Political Vocabulary Study Guide

Updated on Jul 15, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Political Vocabulary Practice Exercises

During an election year, some words tend to be used every ten minutes or so as television news stations give yet another update from the campaign trail. Even if people aren't vying for office, however, these terms are often found in the media. So even if you're NOT a politically inclined person, having a good basic knowledge of political jargon can be helpful. It helps you better follow classroom discussions, personal conversations, and news reports.

Although politics, on the surface, may seem dull, it's the foundation of how a country runs. What people talk about on the news today might just result in a change in the way your school is funded, what type of pension plans your company offers, and how much of your paycheck you'll take home each week (or not). Keeping up with the issues is important so you know what to expect and, if you're eligible to vote, so you can make informed decisions. Get to know these words and it will be easier.


  • amendment     an alteration of or addition to a motion, bill, or the Constitution; an official change to a legal document

[One topic you'll cover in history class is when women got the right to vote. It's important to know that the right was spelled out in the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.]

  • anarchist     someone who believes governments should be abolished because they're unnecessary; a person who seeks to overturn government institutions, often through violence
  • bipartisan     representing or involving two political parties; including members from two factions
  • bureaucracy     a government or administrative system made up of special departments or bureaus, administrators, and officials
  • delegate     a person designated to act as a representative for others
  • filibuster     a political delaying act used by a member of the legislative assembly to prevent the passage of legislation, often by performing a long and irrelevant speech
  • gerrymandering     dividing a geographic area into voting districts that provide an unfair advantage to one party in elections

[Historical note: This word was first spotted in a newspaper in 1813. It's a combination of salamander, a small lizardlike creature, and the name of Elbridge Gerry, the former governor of Massachusetts. Apparently, Gerry's party members created an election district that looked like a salamander and it caught the eye of painter Gilbert Stuart. When he noticed it, the term was born.]

  • globalization     the act of being adopted on an international scale; to extend to the entire world
  • impeachment     the presentation of formal charges against a public official; casting somebody out of public office
  • libertarian     a person who advocates liberty or the doctrine of free will, as well as individual responsibility and freedom; a member of the Libertarian political party
  • nationalism     a desire for political independence; national spirit or patriotism
  • privatize     to take something out of state control; to transfer from public or government control or ownership to private enterprise
  • propaganda     publicity, often misleading, to promote something; ideas or rumors deliberately circulated to help or harm a person, group, or institution
  • quota     the number, percentage, or proportional share of people permitted to enroll in a college, join a club, immigrate to the country; maximum permitted amount
  • ratification     formal approval of something; the act of confirming or sanctioning
  • socialism     a political system in which the means of production and distribution are controlled by the people rather than market principles; communal ownership
  • sovereign     a monarch (king, queen) or other supreme ruler; royal
  • subsidy     an amount of money paid by one government to another to secure a service; a grant, or contribution of money from that government to a private company, organization, or charity.

[Think bailout!]

  • tyranny     the cruel use of power and injustice by an absolute sovereign or dictator over others; an oppressive government
  • veto     the right or power in one branch of the government to reject or postpone legislation or measures of another branch

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Political Vocabulary Practice Exercises

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