Glossary of Political Terms

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packing / cracking

Two specific practices of the electoral abuse of the gerrymander where redistricting is manipulated for political advantage.


An informal practice occurring in parliamentary systems (where voting cannot be by proxy) where a member of one party will agree not to vote on a specific bill if an opposing member would prefer not to be present. The understanding is that the favour may be reciprocated at a later date.

palm tree justice

Expedient justice applied in good faith but absent of the rule of law: paying little or no attention to existing law, precedent or fundamental principles. Reminiscent of primitive societies where justice was received by the wise old man sitting under the palm tree.

parachute in

The central office of a political party appointing the candidate for a certain electorate at the next election, rather than the usual practice of being appointed by the local branch.

parliamentary privilege

The privilege while (physically) in Parliament that allows an MP to say anything without fear of prosecution for slander. Also Parliament itself has the privilege to summon, cross-examine, judge and punish entities that have deemed to offend against it. In Italy P.P. grants an MP immunity from arrest for criminal charges.

parliamentary government

A system of government where ultimate authority is vested in the legislative body. The cabinet, including the chief executive, is from, appointed by and responsible to, the legislature (the Parliament). Alternative to what is known as a presidential system, where both the legislature and executive are independently appointed by the voters.

participation rate

The share of the potential workforce (15-65, not institutionalised), working or seeking work.

party line voting

Despite the fact that MPs in Parliament ‘represent’ the residents of their specific electorates, at voting time they will almost always vote (unless an independent) strictly according to their party’s call, i.e. as directed by their leader rather than according to the wishes of their own constituents.

party list voting

Above the line only proportional representation voting. Voters do not cast preferences but the candidates/parties themselves choose (before the election) the list of preferred other candidates to which their unused votes will go.


Aka the spoils system.That perquisite attached to winning political office, and thus the power of the executive, where benefits can be dispersed at one’s discretion. Examples would be appointing: ambassadors, heads to existing or made up quangos, heads to created councils for the advocacy of special causes, boards who dispense government “arts” and “community” grants, as well as creating government departments of genuine or dubious merit. In Canada the executive also has the privilege of appointing life members to the legislative upper house, the Senate.

Pax Romana

“The Roman peace”. The two centuries of relative peace and stability enforced by the Roman Empire upon its dominions during the period from approximately 27 BC to 180 AD.

Peterloo Massacre

An overreaction by the British military in 1819 at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to a public electoral reform meeting motivated by severe economic conditions, exacerbated by the recent introduction of the Corn Laws. The tragedy of the 15th Hussars directly or indirectly causing the deaths of 15 people and injuries of approximately 500 led to its choice of name as an ironic comparison to the four-year previous Battle of Waterloo.


Term to denote political, bureaucratic or economic restructuring first coined by Mikhail Gorbachev with regards to the former Soviet Union.


Esteemed Athenian leader of ancient Greece who, while advancing the material and cultural aspects of his city state, also did much to enhance democracy.


Holding up a debate by quibbling or fussing over trivial, irrelevant matters.

photo op

A photo op (opportunity) is a situation where a politician accepts an invitation to, or arranges an event, or pseudo-event, where the setting and circumstances are such that they will attract the media and thus give him/her exposure.

pied piper

A person who uses his charm, popularity or credibility in a certain field, to persuade less knowledgeable people to follow or adopt a certain policy issue or activity, which may well have detrimental outcomes.


The political agenda of a candidate or party.

plausible deniability

The position a member of the executive or some person in charge of an organisation attempts to maintain, by keeping a distance from the control of certain operations or practices such that, if an operation ‘goes south’ and attracts unfavourable publicity, there is no evidence linking him or her to the chain of command.


A public vote to gauge public opinion on an issue (such as conscription) which does not affect the constitution nor is otherwise legally binding.   

plebeian /  patrician

The two citizen classes of ancient Rome. The allegedly course and crude, ordinary Plebeians and the wealthy, educated and aristocratic ‘born to rule’ Patricians. Both terms used today in a derogatory manner. US President G.H.W. Bush was often described as patrician due to his being born into a wealthy political family, treating political life as a duty rather than as an opportunity for reformist zeal, and allegedly not being in touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.


Derived from the Latin for ‘full powers’. A representative, most often an ambassador or sometimes a military commander where there is martial law, who has full powers to act without needing confirmation from his government. An authority rarely granted in modern times due to advanced instantaneous communications.


Government controlled by or greatly influenced by, the wealthy.

poison the well

When made aware of a new topic/program your opponent is about to discuss, to get in early and do your best to publicly criticise or deride the issue so as to ‘poison’ the public against having an open mind to your opponent’s suggestion.


