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President Richard Nixon seated at his Oval Office desk during a meeting with Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and Gerald Ford.jpg
U.S. politicians (Kissinger, Nixon, Ford, Haig) in the White House's Oval Office discussing Representative Ford's nomination to the vice presidency
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Qualification is not required, but one must be elected through a formal election.
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A politician is a person who has political power in the government of a state, a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking an elected office in government.



Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly. Discurso funebre pericles.PNG
Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly.

Politicians are people who are politically active, especially in party politics. Political positions range from local governments to state governments to federal governments to international governments. [1] [2] All government leaders are considered politicians. [3] [4]

Media and rhetoric

Politicians are known for their rhetoric, as in speeches or campaign advertisements. They are especially known for using common themes that allow them to develop their political positions in terms familiar to the voters[ inconsistent ]. [5] Politicians of necessity become expert users of the media. [6] Politicians in the 19th century made heavy use of newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets, as well as posters. [7] In the 20th century, they branched into radio and television, making television commercials the single most expensive part of an election campaign. [8] In the 21st century, they have become increasingly involved with the social media based on the Internet and smartphones. [9]

Rumor has always played a major role in politics, with negative rumors about an opponent typically more effective than positive rumors about one's own side. [10]

Government job and spoils

Once elected, the politician has to deal with government officers and government employees working for them. Historically, there has been a subtle conflict between the long-term goals of each side. [11] In patronage-based systems, such as the United States in the 19th century, winning politicians replace the government officers and government employees not protected under the government services rules with their supporters. It was the "spoils system". Government job reform[ clarification needed ] was initiated to eliminate the corruption of government jobs. [12] However, in many less developed countries, the spoils system remained in full-scale operation as of 1982. [13]

Careers and biographies

Mattozzi and Merlo argue that two main career paths are typically followed by politicians in modern democracies. First, is career politicians. They are politicians who rule the government sector until retirement. Second, are the "political careerists". These are politicians who gain a reputation for expertise in ruling certain levels of government such as International Governments, Federal Governments, State Governments and Local Governments, then leave politics and start a new business venture making use of their political contacts. [14]

The personal histories of politicians have been frequently studied, as it is presumed that their experiences and characteristics shape their beliefs and behaviors. There are four pathways by which a politician's biography could influence their leadership style and abilities. The first is that biography may influence one's core beliefs, which are used to shape a worldview. The second is that politicians' skills and competence are influenced by personal experience. The areas of skill and competence can define where they devote resources and attention as a leader. The third pathway is that biographical attributes may define and shape political incentives. A leader's previous profession, for example, could be viewed as of higher importance, causing a disproportionate investment of leadership resources to ensure the growth and health of that profession, including former colleagues. Other examples besides profession include the politician's innate characteristics, such as race or gender. The fourth pathway is how a politician's biography affects their public perception, which can, in turn, affect their leadership style. Female politicians, for example, may use different strategies to attract the same level of respect given to male politicians. [15]


Numerous scholars have studied the characteristics of politicians, comparing those at the local and national levels, and comparing the more liberal or the more conservative ones, and comparing the more successful and less successful in terms of elections. [16] In recent years, special attention has focused on the distinctive career path of women politicians. [17] For example, there are studies of the "Supermadre" model in Latin American politics. [18]

Many politicians have the knack to remember thousands of names and faces. United States Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were renowned for their memories. [19] [20]


Many critics attack politicians for being out of touch with the public. Areas of friction include how politicians speak, which has been described as being overly formal and filled with many euphemistic and metaphorical expressions and commonly perceived as an attempt to "obscure, mislead, and confuse". [21]

In the popular image, politicians are thought of as clueless, selfish, manipulative, dishonest, incompetent and corrupt, taking money in exchange for goods or services, rather than working for the general public good. [22] Politicians in many countries are regarded as the "most hated professionals". [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spoils system</span> Practice where a newly elected political party gives civil service jobs to supporters and cronies

In politics and government, a spoils system is a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its supporters, friends (cronyism), and relatives (nepotism) as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a merit system, where offices are awarded or promoted on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Political corruption</span> Use of power by government officials for illegitimate private gain

Political corruption is the use of powers by government officials or their network contacts for illegitimate private gain.

