Approved by Faculty Senate
University Studies Course Approval Form
1. Department or Program
2. Course Number 120
3. Semester Hours 3
4. Frequency of Offering Every semester: 5-6 sections of 60 students
5. Course Title Introduction to American Politics
6. Catalog Description
A study of the purposes of American government, civil rights, the federal system,
the powers and functions of the three branches of government, political parties and interest
groups, and contemporary problems.
7. This is an existing course previously approved by A2C2 .......Yes
8. This is a new course proposal . No
9. University Studies Requirement this course would satisfy..... Arts and Sciences, Social Science
10. Department Contact Person for this course..... Yogesh Grover- 457-5415 firstname.lastname@example.org
11. General Course Outcomes
PoliSci 120 introduces students to a significant part of human interaction- the study of
politics, or human cooperation and conflict. Students gain a broader and deeper understanding
of the political system that governs them and that they may govern through their participation.
Students are asked to assess the American political systems assumptions regarding human
nature and the institutions that stem from those assumptions. Students develop their critical
thinking skills through reading, writing, and discussion of issues in American politics.
12. Course Outcomes
a. understand humans as individuals and as parts of larger social systems
Students are exposed to the role of the individual in the American political system
through a discussion of American political culture and/or debates regarding the rights of
individuals versus the needs of the community (civil liberties/civil rights). Students also
examine the extent to which they are part of larger communities such as state and nation,
political parties, interest groups, and others.
b. understand the historical context of the social
Students are presented a detailed history of the development of American political
institutions, going back to the Founding in 1789 or earlier, and extending through the Civil
War, Industrial Revolution, New Deal, Great Society, and to the present day. This discussion
includes information on the evolution of social scientific methodology of political polling from
relatively crude methods to todays more sophisticated surveys- that is, students are taught to
evaluate critically public opinion polls presented in the media.
c. identify problems and frame research questions
relating to humans and their experience
Students spend significant time in class dealing with various human problems,
whether questions of welfare policy, taxes, gun control, abortion, the environment, or
other currently relevant topics. Students also are exposed to questions regarding problems
of political participation, whether through political parties,interest groups, social movements,
letter-writing campaigns, voting, or other activities. Regarding research questions, again,
students are expected to understand proper techniques for both recognizing and conducting
valid and reliable public opinion polling. Beyond that, students are challenged to articulate the
bases for their political opinions, leading to questions of epistemology (i.e. how do we know?)
d. become familiar with the process of theory-building
and theoretical frameworks used by
he social sciences
As related in the previous section, students are constantly asked "How do you know that?"
regarding their conclusions on political matters, causing students to think harder and attempt to fit
their answers into broader theories of human behavior. Students should begin to make linkages
between a broader theoretical perspective e.g. Madisons mistrust of human nature) and the
specific institutions that flow from it (e.g. featuring separation of powers and checks and balances).
e. understand research methods used in the social sciences
Again, students are exposed to public opinion surveys, their methods, and their potential
pitfalls. When appropriate, students are given the opportunity to practice such methods through
f. describe and detail discipline-specific knowledge and its
Although each professor uses slightly different examples of discipline-specific knowledge,
the results of academic research are clearly present in the classroom. For example, some students
are exposed to Louis Hartzs "liberal consensus" theory of American political culture, David
Mayhews description of members of Congress as "single-minded seekers of reelection", and/or
Richard Neustadts assessment that presidential power is the "power to persuade." Often,
professors will assign readings from prominent political scientists. These theories are then critically
examined and applied to current debates.
g. understand differences among and commonalities across
humans and their experience, as tied
to such variables as gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.
Students are exposed to information regarding the aggregate political attitudes of various groups,
broken down by race, gender, age, education, income, etc. Also, many class discussions center on
these diversity issues, e.g. on American political culture and its treatment of minority groups,
representation of various groups in Congress, in interest groups, etc.
Political Science 120- American Government and Politics
Office Hours: MWF 10:00-11:00 A.M., MW 2:00-3:30 P.M., TR 8:45 A.M.- 10:45 A.M., in Minne 123.
Office Phone: 457-5009
email: email@example.com (checked regularly)
Note: If this schedule does not work for you, please let me know and well make an alternate arrangement.
In 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that "the (American) people are...the real
directing power; and
although the form of government is representative, it is evident that the opinions, the prejudices, the
interests, and even the passions of the people are hindered by no permanent obstacles from exercising
a perpetual influence on the daily conduct of affairs." In other words, Tocqueville saw American
government as fundamentally democratic- that is, consisting of rule by the people. In this course,
we will first explore the question of whether in fact America was a democratic nation at its founding.
Next, we will consider the various ways in which democracy can be achieved, i.e. through joining
political parties, forming interest groups, answering surveys, voting, running for office. Are these
methods effective means of participation?
