The polls are in, and most are saying something many people already know: Americans don't know much about their own country. Countless surveys and polls have found that Americans can't pass the citizenship test, don't know when important historical events took place, and know very little about how the government works. Achievement levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam have stagnated since the late 1990s and several states don't require students to take any civics classes in order to graduate from high school.
Among developed countries, America has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout. In a way, it makes sense: why would anyone want to participate in the political process if they don't know how the political process works? A third of Americans can't name any branches of government, so electing the head of the executive branch (the president) is probably not at the top of their agenda, (though many still recognize how important the president is).
Luckily, one of the changes wrought by the 2016 election was that more Americans find themselves politically engaged than ever. Thirty-six percent of people thought it was very important for them to be personally involved in politics, according to a poll released March 2018 by Monmouth University. Those looking to get involved in politics for the first time might find a steeper learning curve than they expected. The Founding Fathers created a complex political and electoral system that's only gotten more confusing as the country has become bigger and more diverse in the last two centuries.
Whether you're looking to brush up on your high school civics or are getting your feet wet in politics for the first time, Stacker has your back. We independently researched the most commonly referenced terms in news and politics to bring you this list of 52 essential terms that will help you make sense of the political discourse on your news and social media feed.
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Gerrymandering is a practice that involves redrawing political boundaries on maps that benefit one party over another during elections. It's an old practice dating back to the founding of America and takes its name from Massachusetts governor and signer of the Declaration of Independence Elbridge Gerry; he signed a redistricting bill in 1812. Critics pointed out that one of the districts that favored his political party (the Democratic-Republicans) looked like a salamander...or a “Gerry-mander.” Today, gerrymanders that disadvantage racial minorities have been deemed unconstitutional and voters on both sides of the aisle have taken to the Supreme Court in order to outlaw gerrymanders that favor one political party over the other.
Right wing refers to the more politically conservative groups on the political spectrum; the Republican Party is the more right-wing of the two major parties in the U.S. On the far end of the spectrum are “alt-right” or “ far right” groups, which have become more visible in 2019. These groups tend to have extreme or radical conservative views when compared to those who would be closer to the “center” on a linear political spectrum. Use of “right” and “left” to categorize conservative and liberal political groups stems back to the days after the French Revolution. While writing the 1789 Constitution, those who advocated for less power to the king sat to the left of the presiding officer while those who wanted to adopt a more conservative approach that let the king keep more of his power sat to the right.
(Pictured) Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Left wing is the opposite side of the partisan spectrum and refers to more politically liberal groups. The French politicians that sat to the left while writing the country's 1789 Constitution wanted to do away with the traditional monarchy and the king. Likewise, today's left-wing groups or parties tend to favor more radical political reform than their right-wing counterparts. In the United States, the Democratic Party would be considered the more left-wing of the two major parties, with more radical parties like the Democratic Socialists of America falling even further to the left.
For those who are neither left-wing or right-wing might find themselves at home in the center. Centrists, sometimes also called moderates, try to find a compromise between the often conflicting left or right wing stances and downplay ideology to appeal to more voters. Centrists in the U.S. might be registered independent—that is, not affiliated with either political party—and tend to be swing voters during election season.
Though the U.S. only has two major political parties, there are a number of smaller third parties that operate across the country. The Libertarian Party, founded in 1971, is one of the most popular third parties in the country, taking home around 3% of the vote in the 2016 presidential election. Many across the political spectrum have libertarian views even if they don't necessarily identify with the Libertarian Party. These views include support for individual freedom, limiting government involvement in economic policy, foreign policy issues, and letting people make their own decisions on social justice issues.
Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on policy issues, an issue that's only grown worse as members of Congress and the voters that elect them have become more ideologically extreme. When legislators manage to overcome their political differences and pass laws together, they've “crossed the aisle” to pass bipartisan policy. Polling shows that Americans tend to favor this kind of compromise. Even today's increasingly divided Congress has passed bipartisan legislation reopening the government after the December 2018-January 2019 shutdown, sanctioning Russia for election interference, reforming the criminal justice system, ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen, and more.