Accountability, in terms of ethics and governance, is equated with answerability, culpability, liability, and the expectation of account-giving.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Populism</span> Political philosophy

Populism is a range of political stances that emphasize the idea of "the people" and often juxtapose this group with "the elite". It is frequently associated with anti-establishment and anti-political sentiment. The term developed in the late 19th century and has been applied to various politicians, parties and movements since that time, often as a pejorative. Within political science and other social sciences, several different definitions of populism have been employed, with some scholars proposing that the term be rejected altogether.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Campaign finance</span> Political vote advocacy funding

Campaign finance, also known as election finance, political donations or political finance, refers to the funds raised to promote candidates, political parties, or policy initiatives and referendums. Donors and recipients include individuals, corporations, political parties, and charitable organizations.

As an ethic that spans science, engineering, business, and the humanities, transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. Transparency implies openness, communication, and accountability.

Cronyism is a specific form of in-group favoritism, the spoils system practice of partiality in awarding jobs and other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues, especially in politics and between politicians and supportive organizations. For example, cronyism occurs when appointing "cronies" to positions of authority regardless of their qualifications. This is in contrast to a meritocracy, in which appointments are made based on merit. Politically, "cronyism" is derogatorily used to imply buying and selling favors, such as votes in legislative bodies, as doing favors to organizations, or giving desirable ambassadorships to exotic places.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacksonian democracy</span> 19th-century American political philosophy

Jacksonian democracy was a 19th-century political philosophy in the United States that expanded suffrage to most white men over the age of 21 and restructured a number of federal institutions. Originating with the seventh U.S. president, Andrew Jackson and his supporters, it became the nation's dominant political worldview for a generation. The term itself was in active use by the 1830s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fidesz</span> Political party in Hungary

Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance is a right-wing populist and national-conservative political party in Hungary, led by Viktor Orbán.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Progressive Era</span> Era of US history between 1896 and 1917

The Progressive Era (1896–1917) was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States focused on defeating corruption, monopoly, waste, and inefficiency. The main themes ended during American involvement in World War I (1917–1918) while the waste and efficiency elements continued into the 1920s. Progressives sought to address the problems caused by rapid industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption; and by the enormous concentration of industrial ownership in monopolies. They were alarmed by the spread of slums, poverty, and the exploitation of labor. Multiple overlapping progressive movements fought perceived social, political and economic ills by advancing democracy, scientific methods, professionalism and efficiency; regulating businesses, protecting the natural environment, and improving working conditions in factories and living conditions of the urban poor. Spreading the message of reform through mass-circulation newspapers and magazines by "probing the dark corners of American life" were investigative journalists known as "muckrakers". The main advocates of progressivism were often middle-class social reformers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Republicanism in the United States</span> Political philosophy

The values and ideals of republicanism are foundational in the constitution and history of the United States. As the United States constitution prohibits granting titles of nobility, republicanism in this context does not refer to a political movement to abolish such a social class, as it does in countries such as the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands. Instead, it refers to the core values that citizenry in a republic have, or ought to have.

Progressivism in the United States is a political philosophy and reform movement. Into the 21st century, it advocates policies that are generally considered social democratic and part of the American Left. It has also expressed itself with right-wing politics, such as New Nationalism and progressive conservatism. It reached its height early in the 20th century. Middle/working class and reformist in nature, it arose as a response to the vast changes brought by modernization, such as the growth of large corporations, pollution, and corruption in American politics. Historian Alonzo Hamby describes American progressivism as a "political movement that addresses ideas, impulses, and issues stemming from modernization of American society. Emerging at the end of the nineteenth century, it established much of the tone of American politics throughout the first half of the century."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Party System</span> Phase in U.S. electoral politics (1828–1852)

The Second Party System was the political party system operating in the United States from about 1828 to 1852, after the First Party System ended. The system was characterized by rapidly rising levels of voter interest, beginning in 1828, as demonstrated by Election Day turnouts, rallies, partisan newspapers, and high degrees of personal loyalty to parties.