Russian for political bureau. The executive committee for communist parties. Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were three of the seven members of the first P. established by the Bolshevik Party in 1917.

political football

A tangential political topic often raised to gain mileage prior to elections, and other times where it may be expedient for one party, where the issue is bounced around a lot but seldom settled.

political weathervane

A politician or journalist who has frequent changes of policy opinion according to how the political winds are blowing.

political party status

Candidates with a common cause can register at an election as a party, and thus enjoy certain privileges such as ‘above the line’ placement and public funding if attaining a certain percentage of the vote, as long as they can present to officials the names and address of sufficient numbers of supporters. Certain P.P.S. privileges also apply to winning candidates of a party if their numbers reach a certain threshold.


One interested or engaged in politics.


Form or process of civil government; organized society; the state.


A research survey as well as another word for an election.

poll tax

A tax levied per person (poll being an archaic term for head, as in the counting of heads) rather than on income or purchases or as an import duty. To induce payment in some jurisdictions, it has also doubled as a licence to vote, drive, hunt, fish etc.

polling place/booth

Numerous centres set up in each division to take the votes of the local people.


The common people.

populist democracy

Ultimate democracy not restricted by a constitution or any other reviewing authority to the passage of legislation or executive orders. The alternative to liberal democracy.


Political campaigning orientated towards true democracy (voting for specific benefits, liberties, law and order programs, etc.)  rather than representative democracy where one votes for a team of alleged responsible candidates who will, at a measured pace and after due deliberation, institute a program under some general theme (even if specific legislation is mentioned). Populists will promise their agenda despite whatever institutional obstructions may exist, while  non-populists will take a more conservative approach respecting the judiciary, the constitution, the bureaucracy and the examples of international approaches to the same issues.

populist politician

Cynically speaking, how a losing candidate describes a winning candidate. Otherwise, a politician who offers the people what they want irrespective of how moral, feasible or practical it is for such promises to be carried out.

pork barrell spending

Politicians arranging big spending government contracts in their own electorates so as to enhance their reputation with their constituents. An analogy to earlier times when indentured workers were fed from the salted pork barrel and the quickest there grabbed the biggest piece. More prevalent in governments with SMV electoral systems.

positivist / naturalist law

Two opposing branches of legal philosophy, either of which judges use to aid decision making. Naturalist law theory is that law is the ageless law of nature, deduced by the reasoning process of the interpreter or the teachings of God, and should be followed even where it may conflict with duly constituted legislation. Positivist law theory is simply following the democratically instituted law of the land no matter how rational and just it may, or may not, appear to be. 

Posse Comitatus Act

United States law, created in 1878 and enhanced in 1956, which prevents the federal government from using the military to enforce domestic law within the US.

post hoc ergo propter hoc

The logical fallacy that an event that followed another event must therefore be caused by that earlier event.

Potemkin village

Something created, literally or figuratively, in sole order to deceive others by hiding a potentially damaging situation. Term derived from 1787 Russian minister Grigory Potemkin who allegedly built mobile villages he repeatedly showed at different places to impress foreign ambassadors with Russian settlements.


A member of a conservative reactionary movement allegedly protecting the common man against the elites in big, interventionist governments.  Named after a French one-time shop keeper Pierre Poujade who started off with a tax protest and extended into nationalist and anti-intellectual campaigns in France in the later twentieth century.

poverty line

Technically the minimal income one needs to cover the basic necessities of a healthy life: fuel, food, clothing, shelter and basic household and personal items. However some economists and other commentators tend to use the term to describe a different concept, Relative Poverty, whereby the line is set as a percentage of the country’s median income ( the OECD and the European Union use 60%), immaterial of how much it would fluctuate with the nation’s GDP.


A non-ideological approach to political issues where “the merits of the particular case” may take a higher than normal precedence.


State owned and controlled newspaper of the Soviet Union and an official organ of the Communist Party between 1921 and 1991. Russian for ‘truth’.  Derogatory term for media organs such as TV or newspapers which are owned by, or to some degree supported by, government.

preferential voting

Also known as Choice Voting, the Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting. Voters do not simply tick off one candidate/party but vote for a number in order of their preference with the intention that at the least, one choice will be elected. In Australia the term is sometimes curiously used as a synonym for single member voting.

pre-poll votes

Voting prior to an election by post or attending a special electoral office. Permitted when the voter would be absent on election day.

presidential system

As opposed to parliamentary government, a constitutional framework where the executive is directly appointed by and responsible to, the people. eg, France, Sth Korea, Philippines & USA.

primary election

Mostly occurring in America, an election where the successful candidate wins no actual office but merely increases his/her eligibility to contest the upcoming official election representing a particular party.

primary vote

The number of first choice votes that a candidate receives in Preferential voting systems.            See also    Two Party Preferred


Term to denote not only the son of an hereditary monarch but also that of a non-hereditary ruler in his or her own right. Developed from the Latin “princeps” for chief, or most distinguished ruler. Machiavelli’s seminal treatise on political philosophy and how to acquire and maintain power was titled “The Prince”.

private member’s bill

Proposed legislation introduced not by the government or opposition but by just an individual MP.

progressive / flat /regressive tax

Progressive income tax, as espoused in ‘plank’ 2 of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, is a graduated tax where the rate increases as the income of the tax payer gets higher. Flat tax is where all tax payers pay the same rate of their income to the state, (eg. 15%). Regressive taxation is where the rate decreases as the income of the payer increases. In all three situations high earners pay more actual tax than low earners, but when progressive tax is utilised what manifests is more effort and resources spent on creating (and combating) tax avoidance schemes.