The president of the United States has an incredible power to influence debate and public opinion in the U.S. and around the world. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt understood the power his position held; the 26th president often called journalists to the White House to share his thoughts on issues of the day. After one of these meetings, he remarked that “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!” In the early 1900s, “bully” was a slang term for “first-rate” and Roosevelt's aside quickly became a term for the platform the president and later any other influential figure has to speak out on the issues.
When building a new form of government after the U.S. won independence from Britain, the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that power remained with the people and that no single person or group retained too much of it. They avoided this by creating three co-equal branches of government: the executive branch, which includes the president, his or her cabinet, and various bureaucratic agencies; the legislative branch which includes the Senate and the House of Representatives; and the judicial branch, which includes the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Each branch has its own duties that only it can fulfill (called separation of powers). Each branch's ability to check the activity of the other branches and make sure what they're doing is constitutional is called checks and balances.
Caucus actually has two meanings in American political life. State political parties get to determine how candidates are selected to run in the general election. The main two methods they use are primaries, which are similar to the general election, or a caucus. This less formal gathering of people of a certain party to discuss who the best candidate is before electing delegates to represent their preferred candidates at the party convention. There are also congressional caucuses; these are groups of legislators that meet to pursue common goals on the economy, social issues, and more.
Filibusters only exist in the Senate, where any senator can speak on any bill for any length of time in order to delay or block legislative action. Coming from the Dutch word for “pirate,” filibusters became popular in the 1850s. In 1917, the Senate adopted a new rule that allowed them to end the debate with a two-thirds majority vote (called cloture). Filibusters were famously used by Southern senators to block civil rights legislation; the record for longest filibuster speech on the Senate floor was 24 hours and 18 minutes.
Another name for the Republican Party, G.O.P. is an acronym for “Grand Old Party.” Newspapers in the 1870s started referring to Republicans as either that or the “gallant old party” after the roles Lincoln and the Republicans played in winning the Civil War. The acronym first appeared in print in 1884 to keep an article from going exceeding its established word count.
A lame duck politician is one finishing out his or her term after a successor has been elected but not sworn in. It's typically used to refer to the president, but the phrase didn't originate in Washington D.C. or even in American politics. It was used in 18th-century London finance to refer to someone who defaulted on a loan. Someone who couldn't pay back creditors had to “waddle out of the alley like a lame duck.” The first lame duck president was Calvin Coolidge, whose presidency ended in 1929.
The Progressive Era spanned from the end of the 1800s to the first few decades of the 1900s and was marked by social activism and reform. This was driven in part by muckraker journalists who sought out injustice, corruption and criminal misdeeds by industry, politicians, and other public figures. Theodore Roosevelt popularized the term in a 1906 speech, referring to a character in a short story who seeks worldly gain by raking muck.
Also called “earmarking,” pork barrel politics refers to legislation that directs federal funds to projects in a specific politician's district. These projects are often expensive and tend to only have local benefits even though they're funded with federal dollars. Though earmarking dates back more than a century, referring to the practice as “pork barrel politics” began in Edward Everett Hale's 1863 newspaper story "The Children of the Public.” Public opinion has turned on this style of legislating after a few high-profile, wasteful projects and in 2010, Congress put a moratorium on adding earmarks to funding bills.
Republican President Richard Nixon was sworn into office in January 1969 amidst peak opposition to America's role in the Vietnam War following a series of high-profile anti-war protests the year before. Despite this, Nixon's gave a speech that November in which he announced America would not be pulling out of the war and asked “the great silent majority, my fellow Americans...for your support." Nixon believed the opinions of a majority of Americans didn't match the left-wing anti-war demonstrators marching in the streets. Today the term is used similarly, reflecting any situation in which a large group of people doesn't support the opinions most often shared in public.