We will then consider the structure of American government and its suitability for
democracy. How well
and in what ways does the American political system channel democratic participation? We will then
examine the "outputs" of this system, i.e. public policy. What kinds of policies does our system of
democratic government lead to, and why? What interests are favored, and which not? How difficult
is it to change policy?
The course material will be presented with America in 2000 as a backdrop. How can it be
majority of Americans now think the country is moving in the right direction, and think that their lives
will improve over the coming year, but are completely disgusted with their government (which they
elected and reelected)? Polls say that the public feels increasingly distant from politics, especially
in Washington. Furthermore, voter turnout is mediocre at best (except in Minnesota). Young people
are especially cynical about politics, but are volunteering in their communities as much as ever, if not
more. Is there a contradiction, and what are the consequences for the political system of this seeming split?
The objectives of this course are twofold. First, hopefully this course will help you
to think critically
(but not cynically) about the American political system. You will learn to consider arguments, weigh
evidence, acknowledge opposing points of view, and argue persuasively for your own conclusions,
all important parts of a good university education.
Second, this course will provide you the tools for a basic understanding of the
American political system.
It should prepare you for more advanced classes in the political science department. Regardless of whether
or not you continue in political science, though, you will likely remain a citizen for the rest of your life. This
course will help you make your continuing participation in civic life as effective as possible.
University Studies: Social Science Course
This course will satisfy three semester hours of the six-semester hour requirement for
social science in the
university studies program. As such, it seeks to provide students taking this course the opportunity to
achieve the following outcomes:
a. understand humans as individuals and parts of larger social systems
b. understand the historical context of the social sciences
c. identify problems and frame research questions relating to humans and their experience
d. become familiar with the process of theory-building and theoretical frameworks used by the social sciences
e. understand the research methods in the social sciences
f. describe and detail discipline-specific knowledge and its applications
g. understand differences among and commonalities across humans and their experience, as tied to such
variables as gender, race, socio-economic status, etc.
The required readings are drawn from the following books, which are available for purchase at the campus bookstore.
Miroff, Bruce and Raymond Seidelman and Todd Swanstrom. Debating Democracy: A Reader
in American Politics.
2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Waldman, Steven. The Bill: How Legislation Really Becomes Law: A Case Study of
the National Service Bill.
New York: Penguin, 1996.
Wayne, Stephen and G. Calvin Mackenzie, David O'Brien, and Richard Cole. The Politics
of American Government.
3rd ed. New York: Worth, 1999.
Three examinations will form the bulk of your grade for the class, two midterms and a
final, all in-class, and all
combinations of multiple choice and essay. The three exams will be weighted roughly equally, with a slight
preference for the final. You are allowed to write an optional 4-6 page paper that will count for a fourth grade
(all weighted equally), due at least two weeks before the last day of class. Paper topics must be relevant to the
course material and must be approved by the instructor. Class attendance and participation will be used to decide
borderline grades. Note: if for some serious reason you cannot take an exam at the scheduled time period, you
are expected to let me know immediately, subject to my permission. Any deviation from this policy may result
in either grade reduction or failure, subject to my discretion.
I. Course Introduction
II. The Framework of Government
A. American Political Culture (USP social science outcomes A, C, D, F, G)
Readings: Miroff, Seidelman, Swanstrom (hereafter Miroff, et al.), Chapters 3, 4, 5;
O'Brien, and Cole (hereafter Wayne, et al.), Chapter 1; Waldman, Chapters 1-3.
B. The Founding and its Results (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, D, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 2 and Appendix B; Miroff, et al., Ch. 1.
C. Federalism (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, D)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 3; Miroff, et al., Ch. 2; Waldman, Ch. 8.
***************************FIRST MIDTERM EXAM*****************************
III. Politics and the American People
A. Public Opinion and Participation (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, D, E, F, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Chs. 7,8; Miroff, et al., Chs. 7,12; Waldman, Ch. 13.
B. The Media (USP social science outcomes B, C, E, F)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 12; Miroff, et al., Ch. 8; Waldman, Ch. 5.
C. Political Parties (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, D, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 10; Miroff, et al., Ch. 10.
D. Interest Groups (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, D, F, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 9; Waldman, Chs. 4, 6, 7, 10.
**************************SECOND MIDTERM EXAM***************************
E. Elections (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 11; Miroff, et al., Ch. 11.
IV. The Institutions of Government
A. Congress (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, D, F, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 13; Miroff, et al., Ch. 13 (just Fiorina); Waldman, Chs. 9, 11, 12, 14.
B. The President (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, F, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 14; Miroff, et al., Ch. 14; Waldman, Ch. 15, Epilogue.
C. The Courts (USP social science outcomes A, B, C, F, G)
Readings: Wayne, et al., Ch. 16; Miroff, et al., Ch. 16.
(Tuesday, December 12th at 8:00 A.M.)