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The rank-and-file members of the U.S. Congress who are not part of their party’s leadership. The term originated in the U.K. to describe the junior members in the British House of Commons, who occupy the back benches of Parliament, sitting behind party leaders and top government officials.

Bad-tendency rule

A rule to judge if speech can be limited: If the speech could lead to some sort of “evil,” it can be prohibited.

Balancing the ticket

When the presidential nominee for a party chooses a vice-presidential candidate, whose qualities balance out the candidate’s perceived weaknesses.

Ballot initiative

A procedure allowed in states under which citizens are able to propose a change in the law. If the initiative’s backers can gather enough signatures, the proposed change is put to the voters in a referendum. Depending on varying state laws, the initiative may need to then go before the state legislature and approved by the governor before becoming law. Also known as “ballot measures” or “propositions.”


Following a group that has a growing number of supporters. A bandwagon literally carried a group of musicians in a parade, and the term was associated with politics in 1848 after Dan Rice, a popular circus clown used his bandwagon and music for political campaign appearances. As the popularity grew, politicians aimed to get a seat on the wagon and be associated with the popular performer.


To travel around the country or state making political appearances during a political campaign. The phrase was first used when pilots would travel around the country to entertain with their flying skills.

Battleground State

A large state with an electorate split relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans, so named because candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time and money campaigning there. Traditional battleground states include Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have 29, 18 and 20 electoral votes respectively.

Bellwether State

A state that historically tends to vote for the winning candidate, perhaps because it is, demographically, a microcosm of the entire country (e.g. Ohio). The term derives from the name for a sheep which shepherds would fit with a bell. By listening out for this sheep, the bellwether, shepherds were able to locate the position of the entire flock.


In political reporting, the term refers to business undertaken inside the Interstate 495 highway surrounding Washington, D.C. A “beltway issue” is a political issue or debate considered to be of importance only to the political and media class and of little interest to the general public. Those considered to have a “beltway mentality” viewed being out of touch with the ordinary voters. See also Inside the Beltway and Washington Community.

Best Effort

A phrase taken from Federal Election Commission regulations used by candidates’ campaign committees to excuse their failure to provide the FEC with complete disclosure information concerning their contributors. For example, when only the name and address but not the employer or occupation of a contributor is given on a campaign finance form, the words “best effort” will sometimes be written in. Some states require candidates to return checks to contributors if sufficient disclosure information is not provided.

Bicameral Legislature

A legislature with two houses, such as the House of Representatives and Senate that form the Legislative Branch of U.S. government. All states but Nebraska have an upper and lower body of government.

Bill of Rights

The collective term for the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution establishing the fundamental rights of individual citizens. The amendments act as a mutually reinforcing set of rights and limit the powers of federal and state governments. Acts of Congress or laws ruled to conflict these rights are deemed unconstitutional and may be declared void by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Framers of the US constitution added the Bill of Rights in part because few individual rights were specified in the main body of the Constitution.

Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA)

Also known as the McCain-Feingold law enacted in 2002, which bans unlimited soft money contributions to the national political parties and prohibits federal officeholders from soliciting soft money. The law increased the limits on “hard money” contributions, which can be given directly to federal candidates and political parties. BCRA also barred special interest groups from spending soft money on so-called “issue ads” that identify a specific federal candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election. See also McCain Feingold and Citizens United vs. FEC.

Blanket Primary

A primary election in which voters are not required to affiliate with a political party and may vote for any candidate on the ballot. The candidate from each political party who receives the most votes in the primary advances to the general election. Can be confused with an open primary in which voters may pick candidates regardless of their own party registration, but may only choose among candidates from a single party of the voter’s choice. See Open Primary.

Bleeding Heart

A term that describes people whose hearts “bleed” with sympathy for the poor and downtrodden and is often a derisive phrase used to describe liberal support for welfare programs.

Blue Dog Democrats

A group of Democrats formed in 1995 by conservative-learning members of the House of Representatives in order to challenge the liberal tilt of the Democratic Party following the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and become a coalition of influential swing voters.

Blue State

A state where people tend to vote for the Democratic Party and align with left-wing policies.

Body Man

an assistant to an elected official or candidate who shadows him or her all the time. A body man assists an executive branch official or political candidate by shadowing him at virtually all times. The term originated in a 1988 Boston Globe article which described the job position to “fulfill a kind of mothering role.”