Campaign finance rules are numerous and can be difficult to follow if you aren't actively involved in electoral politics. Individuals are only allowed to donate up to $2,800 to a given candidate in the 2020 election, but people and groups can get around these limits by donating to political action committees (PACs) and nonprofits that run ads on behalf of their favored candidates. Most of these groups are required to disclose the names of individuals who make donations, but some don't. When sources of donations aren't disclosed, that's dark money—a term that dates back to at least 2010.
Campaigning requires candidates to travel around their cities, states, or country, meeting people and giving speeches so voters can get an idea of why they should be elected. This grueling campaign process is called “stumping.” Most politicians also have a “stump speech” that they can reuse with only minor tweaks no matter where they are. The word comes from the early days of American politics when candidates would stand on tree stumps to deliver their speeches.
Swing voters typically aren't members of either political party, their ballots can be hard to predict, and they are often vital in determining the outcome of an election. There are also congressional swing voters who often cross party lines to ensure legislation passes, or—as in the case of the 2017 Affordable Care Act repeal—that it fails. The Supreme Court also tends to have a swing vote; a more moderate liberal or conservative justice will cross ideological lines to rule on important issues. Prior to his 2018 retirement, this was usually Justice Anthony Kennedy.
With 435 representatives in the House and 100 senators, it can be difficult for party leaders to make sure everyone on their side of the aisle is voting correctly on important platform issues. That's where the congressional whip—officially known as the assistant party leader—comes in. The term comes from fox hunting: the whipper-in made sure all the dogs stayed with the group and the whip makes sure legislators are sticking with the party. They count votes for important pieces of legislation, talk to members who might not support the bill about their concerns and see if some compromise can be made. The first whip was elected by Democrats in 1913 with Republicans creating their own position two years later.
America is founded on the principle of government “by the people, for the people.” The American public votes for leaders they feel will represent their interests at the local, state, and federal levels. A politician's constituency is made up of all the people in the district who elected him or her, even those who might have voted for someone else. For example, a congressional representative's constituents might be residents of a city or a small part of their state while a senator is responsible for representing all the residents of their state.
Congress considers thousands of bills every year while also being responsible for overseeing government operations, going back to their districts to hear what their constituents are worried about, and other day-to-day tasks. In order to streamline the process and make the workload more manageable, the House and Senate are organized into a number of committees and sub-committees.
The system that exists today dates back to the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act and consists of three main types of committees. Standing committees consider bills, oversee government agencies and programs, and recommend funding levels for specific areas like agriculture or education. Select/special committees examine issues that don't fit in the jurisdiction of any of the permanent standing committees and joint committees consist of members of the House and Senate and deal with housekeeping issues. Joint committees can also be formed to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the same bill.
Stemming from the rules of parliamentary procedure, a motion to table generally allows for the legislative body to briefly suspend debate of one topic in order to discuss another, more pressing matter. However, Congress' heavy workload has led to an adaptation to that rule; if a member moves to table a motion and a simple majority votes in favor, the amendment being considered is immediately defeated. There's no debate over the motion to table and if it succeeds, there's no further debate over the issue at all. Interestingly, a motion to table has the exact opposite meaning in most other countries, where tabling a motion brings it to the floor for debate—you're literally “bringing it to the table.”
Negative campaigning is a campaign strategy almost as old as American democracy itself, dating back to one of Thomas Jefferson's supporters calling John Adams “a hermaphrodite” during the election of 1800. The term “mudslinging” comes from a Latin phrase meaning “throw plenty of dirt and some of it will stick,” which is often the strategy used when politicians make these personal character attacks against their opponent. Polling finds that most ordinary Americans disapprove of this kind of negative campaigning and studies on whether or not mudslinging ads actually benefit candidates have had mixed results. Still, the amount of negativity in American electoral politics has been increasing for years and doesn't look to be changing any time soon.
