permits, government grants, tax breaks, licences and other forms of state intervention.

crossing the floor

An MP crossing the floor of Parliament to vote with his/her opposition. An act rarely forgiven in Commonwealth countries but common in the USA.

cumulative voting

A type of block voting but where the voter can choose, from the list of (for example) ten candidates running for four seats, his preferred four, or just two or even one. In such decisions, the selected candidates would get one quarter of a vote each, or half a vote, or where only one candidate received the vote, the whole vote.

cut out

In espionage, a third party intermediary for two spies / agents to communicate with each other.

damage control

The concerted defensive mode of response a political player sometimes adopts to offset the negative publicity when an embarrassing “situation” develops, such as a controversial comment, evidence of a scandal, egregious hypercritical actions or abuse of public position.

dark horse candidate

An unexpected, somewhat unknown candidate with little public exposure who has potential to win an election against established candidates. Term originated by British politician and author, Benjamin Disraeli.

deep state

State within a state. A situation in a country when a government agency, such as a branch of the armed forces, an intelligence agency, police, or a bureaucratic department, acts (conspiratorially or overtly) independently of civilian democratic leadership.

   deficit /       national debt

The shortfall in any one year of a nation’s income as compared to its expenditure / the total unpaid accumulated debt of the government over time.

deficit spending

Government intentionally spending more money than it takes in.

delegated legislation

Aka enabling legislation. Rules, regulations, by-laws, ordinances etc made by a government official under the authority of a specific act of parliament which sets out the broad purpose of what is desired, but delegates to that official’s office, the authority to create the minutia, the delegated legislation, necessary.  Whereas all parliamentary legislation is final and cannot be challenged in court (apart from constitutional inconsistencies) delegated legislation can be challenged in court if it is shown to violate the purpose of the original act.


A leader who gains popularity by appealing to prejudice and basic instincts. Considered manipulative and dangerous.


From the Greek ‘demos’ for the ordinary, common people and ‘kratos’ for power or strength.


The concept of moral obligation and binding duty. As compared to consequentialism, where an act is judged by its consequences (the ends justify the means), D. is where goodness or righteousness is judged by the act alone (the means justify the means).

descriptive / normative

Descriptive, aka positive, statements are alleged factual ones describing reality, while normative statements, based upon what is supposed to be the ‘normal’ or correct, are those claiming how things should or ought to be, and which actions are good or bad.


A relaxing or easing of tensions between powers.


Transfer of powers from the national or central government to state or local government.

D’Hondt method

A procedure in non-STV pro-rep elections to evenly distribute seats where insufficient parties have won the normal quota of votes to claim the full number of seats available. Rather than unfairly distributing the final seats to the next more successful parties albeit still below a quota (and thus at a cheaper ‘price’), a complex algorithm is applied to work out a lower new quota of votes, where all seats are distributed for the same number of votes, with no party having a new quota remaining.

direct democracy

Aka  participatory democracy. Government by the people in fact rather than merely in principle. The citizenry themselves voting on all issues affecting them. Practised in ancient Greece and (to some degree) in some cantons of Switzerland and the New England states of America. Considered by most to be a highly impractical form of government.


Direct government control of a country's economic and social institutions. From the French ‘diriger’ to direct.


Information that is false or misleading deliberately disseminated for strategic gain. Aka black propaganda.

division [Aust]

A vote taken in Parliament. Also another name for an electorate.

dog whistle

A type of political speech where a campaigner either does, or is alleged to, put code words in his / her speech to imply more than what is said on its face. For example ‘family values’ might simply refer to programs benefitting a normal nuclear family, or might imply religious values (eg. anti-abortion, anti- euthanasia); ‘law and order’ might refer to a return to the rule of law, or might imply increasing sentences and / or giving police more leeway to perform their duties. Like how only dogs can hear the dog whistle, only the target political audience can comprehend the real meaning of the innocuous words spoken by the politician.

donkey vote

The excess votes a candidate at the top of the ballot paper will get because of those voters who don’t bother to consider their decision but simply just tick the first box in sight. Otherwise known as the unthinking vote.

double dissolution

An Australian federal election with two exceptions to the normal general election. Rather than the usual 40 Senate seats being up for election (a so called half-Senate election), the full complement of 76 seats are vacated and thus the (state) quota to win a seat drops from 14.3% to 7.7%, thus making it easier for smaller parties to be successful. Secondly, both houses of Parliament are dissolved at the time of the election, rather than normal situation where the Senate only dissolves at the end of its set term, which can mean that it can be as much as eleven months after a normal election before the new Senators take their seats. The government can only call a DD election in specific situations as laid out by the Constitution.


