Politics for Dummies

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  • Edition: 3rd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2020-01-09
  • Publisher: For Dummies

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What is included with this book?


Get up to speed on the U.S. political system

Confused by caucuses, primaries, and pollsters? Puzzled by the various parties and special interest groups? Politics For Dummies has everything you need to understand local, state, and national politics; how to communicate with your elected officials; and what your representatives can do for you. 

You’ll find out all about lobbying groups, sub-committees, the government branches, and how elections work. Also included is new information on how to use online tools and social media to find out what legislation is on the floor, what issues are before the Supreme Court, and when congress and the Supreme Court are in session.  

  • Understand the United States political system 
  • Learn more about the three branches of U.S. government  
  • Discover the differences in federal, state, and local operations 
  • Get need-to-know information for involvement 

This book cuts through the political jargon and provides clear, up-to-date details about everything from legislation to polls to presidential elections in the United States—and explains how you can become a political player yourself. 

Author Biography

Ann M. DeLaney is currently a Standing Trustee in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy for the Southern District of Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as Chair of a major political party in Indiana and the first woman nominated by a major party as a candidate for Indiana Lieutenant Governor. She has been a delegate to state and national party conventions.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

What is Politics? 1

Why You Need This Book 3

How to Use This Book 4

How This Book is Organized 4

Part 1: Politics and You 4

Part 2: Making Your Voice Heard 4

Part 3: Politics is a Team Sport 5

Part 4: It’s All Marketing 5

Part 5: Let the Campaigns Begin! 5

Part 6: Presidential Politics 5

Part 7: The Part of Tens 5

Icons Used in This Book 6

Where to Go from Here 6

Part 1: Politics and You 7

Chapter 1: It’s Politics, Baby! 9

Elected Politicians — a Quick Look 9

Federal officials 10

State officials 12

Local officials 13

Politics versus Government 14

Politics has spin doctors 14

The government has spokespeople 15

What Do You Want from Your Elected Officials? 17

Chapter 2: The Money-versus-Vote Analysis 19

The Factors behind Any Political Stance 19

Weighing public opinion 20

Counting the money 21

Money Makes the World Go ’Round 23

Fundraising 23

Leverage and money 23

Senate money 24

Hatred is a Greater Motivator than Love 25

Evil versus good 25

But who is the bad guy? 25

Your Stake in the Election 26

Is the legislation good for you? 26

Does the legislation touch your life? 28

Part 2: Making Your Voice Heard 29

Chapter 3: Be a Part of the Solution — Vote! 31

Should You Register to Vote? 32

Upsides and downsides of registering 32

Why Vote in Primaries? 36

Taking your chance to choose the candidate 36

Declaring your party affiliation 37

Do Elected Officials Care What You Think? 38

Your opinions are worth real money 38

Giving voters what they say they want 40

Chapter 4: Contributing Your Time or Money 43

Donating Your Time 43

Finding your niche 44

Spending your time well 46

Money Talks 47

Deciding who should get your money 48

Putting your wallet away 49

Knowing what to expect 49

Which Kind of Contributor Are You? 50

Party backers 50

Ideological givers 51

Kingmakers (and queenmakers) 53

Special interest groups 54

Chapter 5: Telling Politicians What’s on Your Mind 55

Reaching Out and Touching Your Representatives 56

Town Meetings 58

Putting It in Writing 59

More sometimes means less 60

Multiplying your opinion 60

Teamwork is the Name of the Game 62

Other officials 62

Recognized organizations 63

The media 63

Part 3: Politics is a Team Sport 67

Chapter 6: Partying with Politics 69

Why We Have Only Two Parties 69

The big-tent theory 70

Third parties 72

Independent candidates 73

Departing from the party 73

Voters value independence 74

Legislation requires cooperation 74

Those Were the Days 75

Television and the decline of party power 76

The cost of campaigning 76

Contributors gain the upper hand 76

Voters can be duped 77

Straight-Ticket Voting versus Ticket Splitting 78

Political Parties Serve a Purpose 79

Ensuring a fair election 79

Getting out the vote 81

Providing information 83

Amplifying your voice 84

Choosing the Candidates 85

Party nominees 85

Primaries 87

Conventions 88

The role of ideology in candidate selection 89

Chapter 7: Taking Sides 91

Putting Parties in Their Place 91

Identifying by Political Party 92

Registering as a Democrat or Republican 93

