Education Vouchers

Election Day

Electoral College


Eminent Domain



Executive Branch

Executive Order

Executive Privilege

Exploratory Committee
























The voluntary self denial of indulging a desire or appetite. Most frequently the term refers to refraining from sexual intercourse.



Air Force One Either of the two aircraft normally used and maintained by the US Air Force solely for the president. It is also the air traffic control call sign of any US Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States.

Ambassador A high-ranking diplomatic official sent by one country as its long-term representative to another country. The US President has the power to appoint ambassadors as well as federal officers and federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) A National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska protecting wildlife and wilderness in 19,049,236 acres of the Alaska North Slope region. Because it is believed to contain a large supply of crude oil, the issue of drilling for oil in the area has been a debated topic since World War II.

Battleground State (Also, swing state) A state in which no candidate has overwhelming support, meaning that any of the major candidates have a reasonable chance of winning the state's electoral college votes.

Camp David A presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of northern Maryland north-northwest of Washington, D.C. It was established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 as Shangri-La. Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed it Camp David in honor of his grandson.

Capital Punishment The penalty of death for the commission of a crime.

Caucus A meeting of political party leaders to select candidates, elect convention delegates, etc.; a meeting of party members within a legislative body to select leaders and determine strategy.

Closed Primary A type of direct primary limited to registered party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote. The closed primary serves to encourage party unity and prevent members of other parties from infiltrating and voting to nominate weak candidates.

Commander in Chief The supreme commander of all the armed forces of a nation.

Conservative A person whose political philosophy is generally based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change. Conservatives tend to support lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs, such as retirement, income, or health-care coverage.

Constitutional Amendment A permanent change to the US Constitution. Before an amendment can take effect, it must first be passed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, and ratified by three-quarters of the states. As of Dec. 2007, there are twenty seven articles of amendment to the United States Constitution. The first ten of these were ratified simultaneously in 1791 and are known as the "Bill of Rights."

Death Penalty The penalty of death for the commission of a crime.

Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) A federal United States law which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The law's two effects provide that states are not required to recognize same sex marriages, and the federal government may not treat same sex relationships as marriages, even if they are state recognized.

Delegate A person authorized to act as representative for another; a representative to a conference or convention.

Democracy Government by the people, especially a rule of the majority. A type of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

Democratic Party One of the two major political parties in the United States, owing its origin to a split in the Democratic-Republican Party under Andrew Jackson in 1828. The Democratic Party generally draws support from working class people, women and minorities; and has traditionally supported expanding the level of government participation in the society and economy. The symbol of this party is the donkey.

Direct Primary Election A preliminary election in which a party's candidates for public office are nominated by direct vote of the people.

Education Vouchers Also known as school vouchers, they are government educational funds that are given directly to public school students (vs. to the school, school district, or larger administrative body) so that students using these vouchers may attend the schools of their choice, public or private, instead of the public school for which they are zoned.

Election Day For the US Presidential election, it is the day set by law for the selection of the President by popular ballot. It is the Tuesday following the first Monday of November of the election year. For 2008, Election Day falls on November 4.

Electoral College Originally devised in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as a compromise between those who proposed a direct popular election of the President and those who preferred to make the President subject to election by the legislature. The members of the Electoral College are elected by the popular vote to perform the formal duty of electing the President and the Vice President of the United States.

As of Oct. 2007, the Electoral College consists of 538 electors, with a majority of 270 electoral votes required to elect the presidential and vice presidential candidates. The electors of each state, equal in number to that state's congressional members, are expected to cast their votes for the candidates selected by the popular vote in their state.

Embargo A prohibition by a government on certain or all trade with a foreign nation.

Eminent Domain The power of the federal or state government to take private property for a public purpose, even if the property owner objects. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution allows the government to take private property if the taking is for a public use and the owner is "justly compensated," usually, paid fair market value, for his or her loss. A public use is virtually anything that is sanctioned by a federal or state legislative body, but such uses may include roads, parks, reservoirs, schools, hospitals or other public buildings.

Endorsement A formal and explicit approval.

Ethanol An alternative fuel additive produced from agriculture products such as corn, grain, and sugar. Worldwide it is the most widely used biofuel as of Nov. 2008.

Executive Branch The branch of the United States government that is responsible for carrying out the laws.

Executive Order A President's declaration which has the force of law, usually based on existing statutory powers, and requiring no action by the Congress or state legislature.

Executive Privilege The principle that members of the executive branch of government cannot legally be forced to disclose their confidential communications when such disclosure would adversely affect the operations or procedures of the executive branch. This privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation.