Using language to distort or even reverse the meaning of unpalatable information that has to be given. Allegedly the amalgam of two George Orwell’s creations from his novel 1984, Doublethink and Newspeak.

‘Dorothy Dixer’

Questionable practice in Australian parliaments where some of the allocated time in ‘Question Time’ is used for back bench MPs to ask their own leaders prearranged softball questions. Dorothy Dix was an American newspaper advice columnist who prefered questions she made up herself.

   drinking the Kool-Aid

To follow and support a no-chance-of-winning campaign or cause because of peer pressure. Alternatively, to ardently and  fanatically dedicate oneself to an idea or purpose whatever the cost. A reference to the tragic 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana where 913 cult followers of Rev. Jim Jones drank grape flavoured, but poison laced, Kool-Aid.

Droop quota / Hare quota

In pro-rep electoral systems the realistic quota to win a seat versus the theoretical quota. If there are three seats to be won in an election then in theory a quota of 33.3% of the vote (Hare) is needed to win every seat. However in practice, once a candidate has won 25% [100/(3+1)] of the vote, plus one more actual vote, he/she is granted a seat because it is then impossible for three further candidates to also win seats.


To court or curry favour for political or other advantage

dummy candidate

In SMV preferential systems where there are generally only two serious parties contesting (see Duverger’s Law), a D.C. may run, allegedly as an independent offering different policies to the two major, but in fact appointed and financed by one of the major parties, with the intention of directing his/her preferences towards that party.

Duverger’s Law

Theory attributed to French political scientist Maurice Duverger, which asserts a nexus in the number of political parties in a democratic state with the electoral system used. Proportional Representation nurtures a growth in parties catering to most people’s needs while SMV systems over time, restrict parties to only two.

duumvirate / triumvirate / quadrumvirate

Latin terms to describe a group of two / three / four people joined in authority or office.


A sequence of hereditary rulers.


Alternative to Utopia. Nightmare vision of society beyond that of even a failed, dysfunctional state, where the system is actually planned by those in power, creating, most often, a totalitarian society.  Fictional examples are Jack London’s The Iron Heel, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World  and George Orwell’s 1984.


In practice the name often given by governments to voters in normal elections, or to those who have been appointed to a certain level so as to vote their choice to a higher office. Eg. the American Electoral College to choose the President. Technically, a voter who is successful in helping to get his preferred candidate elected. Term possibly used to disguise the fact that approximately half of all voters in SMV systems end up electing nobody.


Geographical areas used as a criterion for political representation. Australia is divided into 150 (federal) voting districts or divisions which are known as electorates. One member is elected from each electorate to the House of Representatives. In Parliament the electorate of Menzies will be represented by the Member for Menzies who will have the Seat of Menzies.

Élysée Palace

Residence of the French President


One who leaves their home country for political reasons.

an end-run around the constitution

Football analogy to describe a tactic of questionable legitimacy whereby the executive and / or the legislature manufacture a process whereby an action can be claimed to be legal even though, prima facie, it violates the tenets and text of the constitution.

the Enlightenment

Aka the Age of Reason. 18th century epoch of intellectual advancement where “humanity was brought into the light of reason out of the darkness of tradition and prejudice”. Originating in the UK but developing fully in continental countries such as France with thinkers such as Spinoza, Voltaire and Rousseau.


The pre-requisite to voting. The voters name must be on the electoral roll before he/she can vote. Australian citizens of at least 18 yrs are allowed (and compelled) to enrol. In the USA those who choose to vote must repeatedly enrol for every election.

equity law

An auxiliary part of common law where the courts not only have authority to modify existing common law to adapt to modern times, but in fact have the power to create original law, overriding  existing common law, in circumstances where it is deemed that without it, “unconscionable” conduct would occur.  


A suggested electoral system where votes are somehow weighted according to the degree of knowledge of the voter. In Ireland university graduates get to elect six university seats as well as exercising a normal vote shared by all other citizens.

the Executive

That part of government which executes  the law of the land, as compared to the legislature which creates and maintains the law. The executive comprises public service officials from the Prime Minister/ President down, and is responsible for the daily administration of the state.

exchange rate

The relationship of the values of any two country’s currencies. Any one-off reading is informative when taking into account what each country’s unit of currency will buy in its own domestic market. Also relevant is when the rate changes over time indicating one country’s economy is not doing as well as the other.

exhausted vote

In optional preferential voting systems, a vote that was not fully completed and, in being counted, has reached its last candidate, still not made up a quota, and thus becomes worthless.

ex officio

“by virtue of one’s office”. The power to do something or hold an office by virtue of the fact that one holds an earlier office. The American Vice President is, ex officio, the President of the Senate.

