political terms we should all know + understand

It's no surprise that our daily lives are getting more and more politically oriented. Although you could say that it's for dark reasons, I'm actually so happy to see people becoming more politically engaged. For a long time, I feel like Americans have largely ignored the workings of our government which has allowed politicians to really take advantage of the system. 

Knowledge is power and the only way we're able to build the society we want is to be informed. So, I wanted to share a few political terms that seem to cause confusion and give a brief overview of what they mean and how they're relevant. I think it's a good starting place for more future political posts on the blog!

Gerrymandering
Manipulating the boundaries of a voting district to favor one party or class.

Politicians change the geographical borders in electoral counties in order to better their party's chances of winning elections. This is problematic because the party in power gets to decide how the lines are drawn and can therefore manipulate the districts to win electoral votes in their party's favor. Here's a great article that explains the process in depth. 

Battleground States
Also known as swing states, these are the states that could realistically be won by either political party. Therefore, they are often targeted by parties to swing the vote in their favor. 

The most notable battleground states in U.S. elections are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Whereas the remaining states are often very predictable in their voting choices, these battleground states are not and are often the ones that decide elections. In fact, 75% or more of a candidate's spending is spent in battleground states. 

Caucus
When supporters of a political party meet, typically to select a presidential candidate. 

The caucus is the first phase of a presidential election, where the party's nominee is chosen. A caucus is similar to a primary election, but a caucus is held by the private political party rather than by the government. At the caucus, notable individuals in the party are chosen as delegates who are then sent to the party's National Convention to select their presidential candidate. 

Filibuster
An action used to obstruct progress in legislation.

Basically, this is when a legislator stands up before the assembly and does something to take up time in order to prevent the assembly from voting on a specific measure. One of the most famous filibusters I can think of was in 2013 when Wendy Davis, a Texas senator, spoke for 11 hours straight before the Senate in attempt to kill an abortion bill. The goal was to speak until midnight, the deadline, in order to block voting on the bill. 

House & Senate Majority Leaders
The spokesperson for the majority party.

The majority leader serves as the spokesperson in the House or Senate for the political party that is currently in power. For instance, both the House & Senate are currently controlled by the Republican party so the majority leaders are republicans Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell. You may have also heard the term "Majority Whip": that is basically just the person who serves as an "enforcer" of the party's values. 

House & Senate Minority Leaders
The spokesperson for the minority party.

The minority leaders are the spokespeople for the party that is not currently in power. In the case of our current government, the Democrats are the minority so the minority leaders are democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The minority party also has their own minority whip.

PAC / SuperPAC
Political Action Committee

PACs are groups who gather donations for a specific political party. They are often run by corporations, labor unions, or membership organizations. PACs fund a candidate's campaign, but they have rules stating how much money they can contribute to a candidate per year. Some examples of PACs are Northrup Grumman and the American Federation of Teachers. You can probably guess where their respective interests lie in terms of candidates and policy.

 A SuperPAC might also be called an IEOC (short for Independent Expenditures Only Committees) because they accept unlimited donations and spend an unlimited amount to support or oppose federal candidates but they cannot directly donate to the candidates. So for instance, they might use their money to run an attack ad on an opposing candidate. You can see why these groups are controversial.

Electoral College
A body of people representing the states in presidential elections.

The founding fathers established this as a balance between a true popular vote and a vote in Congress for the president. Each state is given a certain amount of electoral votes equal to the number of its senators (2) plus the number of its representatives (determined by population). For instance: Florida has 29 votes and California has 55 votes while Alaska has 3 votes and Rhode Island has 4 votes. The electoral process becomes complicated from there, so here's a good video.

Lobbying
Attempting to influence leaders to create legislation that benefits a particular interest group.

Lobbying is a very controversial topic (watch the film Miss Sloane for a look into that world) because it has become so prevalent in our elections. Lobbying organizations typically represent a corporation or special interest group that wants legislation passed that would benefit them. Some of the big lobbying corporations are Northrup Grumman, American Medical Association, American Realtors Association, and Blue Cross / Blue Shield. Some specific interest groups that spend money in Congress are retirees, lawyers, health professionals, oil/gas and real estate groups. 

These groups attempt to persuade legislators to enact laws that work in their favor. It's controversial because of the corruption and bribery involved. Lobbyists raise money for candidates they can control, write their own legislation, and sometimes bribe politicians with job offers, meals, travel, tickets to sporting events, and more. 

Single-Payer Healthcare
Healthcare financed by taxes and operated on a public system.

This is a term that we hear often, whether in a positive or negative light, but that many people don't understand. Our current healthcare system primarily operates in the private market as citizens buy their insurance from private companies (i.e. Anthem, Humana, Aetna, etc.) Oftentimes we get insurance through our employer which means that it is open to change at any moment (if you change jobs, leave your job, or if your employer switches providers). 

Single-payer healthcare (as seen in South Korea, Canada, and Taiwan) is when healthcare is provided to citizens using the money they pay in taxes. It is controlled by the government, therefore you receive the same coverage regardless of where you work. It's very similar to "universal healthcare" (Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, etc). While the U.S. certainly isn't on a single-payer healthcare system, we do have some single-payer options such as the Veterans Health Administration and Medicare, although you have to fit certain criteria to receive those options. 

Here's an article from a conservative think tank on the benefits of the single-payer and universal healthcare models.