Running a political campaign in the U.S. is incredibly expensive and it keeps getting more pricey; the 2018 midterms currently stand as the costliest in history. While some voters prefer to directly donate to their preferred candidates, others make use of political action committees (PACs) which were first founded in the 1940s. These groups register with the Federal Election Commission if they raise more than $1,000 in a calendar year to influence the outcome of an election. There are limits to the amount a PAC can accept from individual donors and how much they can give to a single candidate or party. A super PAC also must register with the FEC but operates under slightly different rules—most significantly, they can accept unlimited contributions from any source in the U.S. AT&T Inc (pictured here) is the third largest PAC contributor and gave $3,108,200 to candidates in 2017-2018.
The Founding Fathers allowed the president to provide a check on the powers of Congress by giving them the power to veto legislation. The president can veto a bill by returning it to whichever chamber of Congress the bill originated in, usually with a list of reason why it wasn't approved. The president can also pocket veto a bill by holding onto it for 10 days while Congress isn't in session (if it is still in session during that time, it becomes law after 10 days). A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. Franklin D. Roosevelt famously vetoed more than 600 bills during his presidency, the most of any president. Pictured here, President Ronald Reagan is vetoing the Farm Credit and African Famine Relief Bill in March 1985.
A quorum was originally used in England to refer to the number of justices of the peace who needed to present in order for there to be a legally sufficient bench. It's since fallen into more general use to mean the minimum number of people needed to conduct official business. Both the House and the Senate require a majority of members to be present in order to constitute a quorum, but that's often not the case. Both bodies assume a quorum is present unless there's a roll call vote or quorum vote that proves otherwise. Legislatures on a state and federal level have often pulled a “disappearing quorum” to keep any work from being done; now, in the Senate at least, most prefer to filibuster.
Most of the time, voters elect representatives to their state legislature or Congress and those elected officials then work to enact the policies they think their constituents agree with. However, some states also have a referendum process whereby important issues can be put on the ballot to be voted on directly by the people. Legislative referendums are placed on the ballot by the government for people to vote on while veto referendums require citizens to collect signatures in order for a law to be put on the ballot. Voters then decide whether they want to keep the law or get rid of it. Twenty-six states and Washington D.C. have some kind of referendum process.
Capitalism is an economic system that relies on the power of the free market to determine how much things cost, how much businesses pay, what products are sold, and which jobs people work. Most governments put some regulations in place to protect workers from exploitation, preserve the environment, and keep the economy running smoothly. Crony capitalism looks like that on the surface but laws and regulations instead give favorable treatment to people and businesses with close relationships to governmental officials. The term itself was coined in a 1980 TIME magazine headline about the Filipino economy.
“Demagogue” is a critical term for politicians who gain support by exciting emotions instead of giving rational arguments as to why they should have the public's support. The word comes from Greek and literally means “leader of the people,” but demagogues often gain support by appealing to people's existing prejudices. In the worst-case scenario, this tactic incites mass violence against groups of people, most horrifically during the Holocaust. The word has been used more in U.S. political discourse after the election of President Donald Trump. Critics cite his nationalist rhetoric, his racially charged remarks about Latinos and Muslims, and his breaking of political norms—while supporters see him as a president putting America first on the world stage.
There are about 10.7 million immigrants living without documentation in the U.S., according to reporting by the New York Times. Of that group, about 3.6 million entered the country before their 18th birthday. For many, the United States is the only home they can remember. Congress in 2001 failed to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have given these immigrants a pathway to legal residency. Those who would have qualified for this status are referred to as DREAMers after the failed legislation, and many have been advocating for themselves and their rights in the two decades. After more than 20 failed attempts at passing this or similar legislation, the Obama administration used an executive order to establish Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. While not providing citizenship, this program allowed DREAMers to protect themselves from deportation and become eligible for work permits, college enrollment, and more benefits. The Trump administration announced plans to end DACA in 2017, but legal complaints have kept the program alive. The status of DREAMers remains the subject of political debate in the large conversation about immigration and border security.
