Decoding Politics: 15 Terms to Understand

Nearly every piece of political news seems to introduce a new term, or some type of lingo, that can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Whether you have trouble understanding the basics — like the different branches and their purposes — or just can’t keep up with the fast pace of politics and all the terms that come with it, it’s important to have a general sense of what’s going on.

With the upcoming midterm elections and the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, many terms are being thrown around that may not be familiar to those trying to follow the news.

Below are 15 terms, ranging from the basics of the government to the more intricate aspects, that are helpful to know this fall and in general.

Executive Branch – The president and his cabinet.

Judicial Branch – The supreme court and all the lower courts.

Legislative Branch – The Senate (two elected officials from each state) and the House of Representatives (435 elected officials from each district).

Cabinet – The cabinet is made up of people who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to be in charge of the president’s departments. Cabinet positions include those within the FBI, CIA, Department of Defense, Homeland Security, etc.

Checks and Balances – Checks and balances are in place to make sure one branch of the government isn’t more powerful than another.

Majority Party – Aka the “ruling party”, the majority party is the political party that holds the most power. Currently the GOP is the ruling party in all branches of the government.

Minority Party – The party that is not in control of one or more branches of government.

Committee hearings  A committee hearing is one of the many steps taken in order to make legislative decisions or to confirm a cabinet member or nominated official. Committee hearings are used as a method of checks and balances.

Elector – An elector is an individual chosen by a political party to cast a vote on behalf of the state in which they were chosen to the electoral college.

Electoral College – A body of people chosen by political parties who cast votes for the president or vice president. For example, in the 2016 presidential election, the majority vote within the Electoral College was for Donald Trump, thus he was elected despite not having won the Popular Vote. 

GOP  The official name of the Republican Party is the GOP, aka the “Grand Old Party”.

Impeachment The process of impeachment occurs when an elected official is tried by the government to validate, or invalidate, their integrity to the position that they hold. Impeachment usually occurs when someone is suspected of doing their job incorrectly or doing something that is against the law. It’s important to note that impeachment doesn’t necessarily mean removal from office. 

Incumbent – The incumbent is someone who is currently in office seeking re-election.

Midterm Midterm elections occur every two years. All 435 positions within the House of Representatives are up for election during the midterms as well as about one third of the seats of the Senate. 

Whip – An individual who makes sure that the members of a particular political party support the party’s agenda on legislations, nominations, bills, etc. Whips are in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Elections are on Nov. 6. Go out and do your part to impact the world we live in.


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