To attack a person’s reputation and views. The term was popularized by the Wall Street Journal editorial page after the Senate rejected the nomination of Robert Bork the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.

Bradley Effect

A theory explaining the discrepancies between opinion polls and election outcomes when a white and black candidate run against each other. In these races, white voters, wanting to appear politically correct, tell pollsters support the black candidate when they intend to vote for the white one. The term originated in the 1982 gubernatorial election when Tom Bradley narrowly lost despite having led in polls. See also Richards Effect.

Brokered Convention

A brokered convention occurs when there are not enough delegates “won” during the presidential primaries for a single candidate to have a majority during the first official vote at a party’s nominating convention. The nomination is then decided though political deals between candidates, party bosses and subsequent votes until one candidate receives a majority. The last brokered conventions were held in 1948 for Republicans with Thomas Dewey and in 1952 for the Democrats with Adlai Stevenson.

Buckley v. Valeo

The 1976 Supreme Court case that challenged most of the provisions in the Federal Campaign Election Act, as amended in 1974. The Supreme Court upheld the law’s requirements that candidates, parties, PACs and groups engaging in express advocacy disclose their fund-raising and spending. The court also affirmed voluntary public financing and limits on individual contributions. The court struck down, as infringements on free speech, limits on campaign spending (unless the candidate accepts public financing), limits on contributions by candidates to their own campaigns (unless publicly financed) and limits on independent expenditures (election spending by outside interest groups not coordinated with candidates or their committees).

Bully Pulpit

A public office or position of authority that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter. President Theodore Roosevelt coined the term to refer to the White House, and at the time “bully” was an adjective that meant terrific or wonderful.

Bundled Contribution

Under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, the term means a contribution (subject to the applicable threshold) which is 1) forwarded from the contributor or contributors to the recipient by a lobbyist/registrant; or 2) received by the committee from a contributor or contributors, but credited by the committee or candidate involved (or, in the case of a leadership PAC, by the candidate associated with the PAC) to the person through records, designations, or other means of recognizing that a certain amount of money has been raised by the person.


The practice through which multiple contributions from a single industry, interest group, company or group of individuals are delivered to a candidate. Bundling is a legal practice that can occur one of two ways:

  1. an individual or group, known as a conduit or bundler, collects and delivers the contributions in a “bundle” to a candidate (in some cases, the conduit must report bundled contributions to the FEC)

  2. individuals from the same industry, interest group or company send contributions that reach a candidate around the same time. In these cases, the bundler, the person or group who solicited the contributions, is often given an identification code that the contributors put on their checks so he/she gets the credit for bringing in the contributions.


Empty or nonsense talk. The term originated after Rep. Felix Walter gave a long-winded speech about the Missouri Compromise in 1820. He argued his constituents sent him “to make a speech for Buncombe.” His speech was then referred to as “buncombe” or pointless. The word grew to mean “vacuous speech” and was eventually shortened to “bunk.”


An administrative way of organizing large numbers of people to work together; usually relies on specialization, hierarchy, and standard operating procedure

Bureaucratic politics

Policy decisions motivated by the relevant officials in the government bureaucracy to protect or promote their own agency’s special interests (in competition with other agencies) as a major motivating factor in shaping the timing and the content of government decisions. Each bureau (or other governmental sub-division) continually strives to maximize its budget and its authorized manpower, as well as to protect or extend its operating autonomy and discretion in decision-making in the area of its assigned responsibilities. Often this can be most readily accomplished by lobbying for an expansion of the scope of the bureau’s responsibilities that are prescribed by Congress or the legislature. Because bureaucratic agencies are in competition with each other for budget shares and for personnel allocations as well as for gaining responsibility for juicy new programs justifying expansion, the policies and policy recommendations generated in the executive branch of the government and passed on to both the chief executive and the legislative authorities are often better understood as the by-product of bureaucratic turf-battles and expedient compromises between bureaucratic chieftains than as the product of reasoned analysis of how most effectively and efficiently to carry out the policy commitments of the elected chief executive or to serve the public interest.


an election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections. It is usually held when the office holder has resigned or died but can also be the result of a recall election, or an election being invalidated by voting irregularities. See also Special Election.