Asserting your independence 94

Joining a third party 95

Separating the Democrats from the Republicans 96

Running with the elephants 98

Joining the donkeys 99

Making Your Own Choice 100

Evaluating the platforms 100

Listening to the candidates 101

Chapter 8: Joining a Special Interest Group 103

Identifying Special Interest Groups 104

Enlisting Lobbyists 105

What a good lobbyist does 106

Special interests and the government 107

Making Political Contributions 109

Getting action with PACs 110

Contributing to nonlegislative candidates 113

I’ll help you if you help me 114

Getting the Same Access as Special Interest Groups 115

Are Special Interest Groups Contributing Your Money? 115

Finding out who contributes 116

Local races 117

State races 117

Federal races 118

Chapter 9: Getting Political Online 121

Understanding Politics on the Internet 122

Government Websites versus Campaign Websites 122

Engaging with Elected Officials and Candidates Online 124

Visiting a website 125

Subscribing to an email list 126

Liking a Facebook page 127

Following a Twitter account 129

Sample resources 130

Part 4: It’s All Marketing 131

Chapter 10: Harry Handler Meets Carly Candidate 133

Handling a Campaign 134

Examining the profile of a political handler 134

Moving around within the party 135

Working for a common goal 135

Developing a Marketing Strategy 136

Checking out the candidate’s appearance 136

Improving a candidate’s image 138

Identifying the message 141

Responding to a Handler’s Controls 146

Chapter 11: Selling the Candidates, Warts and All 149

Fixing the Warts: A Nip Here, a Tuck There 149

Let’s get personal: Personal questions 150

Just for the record: Officeholder record 152

Oops — I forgot about that: Illegal warts 153

But I’m innocent!: Legal warts 153

Some professions are just wart-filled 154

Preparing for the Worst: Handlers Dig for Dirt 156

Beware of Your Opponent: Fending Off Attacks 156

Ignore the attack 156

Tell the rest of the story 157

Diffuse the wart 157

Take the offensive and attack first 159

Insist that candidates should always tell the truth 159

Highlighting a Candidate’s Beauty Marks 160

Celebrating a candidate’s upbringing 160

Making the most of a candidate’s parents 161

How important are beauty marks? 162

Chapter 12: Truth in Advertising 163

Truth Plus Truth Doesn’t Always Equal Fact 163

Drawing a false conclusion 164

The art of set-up legislation 165

The Media Can Help You 167

Getting the media analysis you need 168

Hounding your news media: Review the ads and get on the stick! 169

Whose Side Are the Media On, Anyway? 169

Taking the good with the bad 170

Acknowledging that there’s such a thing as being too objective 170

If You’re on Your Own 172

Listening to neutral parties 173

Learning the truth yourself 173

Don’t Let Either Side Manipulate You 175

Beware of straw men or appeals to emotion 175

If you don’t want to be manipulated . . . 179

It’s Go-Time: Demanding Answers to Your Questions from Candidates 180

Chapter 13: Casting That Vote! 181

Reach Out and Ask Someone: Others Can Help You Decide 181

Voting by party 182

If Frank likes this guy . . . 182

Checking out endorsements 183

Making Up Your Own Mind 183

Gathering information 184

Looking to the campaigns 185

Making your choice 185

Knowing when to make your decision 187

Part 5: Let the Campaigns Begin 189

Chapter 14: Who Says Talk is Cheap? (Where Your Contribution Goes) 191

Campaigning at the Local Level 191

Going door-to-door 192

Alternative contacts 193

National and Statewide Campaigns 195

You have to see it (on TV) to believe it 195

Buying the time 198

Getting Out the Vote: Just Do It! 199

Where Your Money Won’t Go 200

Campaigns Never Say, “Enough!” 200

Fundraising wars 201

Looking beyond the money 203

Chapter 15: For Whom the Campaign Polls 205

The Role of Polls 206

Who gets polled? 206

Who polls? 208

Polls Are Expensive 209

Size of the sample 209

Length of the poll 210

Benchmark Polls 211

Knowing what to expect 211

Learning from the pollsters 213

Telling pollsters which arguments persuade you 213

Is the Candidate’s Message Getting Through? 214

Chapter 16: Dodging the Issues: What You Can Do 215

Tough-versus-Trivial Issues in a Campaign 216

To win, a candidate must build support 216

Proposing change is risky: I’ll take vanilla instead 218

Sticking to symbolic issues 218

Using Diversions to Avoid Risks 219

Dodging with diversions 220

Diversions may not build support, but they don’t jeopardize it, either 221

Stick to Your Guns! 221

Speaking up at local forums 221

Getting help from the media 222

Completing candidate questionnaires 223

When all else fails, don’t forget the direct approach 224

Chapter 17: Campaigning for Your Vote 225

Launching a Direct Mail Campaign 226

Freedom from scrutiny 226

Advantage of the delayed reaction 226

Target the right voters 227

Why is your mailbox full of political mail? 228

