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U.S. Government & Politics
Political Culture and the Media
A child is most affected by the family, speciﬁcally the parents, in political socialization.
African Americans have demographically consistently voted for the Democratic Party in national
elections in the last three decades.
Citizens who believe their votes will have little to no impact on the results of an election have a
low level of political efﬁcacy.
Network news coverage during elections is usually dominated by reporters who offer relatively
short sound bites from the candidates.
Black citizens vote at a higher rate than white citizens when the effects of income and education
Generally, in all elections on all levels of government, the majority of the electorate does not vote
in most elections.
Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, women were more likely than men to vote Democratic
and the Midwest consistently predicted the results of elections.
A citizen’s political activism increases with education levels, with liberalism as a common political
attitude among college students.
Horse-race journalism refers to the tendency of the media to compete to be the ﬁrst with major
breaking stories, often not giving full and accurate accounts.
In the United States, core political culture values include legal and political equality and freedom
of religion and speech.
The greatest numbers of American voters identify themselves as “moderate.”
The media plays a major role in establishing the public agenda by deciding how prominently to
cover issue-related news stories.
Those who hold consistent conservative political ideologies support a market economy with few
government regulations, low taxes, cutting back on the welfare state, locking up criminals to
prevent recidivism, and the death penalty.
Voters who rely exclusively on television network news coverage of national elections are most
likely to be aware of the relative strength of each candidate’s support by opinion polls.
Broadcast journalism has changed news coverage by shortening the average sound bite to less
than ten seconds.
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulates radio and television broadcasts but
not newspapers and magazines.
The government may censor the press in the interest of national and military security, and outlaw
obscene publications (limitations on freedom of speech and press).
The organization of the two major political parties are best described by separate and largely
independent party organizations existing at national, state, and local levels.
The two-party domination in the legislature is a result of SMD elections.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold Act) banned soft money
donations to national parties.
A party machine is party organization in which political favors are distributed by national leaders
in repayment for large contributions.
A realigning election occurs when there is a signiﬁcant shift in the bases of electoral support from
one political party to another.
A dealigning election occurs when a voter goes from one party to no party (independent).
Political parties mainly seek to gain control of the government.
The absence of a political party solely dedicated to labor and working class issues in the U.S.
reﬂects the difﬁculty of unifying a party around a single issue in a winner-take-all format.
Democrats prize anti-discrimination, social progressivism, “Third Way Economics,” pro-foreign
intervention, social spending, etc.
Republicans prize ﬁscal conservatism, social conservatism, less foreign invention (minus Bush
43), and layer cake federalism.
Political parties choose their presidential nominee through a majority vote of delegates at the
Critical alignment is a sharp, lasting shift that occurs in the popular coalitions supporting one of
Voting and Elections
Front-loading is the tendency of states to choose an early date on the primary calendar in order
to gain more national attention.
A closed primary election requires registration as a party afﬁliate in order to vote.
In the winner-take-all (ﬁrst-past-the-post) SMD system, the candidate who receives the most
votes in the election wins.
In the event that none of the presidential candidates receive a majority of the votes in the
electoral college, the House of Representatives chooses the winner.
Split-ticket voting is described as voting for candidates of different parties on the same ballot.
As a result of the electoral college system, candidates focus on states with the largest
populations and third parties are mostly eliminated.
Following the elections of Truman (1948), Nixon (1968), and Clinton (1992), the winning candidate
took ofﬁce after receiving less than 50% of the popular votes cast.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 greatly increased the percentage of African American voting
registration in the south.
In areas with signiﬁcant populations of linguistic minorities, voting materials must be made
available in the preferred languages of the population, a provision of federal election laws.
The concept of critical elections is most associated with party realignment.
As provided in a Constitutional amendment, no voter 18 years of age or older may be denied the
right to vote on account of age.
A voter who wants less government control over the economy and the personal lives of its
citizens are Libertarian.
An open primary election allows voters to register at their polling place on Election Day.
Low voter turnout is best explained by the burden of registering for individual voters.