Term used in Marxist ideology to describe the working class who don’t own property and whose only value is their labour. Derivative ‘proles’ being a derogatory term for poor people.


To disseminate, proclaim and make known to the public.

property right

The right to use, control, benefit and exclude others from any tangible or intangible object.

proportional representation

A voting system where the whole state is just one electorate and parties win seats in proportion to the total votes they receive in an election. Hybrid systems often exist where the state is divided up into a number of multi-member electorates whereby seats won are approximately proportional to the votes cast.


To temporarily bring parliament to an end (such as for a summer break) as compared with a dissolution which occurs before an election.

pro tem

Abbreviation of the Latin pro tempore, meaning “for the time being”. The phrase to describe a person who temporarily takes the role of an absent superior. Eg. “She is mayor pro tem until the elected mayor returns.”

provisional vote

Votes cast at an election in circumstances where a voter's name cannot be found on the roll or has already been marked off the roll. They are not counted until a careful check of enrolment records has been made.


Greek for voting with pebbles. The statistical and / or predictive study of elections.

public choice theory

The study of politics from an economic perspective. Rather than assuming politicians, civil servants and voters are all motivated by what should be done, the analysis of how all three very often take self-interest into account when making decisions.


A commentator with knowledge of contemporary politics. Hindi for “learned one”.

push polling

Campaigning which is technically not polling but is in the guise of, so as to attempt to influence the respondent, generally in a negative direction, about a candidate or proposition. The motive is not necessarily to lie to the voter but rather to enforce or remind him/ her about negative characteristics of the subject. E.g. “…next question: is the sudden revelation of Senator Bernstein’s history of association with various extremist political movements going to influence your vote?”


Swiss German for thrust or blow. A sudden, secretly formed attempt to overthrow the government by any means at hand. Aka coup d’ėtat.

quadratic voting

A theory created by an economics academic Glen Weyl, and yet to be put into practice, whereby for referenda or plebiscites, those wishing to vote must not only pay the state for the privilege but have the option to pay a higher amount for multiple votes, thus accommodating a greater input from those with a greater stake in the issue at hand. To prevent simple vote buying, the cost of each extra vote is not linear, but quadratic. For example, if the cost of one vote was set at a dollar, then two votes would cost the square of two, four dollars; three votes, nine dollars; four votes 16 dollars, etc.  Not so much a counter to the tyranny of the majority but a counter to the tyranny of the indifferent majority.


Quasi Autonomous Non-Government Organisation. A body financed by government but not under its direct control.

quantitative easing

Euphemism to describe a government in deficit paying some of its debts with recently printed currency which is not backed by gold or any other asset; a government both literally and metaphorically printing money. As long as restraint is used to limit the amount released, inflation or hyperinflation as happened in the Weimar Republic, Zimbabwe or Venezuela will not eventuate.

Question Time

One of the tenets of Responsible Government whereby, for a set period of time each sitting day in parliament, government ministers must be answerable to any MP’s questions, even though in practice there is nothing to prevent answers from being evasive.  


The minimum number of members required in a house of legislature before business can be done. In Australia it is 25% of Senators and 20% of MHRs, while in the USA in both houses it is simply a majority, although in the Senate it can be less if there is no objection by any member. In the UK it is 6.2% for the House of Commons, although no minimum for business not involving a division (vote).


In proportional representation systems, the percentage or actual number of votes a candidate needs to win one of the seats available. For Australian half-Senate elections it is approximately 14.3%

quota preferential

Preferential voting used in conjunction with proportional representation.

racial profiling

The practice where authorities take race into account in determining whether a person should be questioned or investigated for past or possibly future criminal activities. Legal in Israel and Mexico and allegedly tolerated in Spain, but otherwise illegal and not overtly practiced in most democracies.


The renewal or establishment of friendly relations between states which were previously hostile towards each other.

ratio decidendi

Latin for ‘reason for the decision’. In Common Law, law is evolved, confirmed or specifically applied by the findings of judges in court cases. The essence of any finding/decision will be what is known as the r.d., which becomes the precedent for future cases (of same or lower legal hierarchy) where the circumstances are similar.


The politics of realism. Rather than from principle, a self interested approach to politics either from the standpoint of one’s party or, in international affairs, from one’s country.

rearranging the deck chairs...

“rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” A metaphor to describe the actions of someone who allegedly is ignoring the serious policy issue to be confronted, while instead addressing petty ones.