Exploratory Committee Exploratory, draft or "testing the waters" committees are formed solely for the purpose of determining the feasibility of an individuals candidacy for office. The activities of exploratory committees may include polling, travel, and telephone calls to determine whether the individual should become a candidate.

Faithless Elector A faithless, or unfaithful, elector is a member of the Electoral College who casts an electoral vote for a candidate other than whom they have pledged to elect. On 158 occasions, electors have cast their votes for president or vice president in a different manner than that prescribed by the legislature of the state they represent.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) - the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections.

Forum A public meeting place for open discussion; a program (as on radio or television) involving discussion of a problem usually by several authorities.

Front-Runner One that is in a leading position in a race or other competition.

Genocide The deliberate and systematic destruction of an entire people who belong to one racial, political, cultural or religious group.

Global Climate Change Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period lasting for decades or longer. Climate change may result from: natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun; natural processes within the climate system (e.g., changes in ocean circulation); or human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g., through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g., deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification).

GOP Grand Old Party (Republican).

Guantanamo Bay A United States Naval Base located at the south-eastern end of Cuba. The US government obtained a permanent lease for the base on February 23, 1903 from the newly independent Cuban state. Beginning in 2002 the base has been used to house suspected al-Qaeda prisoners captured in Afghanistan, and has also been used in the past to house Cuban and Haitian refugees who have been intercepted on the high seas. Because sovereignty of Guantanamo Bay ultimately resides with Cuba, persons detained at Guantanamo are legally outside of the United States and do not have the Constitutional rights that they would have if they were held in the United States.

Hamas In January 2006, this militant Islamic fundamentalist political movement won the Palestinian Authority's (PA) general legislative elections, defeating Fatah, the party of the PA's president, Mahmoud Abbas, and setting the stage for a power struggle. Since attaining power, Hamas has continued its refusal to recognize the state of Israel, leading to crippling economic sanctions. Historically, Hamas has sponsored an extensive social service network. More notoriously, the group has also operated a terrorist wing carrying out suicide bombings and attacks using mortars and short-range rockets.

Hard Money In an attempt to reduce the influence of money in the political process, reforms were instituted in the 1970s that required public disclosure of contributions and limited the amounts of contributions to candidates for federal office. Individuals were allowed to contribute directly to a candidate no more than $1,000 in so-called hard money( i.e., money regulated by federal election law) per candidate per election. The law, however, allowed labour unions, corporations, political advocacy groups, and political parties to raise and spend unregulated "soft money," so long as funds were not spent specifically to support a candidate for federal office (in practice, this distinction was often blurry).

Independent Affiliated with or loyal to no one political party or organization.

Intelligent Design The assertion or belief that physical and biological systems observed in the universe result from purposeful design by an intelligent being rather than from chance or undirected natural processes.

Kelo v. New London,
545 US 469 (2005)
A case decided by the US Supreme Court involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development. The case arose from the condemnation by New London, Connecticut, of privately owned property in order to use the property as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan. The Court held in a 5-4 decision that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified such redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Fifth Amendment.

Kyoto Protocol A protocol (a memorandum often signed by diplomatic negotiators as a basis for a convention or treaty) of the international Framework Convention on Climate Change that sets mandatory targets on greenhouse-gas emissions. While the targets vary from nation to nation, they range from -8% to +10% of the countries' individual 1990 emissions levels by the period of 2008 to 2012. It was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, and went into effect Feb. 16, 2005. As of Dec. 2007, the Kyoto protocol has been signed and ratified by 175 countries; the US is the last major industrialized country to not have signed the protocol.

Line Item Veto A special form of veto in which the chief executive has the right to strike specific provisions of a bill enacted by a legislative body without preventing passage of the bill itself. The bill would then become law without the provisions that were specifically vetoed.

Liberal A person whose political philosophy is based on principles of social and political liberalism, such as a belief in progress, in the essential goodness of the human race, in the autonomy of the individual, and in standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.

Marine One The call sign used when the President is on board one of the HMX-1 Marine helicopters. HMX-1 provides all helicopter transportation for the President both overseas and within the continental United States.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

A United States government agency responsible for the nation's public space program. Established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, NASA's mission is to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) A United States federal act introduced by President George W. Bush and signed into law on January 2, 2002 that reauthorized a number of federal programs aiming to improve the performance of US primary and secondary schools by: increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools, providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend, measuring student progress through standardized tests, and promoting an increased focus on reading.