Fabian Society

A movement founded in 1884 by intellectuals Sidney and  Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw who believed the only possible way to introduce socialism would be in an incremental way using education and gradual legislative changes. Named after the Roman general Fabius Cunctator (“the delayer”) who possessed the patience to defeat the Carthaginian Hannibal by engaging in a slow war of attrition and harassment. 

false flag

A covert operation, military or otherwise, which attempts to present a different identity of the perpetrators, for propaganda, diplomatic or strategic reasons. The casus belli of the 1939 German invasion of Poland was the attack on the German Gleiwitz radio station by “Polish nationals” who were, in fact, disguised Gestapo officers.  Term derives from pirate ships who would fly flags of friendly countries so as to entice target ships.


An authoritarian and nationalist political ideology that embraces strong leadership, singular collective identity and the will to commit violence or wage war to further the interests of the state. Averse to concepts such as individualism, pluralism, multiculturalism or egalitarianism. The name derives from the collective identity, the league connotation of the Italian fascio, or English faggot, for a bound collection of sticks. The symbol originally used by Mussolini was a ‘fascio’ of sticks bound with that connotation of war, an axe.


A system under which governmental powers are divided between the central government and the states or provinces all within the same geographical territory. Opposite to a unitary system as exists in the UK, New Zealand and Japan.

fellow traveller

Mid-twentieth century term to describe someone who sympathised with communism but would not go so far as to declare themselves a communist or join the party.

fence mending

A politician returning to his electorate hoping to restore his reputation with the voters.

fifth columnist

In a military or political environment, a person who surreptitiously undermines a group or entity from within. Term derived from a Nationalist General during the Spanish Civil War who boasted he had four columns of troops attacking Madrid, together with a fifth column of sympathises inside the city. The practice of the F.C. is sometimes described as ‘entryism’. The Alec Guinness character in the film Dr Zhivago was a war-time fifth columnist.


A form of legislative obstruction by an MP by continuing a parliamentary speech for the mere sake of preventing a vote. As the clerk of parliament will set an agenda calendar allocating certain bills for certain days, if the business of reading, debating and voting on one bill is not completed on its allotted day it may be a considerable period of time before it again comes before the house.


Electoral system where the winning candidate needs only the most votes, even if well below a majority.  Aka pluralist voting.

fixed term

Concept to describe the set term of office of representatives (eg US House of Reps is a strict two years) as compared to other democracies like Spain where the legislature (the Congress of Deputies and Senate) is a maximum of four years but can be shorter at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

the fog of war

The uncertainty in combat military operations where intelligence on the strength and position of the enemy, and even of one’s own, or allied, forces cannot always be kept up to date.

fourth estate

The unofficial political institution and authority comprising the press and other forms of the media. Term comes from the first three estates of the French States-General which were the church, the nobility and the townsmen.


The right to vote.

free vote
[cmlth countries]

Aka a conscience vote. The rare instance where an M.P. is not obliged to vote according to his/her party’s call. Examples have been the 1996 Victorian drug law reform or the 1995 Northern Territory’s euthanasia law.

free rider

Someone who unintentionally is able to receive the benefits of government policy without incurring the costs.

Friday news dump

Aka ‘take out the trash day’. The practice of governments releasing their unpopular news stories just before the weekend as it is believed few people follow the news on a Saturday. Not only the timing is effective for what the government wants to hide but also the act of lumping together as many stories as possible so as to minimise the effect of each one.

from each according to his ability...

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Slogan not created, but made popular by Karl Marx in a 1875 publication, to highlight a fundamental aspect of communism. Allegedly a response to the capitalist concept of private property.

gauche caviar

(Left wing caviar eater). French derogatory term for a socialist in theory who still maintains a luxurious lifestyle. English equivalent: Champagne socialist, Bollinger Bolshevik; American: limousine liberal; Italian: radical chic; Australian: Chardonnay socialist.

general election

Either an election that is not local but is for the state or national governments or an election that is the final arbiter after the preliminary ones have been dispensed with. Can be contrasted to council, primary or by-elections.