Electoral procedure practised in Canada and many American states whereby an elected official, including the chief executive, can be recalled from office by the voters if there are sufficient signatures on a petition.


The economic status of a country achieved after two consecutive quarters of a drop in real GNP.

red tape /        green tape

Mandatory government paperwork and procedures for citizens wishing to obtain required licences or establish, and sometimes maintain, businesses or most other organisations. Described as GT when in relation to environmental, fauna, and flora protection. Considered by some to be, in modern times, highly excessive to what is fundamentally needed, and an expensive, time consuming and unnecessary impediment to both profit and non-profit enterprises.


Technically a form of editing where multiple documents are combined into one coherent text, but in modern times mostly used to describe a form of censorship where sensitive passages in a document are ‘whited out’ for legal or political reasons.

redistribution / redistricting

In SMV systems the periodical redrawing of electoral boundaries to ensure each electorate/ district conforms to the prerequisites of the electoral laws, such as having equal numbers of voters for that State or Territory.

reductio ad Hitlerum

Association fallacy, first coined by political philosopher Leo Strauss, whereby a view is allegedly refuted because it happens to have been shared by Hitler.


A public vote with possibly legally binding consequences.

removing the whip

A British term to describe an MP being effectively expelled from their party, temporarily or permanently, while still remaining an MP; being no longer spoken to and denied preselection at the next election. The Whip is the regular private communication sent out to all of a party’s MPs.

renewable energy

Energy collected from sources such as sunlight, wind, waves and tides, etc. which is automatically renewed by nature; this compared to oil or coal where, once it is consumed, it is gone.

rent seeker

Term created by American economist Anne Krueger. Someone who attempts to make an income by manipulating the social, political or economic environment to his advantage, in the form of political lobbying, rather than actually creating goods or services himself. The “rent” coming to him is usually from government enforced monopoly privileges, or government grants paid for “services” which the free market might not otherwise see as of any value.


The sending back of someone to his country of origin such as an illegal immigrant or prisoner of war.


Terminology first used in the 1860s to describe men who, in exchange for five dollars and free liquor, the Tammany Hall political machine arranged to vote in the name of a recently deceased constituent. They would then return to their base, change their appearance, and repeat the act with another deceased constituent’s name.

representative democracy

In modern times what is commonly know as a democracy, even though the people do not directly vote on actual issues and laws but surrender that right to their duly elected representatives.


Defined by some sources as simply a democracy, but otherwise loosely described as a form of government where, in word or deed, rule is constrained by institutional frameworks and is not by the selected few. Not an oligarchy but not necessarily a democracy. The Roman Republic was the original precedent for republicanism. Apartheid South Africa, by this definition, was a republic.

responsible government

When government evolved from an independent authoritative monarch in conjunction with a people’s parliament to a subservient monarch together with a prime minister and parliament, it was said that government (the executive in the form of the prime minister and cabinet) became responsible to parliament. Now taken to be synonymous with parliamentary government.


Term used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the general feeling some people possess of resentment, not always towards any particular identity allegedly responsible for their suffering, but towards the world in general, especially instances of other’s success or greatness which accentuate their own feelings of mediocrity.

retrospective legislation

Aka ex post facto laws. Laws defining behaviour upon which one can be held criminally liable or responsible in civil court or otherwise liable for payment (such as taxation), even when that behaviour may have happened before the enactment of said laws. While constitutionally denied in the U.S. as it violates the traditional concept of the rule of law, it is prevalent in autocracies, and still known to occasionally happen in some democracies. 

right wing / left wing

‘on the right’ would be loosely described as a political philosophy which favours conservative, pro-market,  attitudes with a preference for (some) individual rights over interventionist government, a strict approach to law and order, and  a strong defence force and a sense of nationalism.
‘on the left’ would be, loosely, opposite to the above together with a so called ‘womb to tomb’ approach to social welfare and an internationalist world view.
Terms originated in the French Estates General in 1789 when the nobility who favoured complacency sat on the King’s right and those who wanted change and amelioration of the peasant’s conditions sat on the left.


American acronyms to describe people embracing  faux political positions. Republican In Name Only / Liberal In Name Only.

Robson Rotation

An electoral method practised in places such as Tasmania where multiple printings of ballot papers are made so as to rotate the first spot equally amongst all the candidates. An attempt to eliminate the Donkey Vote.

roman clef

A literary genre where real persons, places or events are depicted in fictional guise. Examples would be Animal Farm, All the King’s Men, Primary Colours, and Citizen Kane.

roman these

A literary genre where a work of fiction advances a political or social theory. Examples would be In the Wet, Atlas Shrugged, Crime and Punishment, and Candide.

