party competition  The battle of the parties for control of public offices. Ups and downs of the two major parties are one of the most important elements in American politics.

political party  According to Anthony Downs, a "team of men [and women] seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election."

linkage institutions  The channels or access points through which issues and people's policy preferences get on the government's policy agenda. In the United States, elections, political parties, and interest groups are the three main linkage institutions.

party image  The voter's perception of what the Republicans or Democrats stand for, such as conservatism or liberalism.

rational-choice theory  A popular theory in political science to explain the actions of voters as well as politicians. It assumes that individuals act in own their best interest, carefully weighing the costs and benefits of possible alternatives.

party identification  A citizen's self-proclaimed preference for one party or the other.

ticket splitting  Voting with one party for one office and another party for other offices. It has become the norm in American voting behavior.

party machines  A type of political party organization that relies heavily on material inducements, such as patronage, to win votes and govern.

patronage  One of the key inducements used by machines. A patronage job, promotion, or contract is one that is given for political reasons rather than for merit or competence alone. Compare civil service and the merit principle.

national convention  The meeting of party delegates every four years to choose a presidential ticket and write the party's platform.

national committee  One of the institutions that keeps the party operating between conventions. The national committee is composed of representatives from the states and territories. See also national chairperson.

national chairperson  One of the institutions that keeps the party operating between conventions. The national chairperson is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the party and is usually hand-picked by the presidential nominee. See also national committee.

party eras  Historical periods in which a majority of voters cling to the party in power, which tends to win a majority of the elections. See also critical election and party realignment.

critical election  An electoral "earthquake" whereby new issues emerge, new coalitions replace old ones, and the majority party is often displaced by the minority party. Critical election periods are sometimes marked by a national crisis and may require more than one election to bring about a new party era. See also party realignment.

party realignment  The displacement of the majority party by the minority party, usually occurring during a critical election period. See also party era.

coalition  A group of individuals with a common interest upon which every political party depends. See also New Deal Coalition.

coalition government  When two or more parties join together to form a majority in a national legislature. This form of government is quite common in the multiparty systems of Europe.

New Deal Coalition  A coalition forged by Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats, who dominated American politics from the 1930s to the 1960s. Its basic elements were the urban working class, ethnic groups, Catholics and Jews, the poor, Southerners, African Americans, and Democratic intellectuals.

party dealignment  The gradual disengagement of people and politicians from the parties, as seen in part by shrinking party identification.

party neutrality  A term used to describe the fact that many Americans are indifferent toward the two major political parties. See also party dealignment.

McGovern-Fraser Commission  A commission formed at the 1968 Democratic convention in response to demands for reform by minority groups and others who sought better representation.

superdelegates  National party leaders who automatically get a delegate slot at the Democratic national party convention.

third parties  Electoral contenders other than the two major parties. American third parties are not unusual, but they rarely win elections.

winner-take-all system  An electoral system in which legislative seats are awarded only to the candidates who come in first in their constituencies. In American presidential elections, the system in which the winner of the popular vote in a state receives all the electoral votes of that state. Compare with proportional representation.

proportional representation  An electoral system used throughout most of Europe that awards legislative seats to political parties in proportion to the number of votes won in an election. Compare with winner-take-all system.

coalition government  When two or more parties join together to form a majority in a national legislature. This form of government is quite common in the multiparty systems of Europe.

responsible party model  A view favored by some political scientists about how parties should work. According to the model, parties should offer clear choices to the voters, who can then use those choices as cues to their own preferences of candidates. Once in office, parties would carry out their campaign promises.

nomination  The official endorsement of a candidate for office by a political party. Generally, success in the nomination game requires momentum, money, and media attention.

campaign strategy  The master game plan candidates lay out to guide their electoral campaign.

national party convention  The supreme power within each of the parties. The convention meets every four years to nominate the party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates and to write the party's platform.

caucus (congressional)  A group of members of Congress sharing some interest or characteristic. Most are composed of members from both parties and some from both houses.

caucus (state party)  A meeting of all state party leaders for selecting delegates to the national party convention. Caucuses are usually organized as a pyramid.

presidential primaries   Elections in which voters in a state vote for a candidate (or delegates pledged to him or her). Most delegates to the national party conventions are chosen this way.