Though Americans head to the polls every four years to choose the president, voters don't actually do so. Instead, each of the 50 states and Washington D.C. are allocated a certain number of electors based on a state's total number of Senators and House members in Congress. On election day, voters actually vote for the electors that will later cast their ballots in the Electoral College for president (most states give all their electors to the winner of the popular vote in the state). Candidates must receive 270 of 538 votes in the Electoral College to win the presidency. This system was put in place to put an additional check on the decision-making of the American public and make sure that smaller states have their voices heard when choosing the president. However, the system is complicated and has its issues. Five presidential elections were won by the person who lost by the popular vote, most recently in 2016. Votes in small states have more power than those in large state and electors themselves can vote for a candidate that didn't win the vote in their state. Some critics have called for the Electoral College to be abolished due to these complicating factors.
The Supreme Court of the United States neatly shortens to the acronym SCOTUS in a pinch. The most powerful judicial body in the country and the head of the judicial branch, Supreme Court justices are appointed to lifetime seats on the bench. Not much is said about the branch in the Constitution but the Marbury v. Madison case in 1803 established the Court's power of judicial review, allow them to overturn acts of Congress that violate the Constitution. The Court originally had six justices; that number changed several times before settling on nine in 1869 (though some presidents attempted to change it again). The SCOTUS is supposed to be non-partisan, but many justices generally rule along predictable liberal and conservative lines.
As the world becomes increasingly global, problems in one country can quickly lead to problems outside its borders. Interventionism is typically used to mean another country stepping into political, economic, or social problems in another country (though it can also mean the government making more economic regulations at home). The United States has a long history of intervening in the affairs of other countries, kicking off after the Spanish-American War in 1898. America has occupied countries like the Philipines for economic benefit, conducted military assaults and covert operations to change leadership regimes in the Middle East and Latin America, and supplied weapons or funds to allies in global conflict.
For the first few U.S. presidential elections, the runner-up in the election was appointed as vice president. After the 1796 election ended with a president and vice president from different parties and the 1800 election ended in a tie, the Twelfth Amendment was proposed and ratified. This changed the system so that the president and VP could run on the same ticket and presidential candidates have been strategic in choosing their running mates ever since. Most opt for balancing the ticket, which requires picking a running mate that appeals to a different group of voters and make up for any weaknesses. For example, JFK, a New Englander, picked Texan Lyndon Johnson as his running mate to appeal to Southerners. Pictured here are President JFK (right) and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.
The Electoral College system has caused presidential elections to boil down to a handful of states with a large number of electoral votes and enough swing voters that either Democratic or Republicans could win them. These battleground states can change from election to election as a state's demographics change. Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan were key to President Donald Trump's ultimate victory in 2016. Some speculate that Republican strongholds in the Sun Belt like Arizona and Texas could be 2020 battlegrounds due to rising numbers of millennial and Latino voters (who typically vote for Democratic candidates). Meanwhile, states like Virginia and Colorado which were previously swing states are now seen as solidly Democratic due to their recent voting history.
Bellwether states don't necessarily decide elections, but people do use them to try to predict turnouts. These states often reflect the voting behavior of the country as a whole and candidates favored in these states tend to win in general elections. Missouri has voted for the winner in all but three elections (1956, 2008, and 2012) since 1904. Ohio has been crucial to every president's path to victory since JFK, though changes in demographics and voting behavior could shuffle bellwethers in future elections.
Citizens United is a shorthand reference to the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Decided 5-4 along ideological lines, the court determined that political donations were part of free speech. As such, corporate funding of political broadcasts in elections couldn't be limited because that would be a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. The decision was highly controversial; opponents of the ruling argued that it allowed corporations to exert a huge influence on politics often without disclosing the source of their funding, leaving the individual voter powerless and the political system less transparent.
If you want to figure out who's running for president, just see who's been traveling to Iowa lately. The Iowa caucus is the first state primary, followed by New Hampshire, and candidates typically drop out if they don't like their prospects after the result of those first few rounds of voting come in. As such, some states have tried to move their primaries as early in the calendar as possible to ensure their voters have the most influence over the nomination process. California moved its primary date from June to March for this reason. Now, more than 50% of each party's delegates will be awarded to primary contenders by the end of March 2020.
