American Government


Topics in American Politics

This course will enable regular or visiting faculty members to examine topics in American Politics not treated in the established curriculum. Subjects may therefore vary each time the course is offered.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

American Elections and Voting Behavior

This course will introduce students to the study of elections and voting behavior.  Topics to be covered include partisanship in the electorate, voter turnout, nomination rules and procedures, campaign organization and strategy, and the effects of campaigns on voters.  Although we will focus on the United States, throughout the course comparisons will be made with other industrialized democracies in order to better understand the peculiar features of elections in the U.S.  The course will also provide a non-technical introduction to some of the methods used by political scientists to study public opinion, elections and voting behavior.  Because of the timing of the course, special attention will be paid to the results of the 2004 presidential and congressional elections and the outlook for the 2006 midterm elections. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA/W.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

The American Legal System

A legal system is an integral part of a nation's political system. It provides mechanisms for implementing and reformulating public policies, for resolving individual and group conflicts, and for holding political and economic processes to certain standards of fairness. This course will examine selected features of the American legal system and the ways it deals with basic social problems, e.g., regulating criminal law enforcement, controlling physical and environmental hazards that stem from industrial technology, and regulating the struggle for economic power. Readings and lectures will explore how the American legal system's approach to these problems has changed over time. Dist: SOC; WCult: W.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

American Political Institutions

Political institutions are the rules, laws, and organizations that structure political life. This course examines the political institutions that form the foundation of democracy in general and American democracy in particular. American political institutions vary significantly over time, including the Albany Congress, the Articles of Confederation, and, of course, the US Constitution. The US states also differ in their legislative, executive, judicial, and electoral institutions. Most of the course will focus on electoral rules, legislatures, courts, the president and governors. We will also study extra-governmental institutions such as political parties, interest groups, and labor unions as well as policy institutions such as taxation, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and other spending programs.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

Domestic Politics an the U.S. in World Affairs

This course explores the influence of domestic politics on U. S. foreign policy. It begins with theories in international relations on how domestic institutions and political elites affect statecraft, particularly with respect to war. The remainder of the course applies the theories to the U.S. case. We examine changes in the constitutional system brought about by the creation of the national security state, as well as the role of Congress and the Supreme Court in overseeing the executive. We then turn to public opinion, the media and advocacy groups as sources of support and constraint on presidential decisions.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

Great Issues in American Politics

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

Law and Politics of the Environment

Although most Americans believe that environmental protection should be a policy priority, environmental regulation is routinely criticized for delivering only modest benefits at an exorbitant cost. This course provides an overview of the development and current state of environmental law and policy in the United States, with special attention to the recurring technical and political challenges that frustrate policymakers' attempts to solve environmental problems. Dist: SOC.

GOVT 30.01 - Topics in American Politics

The Federal Budget

This course will investigate the U.S. federal budget. Students will come to understand the history of, contemporary practices in and future trajectory of U.S. expenditure and revenue generating policies. The course will also cover the process by which policymakers pass an annual budget including what is supposed to happen and what actually happens in pursuit of a budget compromise. Substantial course time will be spent considering possible reforms that can be made to the federal budget. Distr: SOC.

GOVT 30.02 - Topics in American Politics

Leadership and Political Institutions (Identical to PBPL 52)

This course explores how political leaders in the U.S. reconcile the constraints of public office with the opportunities to make major changes in society. Drawing from diverse materials on the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the course addresses the following questions: How does leadership differ in the public and private spheres? What personal skills and attributes affect the success or failure of leaders of political institutions? What criteria do/should citizens apply to public leaders? How do political context and historical contingencyshape institutional leadership? Dist: SOC; WCult: W.

GOVT 30.03- Topics in American Politics

Political Economy in the Age of Google (formerly Politics, Policy and the Knowledge Economy)

This course explores the shifting relationship between private corporations and government policy in the networked world. As advanced technologies reshape business architectures and transform the terms of competition, the actions of government agencies must change correspondingly. We shall analyze the knowledge economy in microcosm—especially evolving network effects—and ask the urgent questions. What public infrastructure and standards are necessary to facilitate growth? What are the limits of established notions of intellectual property—patents, for example? What new metrics might be used to account for corporate performance and valuable assets? What are the implications of peer networks for the delivery of the services—from healthcare to education—that citizens have come to expect in a democracy? Distr: SOC. WCult: W.