Superdelegates are powerful members of political parties or elected ofﬁcials who become
delegates in the national convention without having to run in primaries or caucuses.
Iowa Caucus: rural area voters.
South Carolina Primary: “black primary.”
Super Tuesday occurs in May or June, and by then the candidate knows who will win and go on.
Congressional incumbents who run for re-election have the greater advantage (over challengers)
because they can raise campaign funds easier.
Voters over the age of 65 are more likely to vote because they believe they have a personal stake
in government policy.
PACs, Campaigns, and Financing
“Cookie cutter campaigns” use the same themes/strategies of one campaign transferred to the
next, often used by political consultants.
A whistle-stop tour is a series of brief appearances in several small towns.
Front porch campaigns are when the candidate stays close to home to make speeches.
The coattail effect is the tendency for a political party leader to get votes from another candidate
in the same party.
Hard money is contributed directly to a candidate of a political party, monitored by the FEC.
Soft money is contributed to the political party as a whole as purposes of party building, not for
A PAC is a subset of an interest group dealing with campaign funding and donations that must
register and disclose their contributions to the FEC.
PACs representing businesses have increased in number substantially since the mid-1970’s.
PACs are most likely to contribute to incumbents of both major parties in a congressional
Bundlers gather contributions from many individuals in an organization/community and present
the sum to the campaign.
Buckley v. Valeo ruled that independent expenditures could not be limited, individual donations
could be limited, and established the bright line test.
Documents, Policies, etc.
Tenth Amendment: reserve powers to the states and comes in conﬂict with the Necessary and
Commerce Clause: enumerated power in the Constitution; expands the power of the national
government, in cases like regulating privately owned businesses.
Concerns over the First Amendment usually occur in establishing a citizen’s right to petition the
government for redress of grievances.
Federalist No. 10: factions in a republic are natural but controllable by institutions.
The Federalist Papers in general states that federalism limits the dangers of factionalism by
diluting political power.
The line-item veto was ruled unconstitutional by SCOTUS on the grounds that it violated the
principle of separation of powers, in that it gives the President legislative powers.
Executive orders do not need to be passed by Congress but still have the force of law.
Doctrine of original intent: the meaning of the Constitution depends on the intention of the
Connecticut (Great) Compromise: provides for a bicameral legislature with one house’s
composition based on state population and the other on equal state representation.
SCOTUS uses the Fourteenth Amendment to incorporate the Bill of Rights into state law.
Fiscal policies: the government’s power to tax and spend.
Bill of attainder: law that declares that an action of an individual can be punished without a trial.
Habeas corpus petition: ﬁled when an imprisoned person wants to be brought before a judge to
determine whether the imprisonment is legal.
The federal government’s enumerated powers include the power to coin money, declare war,
regulate interstate commerce, and tax.
The Jim Crow Laws of the South were outlawed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
War Powers Resolution: requires that the President notify Congress within 48 hours of deploying
Amicus curiae brief: ﬁled when a non-litigant group/individual wants to inﬂuence the court in a
A referendum may be issued to determine whether citizens support an action by their state
Speech can be restricted when it incites violent action, according to the clear and present danger
The exclusionary rule was established to limit the government’s ability to use illegally obtained
evidence, as decided in Mapp v. Ohio.
Supremacy Clause: provides for federal government power over state power.
Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause: Congress cannot make laws respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Due Process Clause: the government must respect all the legal rights that are owed to a person
according to the law.
Wall of separation: the division of church and state.
Money and Finance
The Department of the Treasury is responsible and authorized to print currency in the U.S.
Fiscal federalism includes categorical, project, and block grants.
The Federal Reserve Board, an independent agency, attempts to control inﬂation by raising or
lowering interest rates.
The largest portion of “uncontrollable spending” in the federal budget is largely due to entitlement
A budget surplus occurs when revenues in a given year exceed the expenditures.
Block grants give states the broadest discretion in spending the ﬁnancial aid from the national
Categorical grants may be spent only for narrowly-deﬁned purposes.