Rotherham scandal

A child protection scandal in the northern English town of Rotherham for approximately 18 years from 1990, where an estimated 1,400 children, mostly girls 11 to 15, were sexually abused (one 12 yr old becoming pregnant) by organised gangs, facilitated by the reluctance of police and council officials to investigate due to restrictions of politically correct protocols.

rotten boroughs

Aka  ‘pocket boroughs’. An accident of circumstances in the UK up until 1832 whereby population movements over time left some electorates with as few as seven voters. A wealthy patron would then often bribe the constituents to elect whomever he would so choose.

Royal Commission

A one-off, open inquiry into a specific issue which has raised public concern, instigated by the government (technically, royally appointed by the governor) but operated independently from it. The commissioner is often a retired judge and his given terms of reference strictly limit the bounds of the investigation.  Despite that, the commissioner has considerably powers, from the summoning of witnesses, the granting of indemnity, allowing evidence not normally allowed in a court of law such as hearsay or government classified documents, to forcing testimony even from officials of the government itself.


The list of voters eligible to vote at an election.

rule of law

 The traditional legal concept, dating back as far as Aristotle, that we live under a set of predetermined rules rather than the arbitrary “wise guidance” of any contemporary judge, King or chief executive. Does not necessarily imply democratic or just rule, but simply stable government where the law is proclaimed, followed, and applied equally to all. Term derived by 19th century British jurist A.C. Dicey.

  • All people are subject equally to the privileges and penalties of the law.
  • The people are ruled by laws and not by individuals. (both the judiciary and the executive are to act only according to law rather than to their own beliefs of what is justice)
  • The law shall be prospective, visible, clear, and relatively stable.
  • Due process must be afforded to all those before the law (following the letter and procedures of the law).

rule of three

A manner of persuasive speech where listing things in threes makes communication more receptive for the audience. Eg.: “liberty, equality, fraternity”; “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; “I came, I saw, I conquered”, Caesar; “friends, Romans, countrymen”, Shakespeare (Mark Antony); “truth, justice and the American way”, Superman.

safe seat

Where the electorate is filled with supporters of predominately one party and thus is considered safe by that party at election time.   Aka blue ribbon seat.


Censored literature or the act of distributing such clandestinely. Term derived from Russian words meaning self-publish, and referred to a form of dissident activity in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries.

Girolamo Savonarola

Italian firebrand cleric of the 15th Century who predicted divine punishment upon those, including the “immoral” pope, corrupting both church and state and indulging in worldly enjoyments. After the death of Lorenzo de Medici in 1494, he led a democratic faction in an attempt to take control of Florence to establish an ascetic Christian state.


The checking and counting of ballot papers to ascertain the result of an election. Political parties are allowed representatives on such occasions.

select / standing committee

A committee of legislators selected by a resolution of the house for a defined limited period to address a specific investigation / a committee appointed for the life of the parliament to investigate ongoing concerns such as education, health, economics, employment, etc.

semantic infiltration

Concept first highlighted by Daniel Patrick Moynihan where political players succeed in  persuading opponents to accept their terms in the discussion of specific subjects, and by extension the policies and beliefs that accompany them. For example: freedom fighters / terrorists; benefits / entitlements; illegal immigrants / asylum seekers.

separation of powers

Term derived by Enlightenment philosopher Charles Montesquieu, a traditional concept of liberalism where, for the sake of limiting abuse of power, the three branches of government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary remain independent. In modern times the best examples are some American states where all branches have tangible power and, because of separate elections, no branch is appointed by nor can be removed by, another branch. Less than perfect examples would be parliamentary systems: the executive directly appointed, and removed, by the legislature, and the judiciary directly appointed by the executive.

shadow cabinet

The ‘would be’ cabinet of the opposition party in Parliament.

a shoo-in

A candidate very likely to win the election being contested. Term derived from a rigged horse race where all other riders would hold back and then “shoo” forward the desired winner like a person shoos an animal away.

single member voting (SMV)

As opposed to proportional representation, the system where only one candidate represents all the citizens of an electorate/ geographical area. Also known as  Majoritarian voting when preferences are allowed on the ballot paper.

single transferable vote (STV)

A proportional representation voting system where there is no “above the line” option to vote for a party, but only for individual candidates in preferred order. Thus a party’s winning candidates may not be in the same order as on the party’s “ticket”, and their voters’ preferences may not necessarily go where the party would have liked. However due to the relative complexity of voting and vote counting, invalid ballot papers would be higher and election results would take longer to ascertain.

Sister Souljah moment

The repudiation of an extremist position or person where it is feared there might otherwise be a damaging perceived association.   During the 1992 presidential campaign, black hip hop MC Sister Souljah made some provocative racial comments. At the risk of alienating some of his core black voters, Democratic candidate Bill Clinton publicly disavowed the comments so as to maintain support with centrist voters.  Similarly in the 2000 presidential campaign, Republican candidate George W. Bush has his S.S.M. when he disavowed a book written by the jurist of the religious right, Robert Bork.