Some voting machines use punch cards to indicate who each voter selected. The paper that is punched from the card is called a chad and becomes a hanging chad when the paper doesn't fully detach from the card. Hanging chads can cause a vote to be counted incorrectly. This drove conflict during the contentious, close election in 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush. It all came down to the state of Florida, where poor ballot design led to hanging chads, confusion over which votes counted, and a recount that stretched into December before the Supreme Court finally stopped it and declared Bush president. Hanging chads later came back as a joke Halloween costume in an episode of the hit sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”
Polling is used by candidates to figure out how voters feel about certain issues, test the popularity of their biggest policy ideas, see how well they're doing in the race, and sometimes, to change the outcome of an election. Push polls are disguised as those other, more acceptable kinds of polling, but actually skew toward one candidate and try to spread misinformation or sway voters on certain issues. The practice has been denounced by almost all legitimate political research organizations for being deceptive since those being called don't actually know what the poll is for or who is running it.
Though political parties are made up of people with similar views on important economic and social issues, the Democratic and Republican parties are made up of millions of voters of different states, races, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, and socioeconomic class. Not everyone is going to agree on everything. These differences of opinion can drive a wedge between candidates and the people they want to vote for them or even split the parties into factions. The Democratic Party famously lost huge numbers of white voters in the South due to the party's support for civil rights and integration in the 1960s. Today, immigration, gun control, reproductive rights, and government involvement in providing health care are huge wedge issues that divide members of each party from their voters and each other.
Taking a stand on issues can be dangerous for politicians. If their opinions are unpopular, they risk alienating their voters. If they change their mind on the issue later, they look wishy-washy. This can be frustrating to constituents who want to know what the people representing them believe so they turn to bird-dogging. The term started getting used as a verb in the 1940s and comes from the hunting dogs that flush birds out of their hiding places so hunters can get a clear shot—in the same way, those hoping to get politicians on the record ask hard questions over and over in hopes they can get politicians on the record or embarrass them for not having an answer for their inquiries. Though bird-dogging often involves hard work with little reward, it works out for the better occasionally. in 2000, activists repeatedly bothered John McCain about his climate change policy. Embarrassed that he didn't have one, he eventually drafted something to answer the young activists' question and ultimately presented the first climate change bill in the Senate.
Though they sound similar, disinformation and misinformation are slightly different concepts. Misinformation is false information spread around regardless of whether the person sharing the information intended to share falsehoods; in fact, they often believe everything they've heard. Disinformation, on the other hand, implies that the person who shared the information intended to mislead others and influence public opinion. “Fake news” was originally used during the 2016 election to refer to fabricated stories that were deliberately misled potential voters, such as a popular story that claimed the Pope endorsed Trump for president. He did not, but the disinformation campaign spread to millions of voters via social media.
Dating back to medieval Europe, the people who participated in political life were split into three classes or estates: the nobility, the clergy, and the common people. The first known usage of the “fourth estate” was by English author Henry Fielding who used it to refer to the common people but philosopher Edmund Burke reportedly first used to refer to parliamentary reporters, the meaning that would ultimately stick. The fourth estate exclusively used to refer to the press since the 19th century, demonstrating the media's powerful influence over political life and political conversation that persists to this today. Journalists hold elected officials accountable and can even influence elections themselves—in just one example, some critics blame the media's coverage of the 2016 campaign for Trump's ultimate victory. Pictured here is White House National Security Adviser Ambassador John Bolton at a White House press briefing.
Patriotism is often defined as having pride in one's country. Nationalism takes this pride a step further; nationalists exalt their country above all else and promote its culture and at the expense of other countries and cultural groups within the country. Nationalist in its current meaning was outlined by a Prussian scholar in 1772 and has been a driving force behind some of the biggest wars in world history, including both World Wars. President Trump is a self-described nationalist, part of a larger wave of right-wing nationalists coming to power in Europe and around the world, usually as a result of large waves of immigrants and refugees coming to the country. Today, the term is also heavily associated with white nationalist movements, which espouse racist ideologies of white supremacy. It's not all bad though; some scholars identify a positive civic nationalism that is more closely aligned with patriotism.