The federal budget is a document that announces how much the government expects to collect
in taxes and how expenditures will be allocated to various programs.
Regressive tax: where poor citizens pay a higher percentage of their incomes compared with the
State spending exceeds federal spending in policies dealing with education.
Federal grants-in-aid have signiﬁcantly increased over the last 60 years.
Individual entitlements are federal beneﬁts that must be funded by Congress and must be paid to
all citizens who meet the eligibility criteria.
Mandatory spending: money that must be spent in certain areas.
Interest Groups and Lobbyists
Lobbyists try to inﬂuence legislatures by providing them with information on technical issues.
The free rider problem occurs when interest groups seek public funding to advance their special
Interest groups’ main purpose is to inﬂuence public policy.
Hyperpluralism: where there are so many little groups that Congress can’t get anything done.
Supreme Court Cases
Marbury v. Madison: SCOTUS can declare federal legislation invalid if the legislation violates the
Gideon v. Wainwright: the Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel provision applies to those accused
of major crimes under state laws.
Miranda v. Arizona: Police must inform criminal suspects of their constitutional rights before
questioning suspects after arrest.
Roe v. Wade: A woman’s right to secure an abortion is based on the right to privacy implied in the
Bill of Rights.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: Separation of students by race, even in equally good
schools, is unconstitutional.
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States: The U.S. Congress may use the Commerce Clause to
ﬁght discrimination in public places.
New Jersey v. T.L.O.: Searches in public schools do not require warrants if the ofﬁcers have
reasonable grounds for believing the search will uncover evidence of illegal activity.
Mccullogh v. Maryland: Enforced the Necessary and Proper Clause, which deems that Congress
may make any law that shall be “necessary and proper” in executing its constitutional powers.
Gibbons v. Ogden: Upheld that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce by the
Dred Scott v. Sanford: African American descendants (or slaves) were never intended to be
citizens of the United States.
United States v. Nixon: There is not an absolute, unqualiﬁed claim of executive privilege in
United States v. Lopez: By claiming guns near schools is not an issue of commerce, it put
limitations on Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.
The Judicial Branch
In most cases, when a lower court decision is appealed to SCOTUS, the court will not hear the
The Supreme Court is used as a tool (in some occasions) for former President to keep inﬂuence
on public policy after their presidency.
The president usually place individuals on the Court whose policy views are similar to their own,
which is why the majority of justices have prior political experience.
Checks on the judicial branch include: impeachment of federal judges, Presidents, governors,
and local executives can refrain from enforcing court rulings, and Congress and state legislatures
can amend the Constitution.
The Senate must approve all presidential nominees for SCOTUS and other federal courts.
Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Court greatly expanded the rights of criminal defendants.
Writ of certiorari: an order by a higher court directing a lower court to send the record in a given
case for review.
Stare decisis: judges are obliged to obey the precedents established by prior decisions.
Judicial activism: judicial rulings that impose a personal biased interpretation of a given court of
what a law means as opposed to what a neutral, unbiased observer would naturally interpret law.
Judicial restraint: encourages judges to limit the exercise of their own power.
SCOTUS justices serve for life terms to protect the rights of the minority and make legally correct
The Judiciary Act of 1789 set up rules of courts and the federal court system.
Original jurisdiction: the right of a court to hear a case for the ﬁrst time.
SCOTUS must hear suits between states, suits involving ambassadors from other countries, and
suits involving piracy.
District courts have juries and deal with breaking federal laws.
Courts of Appeals hear cases where mistakes could have been made.
The Executive Branch
Executive departments: oldest primary units of the executive branch, including the heads of the
federal executive departments of the Cabinet (War, State, Treasury, Justice).
Executive Ofﬁce of the President: immediate staff and advisory body of the presidency.
The President’s role as chief diplomat comes from the delegated powers.
The President is the head of the military, may veto legislation, grant pardons, call special sessions
of Congress, negotiate treaties with foreign nations, and presents the State of the Union address.