Abbreviation for social justice warrior. A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments supporting the politically correct, ‘social justice’ issues of the day, apparently more for the purpose of personal reputation and acceptance rather than addressing societal ills.


Similar to a fifth columnist, a person who surreptitiously enters and becomes part of a community and bides his time (sleeps), however long it may be, until called upon to commit malicious actions.

slush fund

An account held by some politicians, more often in a safe than a bank, for illicit purposes such as bribery or the purchase of questionable services, and intended to be invisible from auditing. Fund generally maintained by ‘under the table’ kickbacks or cash political donations where the donor does not need a receipt.


Derogatory term for someone, generally a millennial, who allegedly thinks of themselves as unique and/or special and is easily offended and unable to deal with opposing opinions, ie., having the constitution of a snowflake. It has been suggested that this is a reflection of current lowering birth rates in first world countries where fewer children each get more attention from parents and receive less rough and tumble from siblings leading to a more sheltered upbringing.

The Social Contract

An 18th century philosophical concept used to attempt to explain the understanding by which  people originally left their solitary, wilderness existence  and came together under the auspices of government. Theorist Thomas Hobbes first claimed that the contract entailed each individual surrendering all his rights, save that of life, in exchange for the protection of the Crown. A half century later philosopher John Locke modified that to state that not only life, but certain other fundamental rights, albeit not necessarily democratic,  were retained by the people and that they were legitimate in overthrowing any state that violated those rights.


A method of governance in which the means of planning and producing goods and services are controlled by a central government which also seeks to collect the wealth of the nation and distribute it evenly amongst its citizens.

social engineering

The practice certain people believe in whereby it is held that it is not enough that governments create for the citizenry an environment where there is an adequate standard of living together with good health care, minimum crime and basic freedoms. Governments, it is claimed, must also engineer that the beliefs, attitudes and practices of the citizenry conform to what is decreed, at the time, to be socially, physiologically and intellectually acceptable.

social justice

Mode of expression derived in the 1840s by a Jesuit priest Luigi Taparelli to describe an earlier held concept of a fair and just relationship between the individual and society with regards to the distribution of wealth, social privileges and egalitarianism.    Term embraced by, amongst others, US Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis and philosopher John Rawls in his A Theory of Justice, but dismissed by philosopher Friedrich Hayek as “an empty phrase with no determinable content”.


Aka demarchy. An electoral system whereby candidates do not win office by popular choice but by lottery. Popular in ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy but not practiced  today despite occasional advocacy.

sound bite

A short clip of speech by politicians, and sometimes journalists, to exemplify a speech or policy outline on a certain issue. Most notable on bumper stickers or radio ads.

sovereign risk

The risk a government may default on its debts.


The adjudicator in lower house debates and divisions (votes). An elected MP who does not vote unless there would otherwise be a tie. Always a government MP unless the government has only a bare majority in which case independents are usually chosen. Upper house equivalent is President.

speaking truth to power

A phrase derived by the Quakers in the 1950s to encourage people to take a stand and speak out against perceived injustices, or bigoted irrational actions, perpetrated by governments. The significance is not to do so anonymously, but to publicly protest, despite possible resulting social exclusion, or even more serious repercussions.


Australian term to describe the calling of a vote of the ruling party’s MPs with the intention of replacing the Premier / Prime Minister.


To tell a news story in a certain way so as to turn the emphasis in a politically favourable direction.

state of nature

The natural condition of humankind living in a primitive environment before governments developed.  Existence was a perpetual struggle for sustenance, shelter and protection from the potential harm of others, and life was, to quote English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

straw man argument

Addressing and refuting an argument your opponents didn’t actually make, even though at first glance it might appear they could make it. A human figure made of straw such as a military target dummy or scarecrow is always easily destroyed or knocked down.


The principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.

suffrage / franchise

The right to vote in an election / the right to vote in an election or a right in a non-political context such as to engage in a specific business venture.


Name primarily given in 1906 by the British Daily Mail to describe activist women, members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, engaged in civil disobedience and other direct action to obtain women’s suffrage.


Person advocating the extension of the vote to those not enfranchised.

sumptuary laws

Laws that attempt to regulate permitted conspicuous consumption, such as food, clothing or dwellings. Used in the middle ages and later, to regulate the balance of trade as well as to help to identify social rank by discriminating against the growing prosperous merchant class.

sunset clause

A provision or clause inserted in legislation to declare its expiry date. Most legislation does not contain such clauses as the intention is that laws are permanent, at least until subsequent conflicting acts.

supply side economics

The economic theory espousing the concept that when the supply side of the economy (the producers) is taxed less and subject to less regulation it creates more profit and the tax on that increased profit, even at a lower rate, is equivalent to or even surpasses the original tax. Apotheosis of SSE is the flat-rate income tax.


British concept to describe one-on-one meetings MPs may have with their constituents. Usually held somewhere back in the constituency and at weekends or times when parliament is not in session.


