Dictionary of American Government and Politics

Dictionary of American Government and Politics

Dictionary of American Government and Politics

Dictionary of American Government and Politics


Major political science scholar Duncan Watts offers a fresh, up-to-date look at U. S. government and politics, demystifying the key terms used to discuss the political system and describing prominent figures, events, ideas, movements, and Supreme Court cases relevant to the study of American political life. Watts doesn't shy away from controversial issues and debate, especially within the academic study of American politics. He presents four hundred comprehensive, cross-referenced entries that provide a thorough analysis of the subject.


The United States of America is a fascinating – but at the same time complex – area of study for many students of politics and interested observers of the contemporary political scene. It is a vast liberal democracy of more than 300 million people of great diversity: it covers a huge landmass, exceeding that of all but three nations of the world, Canada, China and Russia: it has the oldest written constitution in the world, but one which has been flexible enough to adapt to circumstances very different from those known to the Founding Fathers back in 1787: it has a separated system of government which fragments the exercise of political power and in which there are overlapping jurisdictions and a series of checks and balances: it is based on federalism so that the role and influence of the states and local government assume considerable significance, as well as the central government in Washington: and it has a system for choosing its president that is remote from British experience and puzzling to many observers who are amazed at how long the process seems to last.

Yet however confusing and remote from British experience the American practice of government may be, the significance of the United States in global terms is apparent to most people. Decisions taken in Washington have an impact on us all, be they in foreign policy or in the effort to stimulate the economy. Moreover, as the leading country of the Western world, the United States proclaims many attitudes and values that are widely recognised and in many cases admired as well.

Given its governing arrangements, diversity and size, the United States is not an easy country to study. But it is hoped that this dictionary will explain many of the terms and clear up many of the confusions that may make American politics difficult to understand. As a result of its usage, readers may acquire a broad understanding of the American system of government and the forces that influence its operation. The task may seem daunting for, although the United Kingdom and the United States share a common commitment to liberal democracy, their political systems are different. Some of these differences derive from the operation of the federal system in America but in the area of elections, too, there are many aspects of American life that are largely unfamiliar to students of British politics, ranging from primary elections to the election of judges in several states, from the use of initiatives to votes to recall public officials.

The nature of this study

This is not an exhaustive, twelve-volume encyclopedia but neither is it a short glossary. Nor is it a general political dictionary surveying the terms covered in many courses dealing with comparative government and political thought. It is a dictionary concerned specifically with the government and politics of the United States. Many of the entries will be similar in title to those likely to be found in a more general political dictionary but the coverage of them is strictly related to American experience. The discussion of concepts such as democracy and socialism is rooted in consideration of how they function and with what success in the United States, although the terms will initially be briefly defined to inform the discussion.

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