Dictionary of Political Words – Simply Explained!

Dear avid readers,

This page is a dictionary of all those political words you should know but you don’t! Every so often (hopefully every day!) I shall add a new word to the dictionary below – it shall be kept in a chronological order. Each word will be given a simple definition so everyone will be able to understand what it means, despite the seemingly difficult nature of the word.

Here goes…

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION = Legislative programs which aim to create minority equality in employment, university placements, housing  and other government beneficial situations

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

ANDROCRACY = A state or society ruled by men  

AUTOCRACY = this is a system of government where a single person holds unlimited power

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

BELLWETHER = a small group of people who represent the characteristics of a larger group of people. For example, Nevada (USA) is a belwether state for US presidential elections

BICAMERAL = a government with 2 legislative houses. For example, in the UK government has the House of Commons and the House of Lords

BOONDOGGLE = a financially wasteful government development which has a greater cost than its value, usually for local or political gain

CANDIDATE = someone standing for an election

CHECKS AND BALANCES = the system of dividing power among the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) to prevent any one from having too much power. Each branch has some authority to check the power of the others, thereby maintaining a balance among the three.

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

CONSERVATIVE = many people associate conservative with the ‘right wing’. Conservative favour free enterprise, private ownership and does not like change.

CONSTITUTION = the set of basic rules by which a country or state is governed

COUP D’ ETAT = a sudden and often violent overthrow of a government

DEFICIT SPENDING = government intentionally spending more money than it takes in

DELEGATED LEGISLATION = rules, regulations, by laws which supplement the primary legislation

DEMAGOGUE = a leader who gains popularity by appealing to prejudice. A demagogue is often considered manipulative and dangerous

DEVOLUTION = transfer of powers from the national or central government to state or local government

DIRECT DEMOCRACY = where the citizens themselves are heavily involved, often being able to vote on all matters affecting them

DYNASTY = a sequence of hereditary rulers

ENABLING LEGISLATION = see delegated legislation

EXECUTIVE = the part of government which executes  the law of the land, as compared to the legislature which creates and maintains the law

FASCISM = a political ideology that embraces strong leadership, singular collective identity and the will to commit violence or wage war to further the interests of the state

FEDERALISM = a system under which governmental powers are divided between the central government and the states or provinces all within the same geographical territory

FILIBUSTER = situation where debate is extended to delay, or even prevent, a vote on a given proposal

FIRST-PAST-THE-POST = an electoral system where the winning candidate needs only the most votes, even if well below a majority (pluralist voting)

FRANCHISE = the right to vote

FIXED TERM = a set amount of time a political representative can be in office for

FREE RIDER = someone who is unintentionally able to benefit from government policy without incurring the costs

GERRYMANDER = manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favour one party or class

GOING NEGATIVE = a method of campaigning where one criticises and shows the negatives of the opposition, rather than showing the positives of his or her own party

GRASS ROOTS = the ordinary people

HABEAS CORPUS = a writ (court order) for a government authority to present to court a person it is detaining, and give justification as to why he/she should continue to be detained

HANSARD = the official UK parliamentary record of whatever is said in the UK Parliament.

HONEYMOON PERIOD = The first few months of a new government during which the incumbent/s (see below) are granted an almost conflict free period by their political opposition and the media 

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

INCUMBENT = the current holder of a position of authority e.g. Obama is the incumbent president of the USA

KLEPTOCRACY = a word to describe an extremely corrupt government

LAISSEZ-FAIRE = An economic system with total or near total lack of state interference 

LIBERALISM = a political philosophy encouraging the freedom of the individual, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure restricted development in all spheres of human endeavour, and governmental guarantee of individual rights

LIBERTARIANISM = a person who believes that people should be allowed to do and say what they want without any interference from the government. They straddle both the left and the right wing

LIMITED GOVERNMENT = a government set up to have limited power over its citizens, with a greater emphasis on local politics

MARGINAL SEAT = A seat held by a political party by a very narrow margin and so at risk of being lost e.g. Party A won the seat by 51% at the last election, so they are at risk of losing the seat to party B at the next election

MANDATE = given by the people through an election, which authorises the winning party to exercise its manifesto

OMBUDSMAN = someone (in some countries) who investigates complaints from the people of certain administrative roles

PLATFORM = the political agenda of a candidate or party

PLUTOCRACY = government controlled by or greatly influenced by, the wealthy

PRIMARY ELECTION = mostly occurring in America, an election where the successful candidate wins no actual office but merely becomes eligible to contest the upcoming official election representing a particular party

POLL = a research survey as well as another word for an election

POPULISM = a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite

= In the UK it is proposed legislation introduced not by the government or opposition but by just an individual MP

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

RED TAPE = Government paperwork and procedures that are slow and difficult. Stems from an 18th-century British practice of binding official papers with a reddish twine!

REFERENDUM = a public vote with possibly legally binding consequences

REPATRIATION = the sending back of someone to his country of origin such as an illegal immigrant or prisoner of war

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY = electing someone to represent your interests

RIGHT WING = 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

SAFE SEAT = a seat in a constituency where it is fairly certain as to which party will win

SEPARATION OF POWERS = ensuring the executive, the legislature and the judiciary remain separate and independent of one another

SOCIALISM = a method of government 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

SWING VOTERS = voters who are not loyal to any particular party but swing from one party to another according to the circumstances of the time

THEOCRACY = government controlled by the church/priesthood or a proclaimed living god e.g. as there is in Iran

TOTALITARIAN = 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

TURNOUT = the percentage of enrolled citizens who actually vote

UTILITARIANISM = creating policy for the happiness of the greatest number of people

WHIP = a party whip is a parliamentary party disciplinary officer who ensures that his/her party members do the right thing such as being in attendance for certain crucial votesCLIENT STATE = a country that is economically or militarily dependent upon another, but not actually controlled politically by the patron state as in the case of a ‘puppet state’

11 comments on “Dictionary of Political Words – Simply Explained!

  1. […] Dictionary of Political Words – Simply Explained! […]

  2. jonfrederickapp says:

    Thanks for the very helpful start! Any chance there will be more? Would love to share this with students for reference.

  3. maurice says:

    this is so amazing…it’s starts here.

  4. Susan says:

    Would like to see the definition for Progressives

  5. fayiah soko says:

    thanks for these words i am a politician and i will want to know more words from this wab site.

  6. pam says:

    Hi, this is really great. You have “Right Wing” but don’t have the “Left Wing” definition. Can you add that please.

    • ijaz ul hassan says:

      Leftist are those who favour change,they are anti status quo.
      Those who believe on social justice,liberal ideas like freedom of speech and freedom of movement and all these human rights.

  7. David Mazur says:

    I am looking for a more complete paper copy. Much more on depth. Does such a thing exist?

  8. khargeswar Rabha says:


  9. ED says:

    Interesting! Political science student ! ED

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