NIMBY is an acronym for the phrase “not in my backyard” that originated in the ‘80s. It refers to people who object to building “unsavory” things like landfills, hazardous waste dumps, and low-income housing projects while supporting those projects somewhere much further away. Since home value is tied up not only in the house itself, but also the neighborhood around it, some of these complaints make sense. However, the term is often used by critics to point out the hypocrisy of “NIMBYs” in their support of these projects in other neighborhoods or their general support of programs to reduce homelessness and other reforms. A countermovement called the YIMBYs (yes in my back yard) work to encourage development and increase the supply of housing in the face of NIMBY protests.
Donald Trump and other nationalist leaders like him are often said to have been elected into office on a populist wave. The definition of populism is somewhat nebulous but usually refers to politicians who claim to support the will of everyday people as opposed to the cultural elite and promises to replace the system with something better. The recent rise of populist leaders has mostly been concentrated in right-wing parties, but there are also left-wing populists. 2020 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has often been described as a populist thanks to his proposed economic policies that would provide health care to all and support the middle and working-class.
Often confused with communism, socialism is its own economic and political ideology. Though both were largely fueled by the writings of Karl Marx in the mid-to-late 1800s and work to eliminate social classes for a more equal world, socialist ideology allows citizens to spend their wages however they want to and allows the government to maintain control of industry and the means of production. Many countries have adopted some principles of socialism by adopting strong social safety net programs and providing government-sponsored health care. In the U.S., socialism retains negative connotations stemming back to the days of the Cold War, but the popularity of self-proclaimed Democratic socialists who advocate for programs to limit income inequality by raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy, like Bernie Sanders (pictured here) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have indicated that tides may be changing, especially among millennial voters.
Authoritarian governments are characterized by the people's blind obedience to authority at the limitation of personal privacy and freedom. Juan Linz defined the four characteristics of an authoritarian society in 1964 as: constraints placed on the legislature, judiciary and other government; the government bases their legitimacy on emotional appeals and ability to fix social problems; constraints on the public's ability to mobilize and speak out against the government; and sweeping executive power that isn't well defined. Around the world, authoritarian leaders have been on the rise in countries like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, and Poland, all previously democratic countries that have experienced a fierce backslide into this more controlling, less equal form of government. Trump has been criticized for his repeated praise and admiration of these authoritarian leaders.
Benito Mussolini, Italy's leader during World War II, coined the term Fascist in 1919 when he founded Italy's Fascist Party. Today, the word is often thrown around as an insult to refer to political ideas that someone disagrees with. In general, a fascist government is a right-wing totalitarian government that espouses hyper-nationalist, often racist, ideas. Mussolini and Hitler—perhaps the world's most infamous fascists—played off the fears of the majority of their citizens and used that to justify the persecution and murder of millions of Jews, as well as their political opponents and others who didn't fit their nationalist vision.
Inspired by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, communism is a political ideology centered around the belief that in order to eliminate class differences and have equality, workers must seize the means of production through violent revolution if necessary. All property is owned by the public and everyone is paid according to their needs. Several countries have attempted to build a classless communist society in the vision of Marx and his philosophical successors, particularly Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. The Soviet Union operated under a communist government until its collapse in 1991 and China remains under communist rule, though they've adopted some key elements of capitalism as their economy grows.
Spin is a form of propaganda used by governments, political parties, and officials to make themselves look good and the “other side” look bad. Examples of spin in date back to the Ancient Greeks, with plenty of examples in the modern U.S. of American presidents manipulating the media or putting out propaganda designed to make themselves look better. Luckily, social scientists have found that humans are pretty good at resisting spin even if politicians might wish otherwise.