Nineteenth century philosophy created by American economist Henry George which advocated that things found in nature, such as land, always remains property of the state.  Government revenue is thus raised by rents on land (at an unimproved rate), minerals and fishing licences etc to the degree that hopefully no other taxes might need to be enforced.


How a significant number of equally sized single member electorates become populated with both party voters but to different degrees, to have a partisan and unfair effect on the total vote.

Gilets Jaunes

A grass roots French anti-tax movement which has engaged in many public demonstrations since 2018 protesting, amongst other price hikes, the high price of fuel, caused partly by new taxes to cover the cost of the carbon tax. Members span the political spectrum with a high proportion of the rural and middle classes. Yellow vests (G.J.) are mandated in every French vehicle so as to highlight drivers in breakdowns or other emergencies, and thus protesting while wearing the vests highlights the alleged economic emergency many French people are now suffering.

ginger group

A highly active or galvanizing group within a political party or movement. Like a chef who adds ginger to spice up a meal, a number of people who ginger up and motivate the organisation to act in a certain direction on one or a number of issues.


An excessively “friendly” person, typically a politician, who greets another effusively but insincerely in an attempt to gain popularity.


A policy that commits government to greater accountability and visibility, such as freedom of information laws. Russian for ‘publicness’.


Gross National Product is the total output of goods and services annually produced by a country, whether on or off shore. Gross Domestic Product is the total amount produced on shore, whether by local or foreign entities.

Godwin’s Law

Theory by American journalist Mike Godwin that as an online discussion / argument grows longer the probability of one party comparing the other to Nazis approaches 1.

going negative

A campaigning style where an election candidate will emphasize the negative attributes of the opponent rather than his/ her own positive ones or plans for future governance. Sometimes a legitimate action if the opponent has serious character or competency issues, but otherwise often used to cover up the fact the candidate has little to offer the electorate in experience, vision or concrete plans.

grandfather clause

An exemption to a new law which accommodates already existing entities (metaphoric grandfathers) not having to comply. Eg: existing buildings not needing restructuring to accommodate new building / environmental codes. A law increasing the drinking age from 18 to 21 but exempting those under 21 who were already entitled to consume alcohol. In 2004 Australian PM John Howard, under political pressure, lowered govt. contributions to MPs superannuation from 15% to the standard 9%. However he exempted already serving MPs, allowing them to remain on the higher rate.


Grand Old Party. Sobriquet for the American Republican party.

grass roots

The ordinary and common people, often agrarian. Term generally refers to movements / political parties created by them rather than by professionals, elitists or established leaders.

Great Reform Act

British electoral reform act of parliament of 1832 which primarily abolished the malapportionment and corruption of what were known as rotten boroughs. It also gave the suffrage, albeit limited to property holders/renters, to residents of sparsely represented areas such as the newly created cities of the Industrial Revolution, increasing the electorate by approximately 60%.

grievance debate

Short speeches allowed by any MP on any subject but only granted at a specific time per week for a few hours.


An attitude often existing in academia or the media where there is found to be unanimity in approaches to certain issues, either due to laziness in research, or fear of the consequences of going against the prevailing wisdom.

group voting ticket

A device used in so called “above the line” proportional representation voting where party preference declarations can also be facilitated. The voter simply indicates for one of the many parties listed on the ballot paper. His/her vote is then taken as the declared full list of preferences (the GVT), publicly submitted by that party before the election, of every candidate running. Voters not trusting their parties and concerned about where their preferences are flowing can check the published lists, and if need be, vote manually “below the line” indicating their own full list of preferences.


Adjective of Governor.

habeas corpus

Latin for “you have the body”. A writ, issued by a court upon request, for a government authority to present to court a person it is detaining, and give justification as to why he/she should continue to be detained.


Derogatory term for a writer or journalist of very ordinary, unexceptional talents employed to do routine work. Derived from the term for an old saddle horse still performing basic duties.


The official parliamentary record of whatever is said in Parliament.


A S.T.V. electoral system used in Tasmania where Robson Rotation is utilised and candidates are not allowed to hand out how-to-vote cards on polling day.


Dominance or leadership of one state or social group over another.

hoi polloi

The common people, as compared to the wealthy, higher educated or elite.

the Honourable

Mostly in Commonwealth countries, a style used before the name of members of parliament who are in, or have been in, the cabinet, as well as, in some jurisdictions, members of the upper house.