Nomination The act or an instance of appointing a person to office; the act or an instance of submitting a name for candidacy or appointment.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) A 1994 trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that eliminated most tariffs on products traded among the three countries. The treaty is trilateral in nature; the terms apply equally to all countries, in all areas except agriculture, in which stipulations, tariff reduction phase-out periods, and protection of selected industries, were negotiated on a bilateral basis. It came into effect on January 1, 1994 and (as of 2008) remains the largest trade bloc in the world in terms of combined Gross Domestic Product of its members.

Nuclear An adjective referring to energy released from the splitting (fission) or combining (fusion) of atoms.


An adjective that applies to any structure of activity located at sea some distance from the shore, as opposed to on land (onshore).

Open Primary Election Primary election at which voters are free to choose which party they wish to select the candidate for. Open primary elections are subject to manipulation, as supporters of one party can attempt to obtain the nomination of the weakest candidate of an opposing party by voting in their opponents' primary.

Outsourcing Outsourcing is an arrangement in which one company provides services, sometimes from overseas, for another company that could also be or usually have been provided in-house. The decision for a business to outsource is often made in the interest of lowering firm costs or to make more efficient use of labor, capital, technology and resources.

Oval Office The office of the President of the United States, situated in the White House.

Party Platform A formal declaration of the principles on which a political party makes its appeal to the public.

Pledged Delegate A delegate who is elected or chosen on the state and local level with the understanding that he or she will support a particular candidate at the convention.

Plurality System An electoral process, also known as "first past the post," in which the candidate who wins more votes than any other candidate is elected. It is distinguished from the majority system, in which, to win, a candidate must receive more votes than all other candidates combined. Election by a plurality is the most common method of selecting candidates for public office.

Political Action Committee Political Action Committees (PACs) are independent organizations, comprised of business, labor, or other special-interest groups, created to raise funds for candidates seeking elective office who share common ideals and goals with members of the PAC. PACs also support the passage or defeat of legislative and regulatory issues that impact the PAC's constituents.

Political Convention A meeting of a political party, typically to select party candidates.

Popular Vote The result of the votes of all eligible voters. The candidate who wins the popular vote in a state wins all the pledged votes of the state's electors. The winner of the overall popular vote usually wins the election.

Presidential Cabinet One of the principal purposes of a Cabinet (drawn from Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution) is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of their respective offices. The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments and dates back to the first President, George Washington, who appointed a Cabinet of four people (Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson; Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton; Secretary of War, Henry Knox; and Attorney General, Edmund Randolph) to advise and assist him in his duties.

Presidential Primary Election In the United States, a preliminary election in which the candidate of a party is nominated directly by the voters.

Proportional Representation Primary/Caucus A primary and/or caucus system in which a candidate's share of the popular vote is the percentage of pledged delegates they are awarded.

Public Financing A system of funding in which qualified candidates receive government funds to pay for the expenses of their political campaigns for elections. This type of election funding provides a neutral source of funds for certain campaign expenses and reduces the potential influence of special interests on all publicly funded candidates.

Public Papers of the President/Presidential Papers The official publication of United States Presidents' public writings, addresses, and remarks; published by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR).

REAL ID Act The REAL ID Act (HR 418) of 2005 imposes certain federally recognized security, authentication and issuance procedures standards for state driver's licenses and state ID cards, in order for these types of identification to be accepted by the federal government for "official purposes," as defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security, such as boarding commercially operated airline flights, entering federal buildings, and nuclear power plants.

Reprieve A warrant granting postponement, usually postponing the execution of a death sentence. The US President can grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

Republican Party One of the two primary political parties of the United States, also known as the GOP (Grand Old Party). The Republican Party was organized in 1854 to oppose the extension of slavery. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican US President. The Republican Party generally supports a pro-business platform, with further foundations in economic libertarianism, nationalism, and a brand of social conservatism. The symbol of this party is the elephant.

Running Mate The candidate or nominee for the lesser of two closely associated political offices, especially the candidate for the post of vice-president of the US.

School Vouchers Also known as education vouchers, they are government educational funds that are given directly to public school students (vs. to the school, school district, or larger administrative body) so that students using these vouchers may attend the schools of their choice, public or private, instead of the public school for which they are zoned.

Soft Money Contributions given to political parties for purposes other than supporting candidates for federal office. Unlike hard money contributions, there are no limits on the amounts of soft money that can be given by individuals to political parties. Moreover, while labor unions and corporations are prohibitted from giving money to candidates for federal office, they can give soft money to parties. While soft money cannot be used by political parties to support federal candidates, it can be used for "party building" activities. These efforts have become controversial because they are almost indistinguishable from party support for federal candidates.

