In a blog last week, I wrote about the difference between the terms “politics” and “law.” But what about the comparison between politics and government? Here, I explain some of the hallmark distinctions.

What Is Government?

By various sources, government is defined as “the governing body of a nation, state, or community” or “the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states.” The word government does not only apply to the people who make up the government but also to the systems and/or processes used for controlling a country, state, or community.

In the United States, there are three branches of government: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. The following illustration from gives a helpful overview:

What Is Politics?

The term “politics” has a number of definitions that are both widely accepted and widely contested. “Politics is defined in such different ways: as the exercise of power, the science of government, the making of collective decisions, the allocation of scarce resources…and so on,” says the Palgrave MacMillan article “What Is Politics?”

While politics encompasses “activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power,” it is not solely based on government endeavors. But narrowly speaking, when we talk about politics we are often referring to achieving and exercising positions of governance.

Don’t dismay if the two terms—government and politics—seem endlessly inscrutable. As you strive to be an involved and informed citizen, just remember the words of our sixth U.S. president John Quincy Adams: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”