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors 230

When and how candidates advertise on TV 231

Are you a target? 232

Attack of the Killer Phone Calls! 233

Chapter 18: Negative Campaigning: The Dark Side of Politics 235

The More Things Change 235

Slinging mud in the 1800s 236

Joining the TV generation 238

Two Important Principles of Campaign Communications 239

Candidates try to make you like them 239

Candidates try to make you dislike the opponent 240

Separating the Good from the Bad 241

Above-the-belt ads 241

Below-the-belt ads 243

Selling Negativity 248

Product comparisons 248

Laughter covers faults 249

Why Use Negative Advertising? 249

Countering Negative Campaigns 250

Preventing negative campaigning from discouraging good candidates 251

Give ’em a pat on the back 252

Chapter 19: The Money Thing: Is Reform Possible? 253

Campaigns Cost Too Much 253

Contributors get better access to politicians 254

Voters end up paying 254

Campaign Finance Reform 255

Federal campaigns 255

State campaigns 257

Getting More Good People Involved 259

You Can Improve the System 260

Part 6: Presidential Politics 263

Chapter 20: Throwing Their Hats in the Ring 265

Welcome to Iowa 266

Welcome to New Hampshire 266

Being the first 267

Who goes to Iowa and New Hampshire? 267

Getting off to a good start 268

Staying in the Spotlight 270

Getting a bounce 270

The media can also hurt 271

A day at the races 272

Conducting Straw Polls 274

Introducing the Nominees 275

Chapter 21: Getting the Party Started: National Party Conventions 277

Sending Delegates to the National Convention 277

Conventions don’t choose presidential nominees 278

What happens at the national conventions? 280

The Politics of the Conventions 282

Creating the right effect 282

Concentrating partisan energies 283

Playing Your Role as a Voter 283

Chapter 22: The Electoral College and the 2000 and 2016 Presidential Elections 285

Explaining How the Electoral College Affected the 2000 and 2016 Elections 286

Examining the Electoral College’s Messy History 288

Looking at other controversial elections 289

Gauging the impact of the electoral college 290

Arguing for the electoral college 291

Arguing against the electoral college 292

Changing the Electoral College 293

Chapter 23: Filling Some Really Big Shoes: Electing a President 295

Contributing to the Nominee 296

Shaping a Candidate’s Message 297

Identifying issues in your region 298

Keeping candidates abreast of change 298

Acknowledging that the primary message may not be the final message 299

Acquiring the Information You Need to Vote for President 300

The media loves a presidential campaign 301

Turning to nontraditional media: Can we talk? 301

The Electoral College and You 303

The road to 270 electoral votes 303

The candidate versus the party 305

A Game of Strategy 306

The game plan: Vote, and vote for me! 307

You are the target 308

Volunteer in a presidential campaign 308

Part 7: The Part of Tens 311

Chapter 24: The Ten Commandments of Modern Politics 313

All Politics is Local 313

You Can’t Beat Somebody with Nobody 314

Dance with the One That Brung Ya 314

Never Say Never 314

The Three Most Important Ingredients in Politics: Money, Money, and Money 314

It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over 315

The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get 315

The Best Defense is a Good Offense 315

You’re Never Too Far Ahead 315

Most Political Wounds Are Self-Inflicted 316

Chapter 25: Ten Things to Teach Your Children About Politics 317

Voting Isn’t Only Your Right — It’s Your Duty 317

Public Service is a Good and Honorable Profession 318

Never Pin Your Future to the Outcome of the Next Election 318

Never Trust Anyone Who Lies, Including a Politician 319

Democracy is the Best System of Government 319

Avoiding Politics Makes You More to Blame for Its Failures, Not Less 320

Learn the Facts and Form Your Own Opinions 320

You Have to Wait ’til 18 to Vote, but You Don’t Have to Wait ’til 18 to Help Others Vote Wisely 320

Politicians Are Just Like the Rest of Us 321

When Politicians Make You Promises, Make Sure You Want What They’re Promising 321

Chapter 26: Ten Common Political Mistakes 323

Believing That Anything is Secret 323

Giving a Reporter an Interview “Off the Record” 324

Failing to Answer an Opponent’s Attack 324

Promising Not to Run for Reelection 324

Not Taking a Poll 325

Taking a Poll and Ignoring the Results 325

Not Knowing When to Retire 325

Believing That Public Officials Can Have a Private Life 325

Thinking That the Federal Treasury is Your Piggy Bank 326

Failing to Follow the Strict Letter of the Law 326

Chapter 27: Ten (or so) Quotable Quotes 327

On Politics 327

On Being President 327

Did I Really Say That? 328

On Participation 328

On the Press 329

Appendix: State ID Voting Requirements 331

Index 353

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