How electoral results change between elections. Eg: “There has been a 15% swing towards Labour in this seat since the 2001 election”

swinging voter

Voters who are not loyal to any particular party but swing from one party to another according to the circumstances of the time.


Early twentieth century revolutionary political doctrine whereby the means of production is taken over in a general strike by worker’s unions who then will effectively take over government.

tactical voting

A method in non-preferential, first past the post electoral systems, where the voter knows his preferred party has no chance of winning yet maintains a strong animus for the higher polling, expected winner. In such a situation he/she would vote for the next highest polling candidate, with the hope, if others with the same sentiment acted similarly, that any other candidate would still be a better result.

talking points

A set of clear, easily remembered phrases that outline a new policy initiative. When a party introduces a new policy, or responds to one its opposition has introduced, talking points are often sent out to MPs so as to prepare them in case they have to make a public comment on the issue.

Ta′mmany Hall

19th century New York headquarters of the American Democratic Party which became notorious for political corruption.

term limits

Laws in some countries where politicians are limited to serve a set number of terms.

Tea Party

A grass roots American political movement (not a political party) advocating adherence to the Constitution as well as reining in alleged excessive taxing and spending by the government. Term derived by advocates sending tea bags (symbolising the Boston Tea Party) to congresspersons who had a reputation for supporting large spending bills.


Government controlled by the church/priesthood or a proclaimed living god. Examples could be ancient Egypt and modern day Iran.

think tank

A non government, non-profit, research institute of scholars / physical scientists generally dedicated to the advocacy of some broad political, economic or social belief.

Tolpuddle Martyrs

Early 19th century British agricultural labourers who were convicted of the then crime of swearing oaths to each other (which happened to refer to a friendly society / union) and sentenced to transportation to Australia. Most eventually released due to public protest.


A government that wishes to subordinate the individual to the state by controlling not only all political and economic matters, but also by seeking to control the attitudes, values, and beliefs of its population.

transfer value

In preferential, proportional representation elections a winning candidate's surplus votes are transferred to the next available party candidate. This is achieved by transferring all of the ballot papers (considering it would be unfair for the preferences to be taken only from the random surplus), but at a fraction of their value. [e.g. Total votes won were the quota of 1000 to win the seat plus 600 surplus, i.e. 1,600. All the 1,600 votes would then move on the next preferred candidate on each ballot paper but at only the t.v. of 0.375 of a vote each.]

trial balloon

A novel idea put forward, but not embraced, by a politician in order to gauge its popularity.

tragedy of the commons

The concept espousing the impracticality of communally owned resources such as grazing land or ponds for fishing, etc. Individuals acting independently will maximise their benefits above others and thus in time depleting the common resource. Alternatively, where resources are  privately owned there is an incentive to moderate its exploitation so as to preserve for the owner further use.

transgender / cisgender

A person who sees him or herself as a different gender to how they were born / a person who doesn’t.

trickle-down economics

Derogatory term to describe a type of supply side economics where the high rate of taxes on corporations and high income individuals are reduced closer to that of all taxpayers. It is postulated that all workers would then benefit as those directly benefiting would ‘trickle down’ most of their tax breaks in investments and hiring to those of the lower incomes.

trojan horse

An organisation with an innocuous or ‘motherhood statement’ type title used to gain public acceptance so as to introduce programs, funding or legislation of a more partisan nature than one is led to believe.


The percentage of enrolled citizens who actually vote.

turkey farm

A government agency or department of less than priority status staffed primarily with political appointments and other patronage hires.


The final tally for the two more popular candidates/parties of all votes (whether 1st 2nd or 3rd choice etc) in single member Preferential Voting systems.

tyranny of the majority

A concept first coined in the nineteenth century by French writer Alexis de Tocqueville and also embraced by John Stuart Mill, who claimed that even democracies had limitations in that minority rights could be forfeited in the pursuit of popular causes. Possible solutions to such tyranny could be a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights, proportional representation, or, more effectively, a democracy divided up into a federation where peoples of different beliefs and values could gravitate to separate geographical areas that maintained their own distinct laws and practices.

ultra vires

Latin for ‘beyond power”. Term to describe the actions of a government official which extend beyond his/her legislated or constitutional authority.

upper house

Often known as the Senate, and in federations as the 'States' House'. Traditionally the smaller but more elitist  “house of review” populated by members of the titled, landed, financial or educational aristocracy. With some exceptions (Canada & the UK) candidates ability to join the upper house is now the same as for the lower house and  members’ prestige is only higher because, as there are fewer in total, each member has more of a voting influence than in the lower house. Often elected by proportional representation. In both Australia and the United States each state sends the same number of senators (twelve and two respectively) to the federal house irrespective of that state’s population.

useful idiot

Description for people of influence who support a cause they fail to understand the full ramifications of, and end up being exploited by the leaders of that cause. Allegedly attributed to Lenin in describing western personalities such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Paul Robeson and journalist Walter Duranty who visited the USSR during times of famine, were allowed to visit only select areas, and then returned home giving glowing reports of the new “workers’ paradise”.