These are the references for further information regarding the history of the Republican Party in the U.S. since 1854.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bureaucracy</span> Administrative system governing any large institution

Bureaucracy is a body of non-elected governing officials or an administrative policy-making group. Historically, a bureaucracy was a government administration managed by departments staffed with non-elected officials. Today, bureaucracy is the administrative system governing any large institution, whether publicly owned or privately owned. The public administration in many jurisdictions and sub-jurisdictions exemplifies bureaucracy, but so does any centralized hierarchical structure of an institution, e.g. hospitals, academic entities, business firms, professional societies, social clubs, etc.

The New Politics Party, was a political party in Thailand founded on 2 June 2009. The NPP was the political party of the People's Alliance for Democracy, with which it shared the same principles and ideas. Ahead of the 2011 general election, the party broke with the PAD movement, and renamed to Thai Social Democratic Party two years later.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corruption in the United States</span> Institutional corruption in the United States of America

Corruption in the United States is the act of government officials abusing their political powers for private gain, typically through bribery or other methods, in the United States government. Corruption in the United States has been a perennial political issue, peaking in the Jacksonian era and the Gilded Age before declining with the reforms of the Progressive Era.

Chinese scholars, thinkers, and policy-makers have debated about democracy, an idea which was first imported by Western colonial powers but which some argue also has connections to classic Chinese thinking.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1937 United States Senate special election in Arkansas</span>

The 1937 Arkansas special senatorial election was held on October 19, 1937, following the death of longtime Democratic senator Joe T. Robinson. Robinson was a powerful senator, staunch Democrat, and strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was instrumental in passing many New Deal programs through the Senate. Arkansas was essentially a one-party state during the Solid South period; the Democratic Party controlled all aspects of state and local office. Recently elected Democratic Governor of Arkansas Carl E. Bailey initially considered appointing himself to finish Robinson's term, but later acceded to a nomination process by the Democratic Central Committee, avoiding a public primary but breaking a campaign process. Avoiding the primary so angered the public and establishment Democrats, leading them to coalesce behind longtime Democrat John E. Miller as an independent, forcing a general election.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1919 Chicago mayoral election</span>

In the Chicago mayoral election of 1919, Republican William H. Thompson won reelection, winning a four way race against Democrat Robert Sweitzer, independent candidate Maclay Hoyne, and Cook County Labor Party candidate John Fitzpatrick. Sweitzer was the incumbent Cook County clerk, while Hoyne was the incumbent Cook County state's attorney. Fitzpatrick was a trade unionist.


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  2. "politician – Princeton Wordnet dictionary". wordfind.com.
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  11. Joel D. Aberbach, Robert D. Putnam, and Bert A. Rockman, eds., Bureaucrats and politicians in western democracies (Harvard University Press, 1981)
  12. David A. Schultz, and Robert Maranto, eds., The politics of civil service reform (1998).
  13. Morris Szeftel, "Political graft and the spoils system in Zambia—the state as a resource in itself." Review of African Political Economy 9.24 (1982): 4–21.
  14. Andrea Mattozzi and Antonio Merlo, "Political careers or career politicians?." Journal of Public Economics 92#3 (2008): 597–608.
  15. Krcmaric, Daniel; Nelson, Stephen C.; Roberts, Andrew (2020). "Studying Leaders and Elites: The Personal Biography Approach". Annual Review of Political Science. 23: 133–151. doi: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-050718-032801 .
  16. Timothy S. Prinz, "The career paths of elected politicians: a review and prospectus." in Shirley Williams and Edward L. Lascher, eds. Ambition and beyond: career paths of American politicians (1993) pp: 11–63.
  17. Elina Haavio-Mannila and Torild Skard, eds. Unfinished Democracy: women in Nordic politics (2013)
  18. Elsa M. Chaney, Supermadre: Women in Politics in Latin America (University of Texas Press, 2014).
  19. Iwan W. Morgan (2010). Assessing George W. Bush's Legacy: The Right Man?. Springer. p. 45. ISBN   978-0230114333.
  20. James E. Mueller (2008). Tag Teaming the Press: How Bill and Hillary Clinton Work Together to Handle the Media. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 32. ISBN   978-0742563926.
  21. Vincent E. Barry (2007): Invitation to Critical Thinking p. 319 [ ISBN missing ]
  22. 1 2 Arnold J. Heidenheimer and Michael Johnston, eds. Political corruption: Concepts and contexts (2011).

Further reading