Huey P. Long

Quintessential populist, corrupt, demagogue of modern times who served as governor of the US state of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, then Senator until 1935. Master of political patronage who became the model for the novel and film titled “All the Kings Men”. Eventually assassinated by a relative of one of his victims.

the hustings

Involved in political campaigning, especially making speeches. The husting was originally a place of assembly at which to speak. US equivalent is “on the stump”, derived from speaking when standing upon a tree stump.

hollow men

Conviction free, consensus driven politicians who live by the polls and whose only goal appears to be self aggrandizement by achieving and maintaining political power. Found in major parties on both sides of the political divide but generally more prevalent with conservative parties. Term derived from the T.S. Eliot poem of that name in reference to the ‘men of straw’ described.

honeymoon period

The first few months of a new government during which the incumbent/s are granted a non-belligerent grace period by their political opposition and the media.

house of representatives

The largest and most influential house of Parliament. Appoints the cabinet and from which the Prime Minister usually comes. Similar to the British House of Commons and known in Australia as the 'People's House' as compared with the Senate being the ‘State’s House’. Each of the 150 members represents approximately 120,000 people or 80,000 voters.


Cultural movement during the Renaissance emphasising secularism and classical learning from ancient Greece and Rome; the doctrine that emphasises the human capacity for self-fulfilment without religion.

hung parliament

A situation in parliamentary systems where no one party has won a majority of seats to form a government, and thus executive rule is left hanging until a ruling majority coalition is formed, or another election decides the matter.


The legislative equivalent of a criminal prosecution, where a high government official is subject, by a house of Parliament or Congress, to an investigation, indictment and subsequent trial.


The current holder of a seat in the legislature or of an office of authority.

identity politics

Political theories or advocacy which, rather than proposing better ways to fight crime, improve the economy or save the environment etc, orientate towards the victimhood, or alleged victimhood, of certain people because of their demographics, ie age, religion, gender, race etc.

informal vote

An invalid vote on the ballot paper. Made intentionally or by accident where the voter misunderstands how he/she has to indicate the choice for the desired candidates.


An interval of normal government, such as between administrations.

invisible hand

The free market theory of 18th century economist Adam Smith that there is an invisible hand to guarantee, that without government, there will always be a supply to placate demand. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest.”


A policy of isolating one’s country from military alliances or other commitments  with all other countries as a best resort to avoiding foreign entanglements. Historically a strong sentiment in the USA. President Woodrow Wilson won a second term in 1916 in promising (falsely) to keep America out of WWI, and the US was conspicuous in not joining the newly formed League of Nations. Prior to WWII aviator Charles Lindberg was prominent in the popular America First Committee which attempted to prevent the US being a participant in that war.


A nineteenth and twentieth century term to describe chauvinistic, bellicose expressions of nationalism, especially in warlike pursuits. The term is often associated with US President Teddy Roosevelt.

jobs for the boys

A type of political nepotism where prestigious government jobs are given to those in the party family- often those voted out of office or otherwise unemployed- rather than those deserving due to merit. Ironically the term once had a legitimate meaning in the previous century when it was used to express public gratitude for demobbed soldiers returning home from war. See also ‘nomenklatura’

judicial activism

A judicial philosophy advocating that courts are allowed to take an active role, not supported by existing law, to remedy alleged wrongs in society.

judicial interpretation

The various methods different superior court judges regularly use to interpret constitutional law: literal, original, doctrinal (stare decisis), structural and balancing.


A clique, faction or cabal, often military, taking power after an overthrow of the government. From the latin ‘juncta’ for join.

jus ad bellum

The alleged justification a country will use to go to war.


A type of situation where someone is overcome by bureaucracies operating in a surreal, nightmarish manner being incomprehensibly complex, irrational or meaningless. Derived from a common theme of novels of early 20th century Bohemian / Czech author Franz Kafka.


From the Greek word ‘kakistos’ for worst, and ‘kratos’ for rule or power, and used to describe government by incompetent and /or corrupt people.  As much as the word is almost two hundred years old, it is generally used as a term of abuse of a particular administration, rather than an objective evaluation of a government or consecutive governments that may be appointed by a particular electoral or constitutional system.


Theories of very influential economist of the twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes, who advocated government taxing and spending to keep control on the economy. In times of recession he advocated high government spending on public works as well as intervention into the economy wherever it was thought necessary.

kitchen cabinet

An informal name for the chief executive’s closest advisers.


(rule by thieves) Cynical term used to describe highly corrupt governments where politicians, bureaucrats and their protected friends engage in sales of government licences, perquisites and other rorts.

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