Super Tuesday  Created by a dozen or so Southern states when they held their presidential primaries in early March 1988. These states hoped to promote a regional advantage as well as a more conservative candidate.

national primary  A proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries systems who would replace the electoral methods with a nationwide primary held early in the election year.

regional primaries  A proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries to replace these electoral methods with regional primaries held early in the election year.

direct mail  A high-tech method of raising money for a political cause or candidate. It involves sending information and requests for money to people on lists made up of people who have supported similar views or candidates in the past.

Federal Election Campaign Act  A law passed in 1974 for reforming campaign finances. The act created the Federal Election Commission (FEC), provided public financing for presidential primaries and general elections, limited presidential campaign spending, required disclosure, and attempted to limit contributions.

Federal Election Commission (FEC)  A six-member bipartisan agency created by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974. The FEC administers the campaign finance laws and enforces compliance with their requirements.

soft money  Political contributions earmarked for party-building expenses at the grass-roots level (buttons, pamphlets, yard signs, etc.). Unlike money that goes to the campaign of a particular candidate, such party donations are not subject to contribution limits.

Political Action Committees (PACs)  Funding vehicles created by the 1974 campaign finance reforms. A corporation, union, or some other interest group can create a PAC and register it with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which will meticulously monitor the PAC's expenditures.

reinforcement  One of three key consequences of electoral campaigns for voters, in which the voter's candidate preference is reinforced. See also activation and conversion.

activation  One of three key consequences of electoral campaigns for voters, in which the voter is activated to contribute money or ring doorbells instead of just voting. See also reinforcement and conversion.

conversion  One of three key consequences of electoral campaigns for voters, in which the voter's mind is actually changed. See also reinforcement and activation.

selective perception  The phenomenon that people often pay the most attention to things they already agree with and interpret them according to their own predispositions.

legitimacy  A characterization of elections by political scientists meaning that they are almost universally accepted as a fair and free method of selecting political leaders. When legitimacy is high, as in the United States, even the losers accept the result peacefully.

primaries   Elections that select candidates. In addition to presidential primaries, there are direct primaries for selecting party nominees for congressional and state offices and proposals for regional primaries.

direct primaries  Primaries used to select party nominees for congressional and state offices.

initiative petition  A state-level method of direct legislation used by voters in 23 states to put proposed legislation on the ballot. See also referendum.

referendum  A state-level method of direct legislation that gives voters a chance to approve or disapprove proposed legislation or a proposed constitutional amendment. See also initiative petition.

suffrage  The legal right to vote, extended to African Americans by the Fifteenth Amendment, to women by the Nineteenth Amendment, and to people over the age of 18 by the Twenty-sixth Amendment.

voter registration  A system adopted by the states that requires voters to register well in advance of election day. Although a few states permit election day registration for presidential elections, advance registration dampens voter turnout.

Motor Voter Act  Passed in 1993, this Act went into effect for the 1996 election. It requires states to permit people to register to vote at the same time they apply for drivers' licenses. This should lessen the bureaucratic hassles of voter registration, though critics charge that it may also increase registration fraud.

policy differences  The perception of a clear choice between the parties. Those who see such choices are more likely to vote.

civic duty  The belief that, in order to support democratic government, a citizen should always vote.

political efficacy  The belief that one's political participation really matters, that one's vote can actually make a difference.

mandate theory of elections  The idea that the winning candidate has a mandate from the people to carry out his or her platforms and politics. Politicians like the theory better than political scientists do.

policy voting  Voting that occurs when electoral choices are made on the basis of the voters' policy preferences and on where the candidates stand on policy issues. For the voter, policy voting is hard work.

electoral college  A unique American institution, created by the Constitution, providing for the selection of the president by electors chosen by the state parties. Although the electoral college vote usually reflects a popular majority, the winner-take-all rule gives clout to big states.

retrospective voting  A theory of voting in which voters essentially ask this simple question: "What have you done for me lately?"