Consequentialist philosophy originally espoused by 18th century writer Jeremy Bentham whereby the best policy is that which gives the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

veil of ignorance

Concept developed by philosopher John Rawls, whereby, if people voted or otherwise came to their political / social beliefs before they existed (what he calls the original position), and thus ignorant of their future status in life, they would embrace a more “just” position, whereby everyone benefits equally, rather than allegedly being influenced by their race, wealth, intelligence, ancestry etc., so as to only benefit those of their own demographic.

virtue signalling

Concept coined by British author James Bartholomew to mean saying something to indicate that you are a good, moral person without actually doing anything at all.

vote early, vote often

Much vaunted cynical maxim of the Democratic party’s Tammany Hall of the 19th century with regard to the directions to their repeaters engaging in electoral fraud.

vote of no confidence

In parliamentary systems, where the executive can only exist at the behest of the majority of the legislature, a vote of no confidence (generally by the lower house) would be a death knell for the current administration, and would, unless another coalition of parties could form a majority, precipitate an election.

vox pop

Short for vox populi, Latin for voice of the people. The recorded opinions of ordinary people speaking informally in public places.

Wagner’s Law

Theory espoused by 19th century German economist Adolph Wagner, in relation to the proportion of state spending to GNP. Rather than the ratio decreasing due to the effects of economies of scale, he found that the ratio actually increased as the wealth of the country increased.

ward heeler

American derogatory term, originating during the turn of the 20th century, for a menial political party worker who performs all the necessary less than glorious tasks in a ward (district), either legal or otherwise, similarly to how a heeler dog obediently follows at his master’s heels. Remuneration would be either in wages or benefitting from the patronage of the political boss.


Derogatory term for a Greens politician or supporter who allegedly is more concerned with pushing socialist policies than his or her concern for the environment: green on the outside but red in the centre.


German for world perception. A particular philosophy or view of life of an individual or group, encompassing all recognized aspects (by the entity) such as ethics, politics, history, aesthetics, etc.


British houses of parliament and name for a system where, amongst other attributes, the executive is divided between an ‘above-politics’ head of state and a chief executive appointed by the legislature, a career rather than politically appointed senior public service, and bicameral parliament.

wets and dries

Terms used in British Conservative Party politics since the Thatcher era to describe the moderates and the hardliners. “Wet” originated from British public school vernacular to describe those perceived as weak as being ‘soppy’.  Canadian equivalent is known as a “Red Tory”.

Whigs and Tories

Terms to describe supporters of the two major British political parties since the 17th Century with ever changing political positions for each. Possibly derived from slang for horse thieves and papist outlaws. By the latter 19th century the two major parties self-described as the Liberals and Conservatives, and only the term, Tories, still being used in the UK to identify the latter, while the Whig appellation crossed the Atlantic to identify a short lived American, high tariff party.


An Australian term to describe the undermining, destabilising or sabotage of an entity from within. The situation where someone within an organisation or political party, will leak to the media less than flattering information about a senior figure. Term derived from the action of termites (white ants) who destroy wooden structures from within while showing no evidence of such until it is too late.

white paper

In commonwealth countries, an extensive report which sets out the government’s policy on a specific subject.


Either a non-proportional representation or a non-preferential electoral system as is common in both the UK and the USA.


A member of the legislature and party disciplinary officer who ensures that his/her party members do the right thing such as being in attendance for certain crucial votes. Protagonists in both British and American TV dramas, House of Cards, began as their party whip. Term taken from fox hunting where the “whipper-in” attempts to keep the pack of hounds together.


Modern slang term to describe being aware of the alleged injustice of your social or political environment. After having slept while so much has been happening, one has finally woken to see things clearly for the first time.


Someone engrossed in the technicalities of some aspect of public policy.


In electoral terms a writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the polling day and the return of the writ. The issue of a writ triggers the electoral process.

Years of LBJ

“The Years of Lyndon Johnson”. Biography of the American president by distinguished author Robert Caro, and reputed to be the best political biography of modern times in illustrating how a political player in a democracy successfully: establishes oneself, attains power, and uses it to accomplish one’s goals.  Four of a planned five volumes, totalling 3,000 pages, have been published to date.


Historically, British volunteer, cavalry, civil defence regiments to quell riots and disturbances, drawn from the yeoman social class: originally freeman who owned their own farms, but then extending to the middle-class small business owners, craftspeople and artisans, etc.

Young Turks

Originally a political reform movement in Turkey of the early twentieth century opposing the Ottoman empire’s absolute monarchy. Contemporary use of the term now relates to rebellious junior people in an organisation, mostly political, who energetically advocate for change / reform.


German for ‘spirit of the time’. The prevalent beliefs and attitudes of a place / country at any particular period.

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