Pocket veto: a bill dies when Congress adjourns during the 10 business days in a congressional
A bill becomes law (by the President) after 10 days while Congress is still in session.
A President’s popularity generally tends to fall during his term in ofﬁce.
The President may deploy troops without congressional consent.
A President may be impeached by the House of Representatives through a majority vote; the
President is then tried by the Senate, who must convict with a two-thirds vote.
Reduction in political power usually occurs when the President is in the ﬁnal two years of the
second term and when the number/severity of international crises increases.
The Legislative Branch
Quorum: whereby enough members are present to conduct business.
Senate committees cover broader topics with less people, while House committees deal with the
Congressional power to determine national policy increases as the President’s popularity
Congress must approve all agencies within the bureaucracy.
Unlike the House, there is unlimited debate on a bill in the Senate.
Gerrymandering (packing and cracking) of congressional districts (drawn by state legislatures
every ten years) creates districts that favor one political party over another.
Both Senate and House members must be citizens of the United States.
The number of Supreme Court justices is set by Congress.
The joint committee resolves differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.
Franking privilege: practice where legislators with the most seniority select the committees on
which the want to serve.
The chairs of congressional committees tend to be senior members of the body’s majority party.
Congressional oversight: Congress passes a law with speciﬁc regulations they expect a federal
agency to follow.
Pork barrel politics: where members of Congress negotiate bills so that individual districts get
money for projects that don’t beneﬁt the nation as a whole.
House Committee on Appropriations: in charge of setting the speciﬁc expenditures of money by
House Committee on Ways and Means: chief tax-writing committee that has jurisdiction over all
taxation, tariffs, and other revenue-raising measures.
House Committee on Rules: in charge of determining under what rule other bills will come to the
ﬂoor; decides the conditions for debate and consideration of bills.
Incumbents are more likely to be re-elected in the House than in the Senate.
Senate Finance Committee deals with general revenue sharing, national social security, and other
issues relating to taxation.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee is charged with leading foreign policy legislation and debate
in the Senate.
Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings prior to Senate votes on whether to approve
prospective federal judges.
Select committees: appointed to perform a special function that is beyond the authority or
capacity of a standing committee.
Cabinet secretaries may not aggressively pursue the President’s policy agenda due to strong
loyalty to their departments.
Of all the Cabinet departments, the Department of Health and Human Services has the largest
Bureaucracies have historically grown in the United States during periods of war.
Bureaucrats have an advantage in the policy-making process because they have continuity of
service in the executive branch beyond presidencies.
Other General Information
The three points of the iron triangle include an administrative agency, an interest group, and a
Iron triangles of power beneﬁt the existence of ineffective and unwanted programs.
Iron triangles provide close and convenient relationships among certain interest groups, executive
agencies, and congressional committees.
The patronage system was the primary method for government employees to get their jobs until
the latter part of the 1800s.
The Framers were committed to the principle of a limited government, as shown by the
To recover damages for libel, a citizen must prove to a public ofﬁcial that the statements made
were with malice, were untrue, were with a reckless disregard for the truth, and were a cause of
harm to the public ofﬁcial.
Upon a valid arrest, the person being arrested, items in plain view, and items under immediate
control of the person may be searched without a warrant.
A search warrant is valid when there is a probable cause, a description of the place to be
searched, and a description of things to be seized are present.
Federalism is the division and sharing of power between the national and state governments.
Most times, federal programs are implemented by state and local governments by means of
Independent regulatory agencies are quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial in function.
Dual federalism is the concept that the national government is supreme in its own sphere, while
the states are equally supreme in theirs.
Pluralism: all interests are and should be free to compete for inﬂuence in government, resulting in
healthy democratic compromise and balance.
Democracy: rule by the many.
Fiscal federalism and cooperative federalism refer to situations in which federal, state, and local
governments work together to complete a project, with the federal government providing much of
the project funding.
Civil liberties: provisions in the Bill of Rights that provide guarantees against arbitrary interference
by the government.
Divided government: one party controls the White House and the other party controls one or both
of the houses in Congress.