State of the Union The Constitution requires that the president report to Congress on the State of the Union "from time to time". The president's State of the Union Speech defines his view of national priorities and needed legislation. Since 1913, presidents have chosen to deliver the speeches in person once a year, usually in January.

Stem Cells One of the human body's master cells, with the ability to grow into any one of the body's more than 200 cell types. Stem cells retain the ability to divide throughout life and give rise to cells that can become highly specialized and take the place of cells that die or are lost.

Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) An emergency petroleum store maintained by the US Department of Energy. The US SPR is the largest emergency supply in the world with the current capacity (as of 2008) to hold up to 727 million barrels of crude oil. The United States started the petroleum reserve in 1975 after oil supplies were cut off during the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) 1973-74 oil embargo to mitigate future temporary supply disruptions. It also allows the United States to meet part of its International Energy Agency obligation to maintain emergency oil stocks, and it provides a national defense fuel reserve.

Straw Poll An unofficial vote taken to indicate the relative strength of opposing candidates or issues -- called also straw vote.

Subsidize To give partial financial support, usually from public funds.

Superdelegates As of 1982, special status given to a select Democratic political group, including members of Congress, governors, and former elected leaders, who are asked to pledge their support to a candidate at the Democratic Convention in an election year. Though they are often "unpledged," these superdelegates can make their candidate choice public at an early date.

Super Tuesday Commonly refers to a Tuesday in February or March of a presidential election year when the most states simultaneously hold their primary elections. It is the single day when the most nominating delegates can be won and, as such, candidates must do well if they hope to secure their party's nomination. For 2008, Super Tuesday is Feb. 5.

Swing State (Also, battleground state) A state in which no candidate has overwhelming support, meaning that any of the major candidates have a reasonable chance of winning the state's electoral college votes.

Third Party A political party organized as opposition to the existing parties in a two-party system.

Torture An act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person, for a purpose such as obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

For a more nuanced definition of torture, visit our US-Iraq ProCon.org question "What is the definition of torture?"

Unitary Executive Theory A theory or doctrine of Constitutional interpretation that holds it is unconstitutional for Congress to create independent agencies, authorities, or other entities that exercise executive, and sometimes quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial, powers, and governed by officials the President may be authorized to nominate. It stems from an interpretation of the separation of powers and of Article II of the US Constitution that only the President is vested with the power to execute the laws in the executive branch.

Unpledged Delegate A delegate who is not required to indicate a preference for a candidate.

USA PATRIOT Act Commonly known as the 'Patriot Act,' it is an Act of Congress signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The acronym stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001." The act expands the authority of US law enforcement agencies for the stated purpose of fighting terrorism in the United States and abroad. Among its provisions, the Act: increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to actions such as searching telephone and e-mail communications; expands the Secretary of the Treasury's authority to regulate financial transactions; and enhances the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts.

Veto The vested power or constitutional right of one branch or department of government to refuse approval of measures proposed by another department, especially the power of a chief executive to reject a bill passed by the legislature and thus prevent or delay its enactment into law.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail Also referred to as a Voter Verified Paper Ballot, it is a physical record of voter ballots as voters have cast them on an electronic voting system that the voter may verify corresponds to his or her intent in casting those votes.

Voting Block Any group of voters who intentionally vote the same way. A voting block can consist of as few as 1 member or as many as the entire constituency being offered the vote. Usually they tend to consist of either a large group of minority voters, or a plurality voter plus enough minority voters to achieve a majority.

War on Terror A campaign initiated by the US government under President George W. Bush which includes various military, political, and legal actions taken to "curb the spread of terrorism," following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Warrantless Wiretapping Electronic surveillance of people within the US who are suspected of having "foreign intelligence information," without the specific authorization of a warrant, per the Electronic Surveillance Modernization Act (HR 5825; 2006). Telecommunications companies are also given a special pardon in the bill, which says that no claim shall be lodged against them in any court over the issue of providing intelligence information to the government from September 11, 2001 until 60 days after the new bill is passed.

Waterboarding An interrogation technique that simulates drowning in a controlled environment. It consists of immobilizing an individual on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face to force the inhalation of water into the lungs.

White House The official residence of the President of the United States and his family. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Winner Take All Primary/Caucus A primary and/or caucus system in which a party's candidate who wins the most votes from a state's caucus or primary wins all of that state's delegates for the party at the national convention.