Political Idioms for Dummies: 25 Most Often Used Political Jargon of 2010


As we head into the mid-term elections, more people may be paying attention to the “political pundits” on the nightly news, listening to and watching campaign ads and tuning into broadcast and cable news shows that cover politics.  In the interest to gain more news and information about candidates up for office in their respective local and state jurisdictions, audiences look to reporters and the “talking heads” on these programs to provide some insight and perspectives.

What they bump into, which may turn them off and away, is all of the jargon and idioms used by those reporting the news.  To the uninitiated, it may not be that easy to figure out what all of the quirky terminology means.  You hear candidates everyday referring to themselves as a “Fiscal Conservative” and a “Social Moderate.”  What exactly does that mean??

Many political idioms come in and out of fashion and are created by the media, politics junkies, bloggers, politicians, press secretaries, advisors and lobbyists.  Several people have criticized the frequent use of these terms which they say are meaningless, vague and pretentious diction incidental and understandable only to those “Inside the Beltway” and exclusionary to Main street America.

Below is a dictionary of 25 of the most common used terms, including terms that just recently started to become used, or overused depending on your perspective, among “talking heads”, political pundits and “spin doctors”.

Last week on my Blog Talk Radio show, Right of Black, I shared a rant you can listen to by clicking here.

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But in the meantime, take a gander at the list of 25 oft-used-quoted political idioms in current circulation. I’ve included some examples of the terms used in context to help out the reader and any inference that these examples may be referencing any particular candidate or party is purely coincidental. How’s that for a legal disclaimer?

  1. Enthusiasm Gap – the difference in excitement and interest in voting between two main parties, for example.  As in: It is said that the Enthusiasm Gap between the Republican and Democratic voter base could spell disaster if the Democrats do not turn out more than expected at the polls this November 2.
  2. Fiscal Conservative – a perspective preferring that the government spends tax payer dollars in a manner that does not include too much expenditure that will further increase an existing deficit. As in: Several candidates up for elections are touting themselves as being Fiscal Conservatives who question the money earmarked for several social programs.
  3. Gaffe – pronounced (Gaf), the term for a faux pas or a socially inadequate statement or mention. As in: Since assuming the position as chief of the party, the leader has made a series of  gaffes that have made the headlines.
  4. Ground Game – local political organization. As in: While the Republicans have a pretty reliable ground game for galvanizing support behind their issues, the Democrats are flailing as they try to come up with a theme to unify their base.
  5. G.O.P.  – stands for Grand Old Party,  a euphemism for Republicans.
  6. Drill Down – to move from summary information to detailed data by focusing in on something.  As in: At some point, someone will need to drill down for the American people some of the finer points of this new legislation so they can understand better what it means and does precisely.
  7. Hail of Criticism – a lot of negative response to an act, statement, initiative.
  8. Inside the Beltway – a term referencing the name for the highway that encircles the geographic location of the District of Columbia and areas surrounding the Nation’s Capitol.  It has come to signify a clear distinction and/or disconnect between those who live and work within those boundaries and who create laws and policy; and the rest of the country, the majority that do not.  As in: There is a general sense of frustration among the electorate that Inside the Beltway politicians running the country are clueless about their main concerns.
  9. Media Firestorm – a lot of coverage, mostly antagonistic, from the media which usually includes a demand for a response from the part(ie_ or entities involved. As in: After the taped recorded conversation of the candidate using that slur was released, he came under a media firestorm and had to answer to all of the questions being lobbed in his direction.
  10. Messaging – a term used to describe a series of short descriptive terms related to a particular  policy, initiative, explanation or communications that is meant to be reiterated, recited, almost verbatim to an audience usually in addresses, letters, speeches etc.  As in: That candidate was not clear in messaging his position to the voters which is one of the reasons he did not get reelected.
  11. Obamacare – a term, usually framed in a derogatory context, to reference the Health Care Reform Act pushed by the President and the White House and passed into law in 2010.
  12. Partisan – a fervent, sometimes militant support  of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea, usually within the context of equally fervent opposition to an opposing party.   As in: The governor went into office promising the people that he would be non-partisan , but as of late has been engaging in partisan politics slamming the other party and turning off the independents in the process.
  13. Political Pundits – a euphemism for an advisor, counselor, analyst or commentator who has perspectives and insights into political campaigns and politics in general.  As in: All of the political pundits on the morning talk shows were predicting the resolution would fail.
  14. P.O.T.U.S – abbreviation for Politics of the United States or President of the United States (compare: SCOTUS referenced the Supreme Court of the United States)
  15. Progressives – political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform.
  16. Read out – the analysis or interpretation of information or data on a particular political position.  As in: What is the White House’s read out on the public outcry from the oil spill?
  17. Reach Across the Aisle – to make an effort to negotiate or mediate differences with those who are on the other side of the political spectrum in the spirit of compromise.  It references the actual physical aisle that divides the legislative halls where members of the two parties sit on opposite sides.   As in: In order to garner support for his measure, the Senator had to do reach across the aisle and work with Senators of the other party.
  18. Social moderate – A position that is neither conservative nor liberal on mainstream social issues but represents a more tolerant position on controversial cultural debates and matters including abortion, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana etc.
  19. Spin –  can be used as a verb or noun, a favorable perspective or slant to an item of news, or potentially unpopular policy.  As in: After a controversy erupts and the media gets a hold of it, there is a right and wrong way to spin it to your advantage.
  20. Stakeholders – groups or constituencies that stand to gain or lose under a certain political initiative, law, rule, or agenda.
  21. Stumping – campaigning or attending a political rally on behalf of and to garner support for another candidate running for office.  As in: The President was in Ohio today stumping for the candidates up for congressional elections.
  22. Talking Points – a set of briefing notes or summaries on a particular topic that are recited, nearly verbatim, whenever the topic is broached.  As in: The mayor veered off his talking points and made some off the cuff remarks that were not received well when they were reported in the media.
  23. Teabaggers – a derogatory term to reference members of the Tea Party movement.  T.e.a. stands for Taxed Enough Already.
  24. Teachable Moment – an expression that references the opportunity to convert a controversy, challenge or other political disaster into a lesson for the future.
  25. Tsunami – a term for a wave of political victories where one particular party takes over the incumbent seats represented by an opposing power in office. As in: There is a predicted and anticipated political tsunami that is set to take place following the mid-term elections.

What else? Any thing I missed?


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Jay Jay Ghatt is also editor at Techyaya.com, founder of the JayJayGhatt.com and JayJayGhatt.com where she teaches online creators how to navigate digital entrepreneurship and offers Do-It-For-You Blogging Service. She manages her lifestyle sites BellyitchBlog, Jenebaspeaks and JJBraids.com and is the founder of BlackWomenTech.com 200 Black Women in Tech On Twitter. Her biz podcast 10 Minute Podcast is available on iTunes and Player.fm. Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks. Buy her templates over at her legal and business templates on Etsy shop!