GOVT 30.04 - Topics in American Politics

Political Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories

Why do people hold false or unsupported beliefs about politics and why are so those beliefs so hard to change? This course will explore the psychological factors that make people vulnerable to political misinformation and conspiracy theories and the reasons that corrections so often fail to change their minds. We will also analyze how those tendencies are exploited by political elites and consider possible approaches that journalists and civic reformers could employ to combat misperceptions. Dist. SOC.

GOVT 30.07

American Political Economy

This course is an introduction to the political economy of the United States. You will learn about the politics behind economic policy-making and the role of economic processes in politics throughout U.S. history under three headings: ideas, interests, and institutions. We will investigate how economic policies and ideas have changed in the U.S., the relative importance of ideas, interest groups, and political institutions in setting the trajectory of American economic policies, and how American political institutions have evolved to meet new economic challenges. The topics we study include foreign trade and investment, business regulation, slavery and the Civil War, monetary policies and the Great Depression, federalism, and the welfare state and social insurance.

Govt 30.08

Political Parties

This course focuses on the role of political parties in the American political system. Besides understanding the structure of political parties and why they form, we will also focus on how American political parties have changed over time. In particular, we will study political parties through three broad perspectives: Parties-in-the electorate (the actions of voters), parties-in-government (the actions of elected officials), and party organization (how parties build and use collective resources). Topics covered in this course include: political parties and the American Founding, American political party formation, party system change, third parties and why they fail, the role of interest groups in politics, the evolution of party ideology, and party polarization. We will also pay particular attention to the role of hyper-partisanship in our contemporary political era.

GOVT 30.09 - Topics in American Politics

Laws, Courts and Public Policy (cross-listed with Public Policy 28)

Many critics see judges as "policy makers in robes" while others, perhaps naively, would never think of judges as "policy makers." In this course we will investigate the role that legal institutions, particularly courts, play in public policy making. We will think about the similarities and differences between courts and other political institutions in the policy making process. The course considers questions such as: What role do practical policy considerations play in judicial decision making? How can groups use courts to pursue public policy change? How much impact do courts and judges have on policy outcomes on the ground? Do courts have the capacity to make good public policy, and is judicial policy making desirable? We will address these questions by looking at the U.S. Supreme Court as well as lower courts, and will examine a variety of substantive applications including educational funding, tobacco regulation, and campaign finance. The class is open to students who have taken PBPL 5, and counts toward the Law and Public Policy track of the Public Policy Minor. Prerequisite: PBPL 5. Distr: SOC. WCult: W.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

Regulations and Public Policy

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

The Presidency and the Public in American Politics

This is a course on the interaction between the president and the public. We will explore different theories about when and why the president might seek to alter policy in response to public attitudes as compared to when the president will seek to change public opinion. We will analyze the various techniques and strategies presidents use to understand public opinion in the current era, and the strategies they use to affect public views. We will examine whether the president is more or less responsive to public opinion in different issue areas, including: war and conflict, international trade, domestic social policy, and macroeconomic policy. Throughout the course, we will compare the approach that President Barack Obama has taken towards the public with that of previous presidents. Distr: SOC. WCult: W.

GOVT 30 - Topics in American Politics

Survey Research in Business and Politics

Pollsters in politics and marketing researchers in business all devote a great deal of energy to discovering the attitudes of the public, regarding public policies and politicians for the former and products and services for the latter. In this course, we will explore the general techniques that political pollsters and marketing researchers use to discover how the public thinks, and we will compare how this information is used in different contexts. We will discuss questions such as: can similar techniques be used to introduce unfamiliar politicians and products to the public? does "brand strategy" apply to politicians and products in similar ways? how is advertising used to improve the market share of candidates and products? can negative advertising be applied with equal effect to harm competitors in the business and political realms? how will politicians and businesses seek to understand and influence the preferences of the public as technological changes produce new opportunities and challenges regarding interactions with the public?


Campaigns and Elections

 Do campaigns change election outcomes? When do they matter and when do they not? How should campaigns be conducted for optimal results on Election Day? This course will seek to answer these questions from both academic and practical perspectives. Particularly, it will investigate campaign strategies; issues, money and communications in political races; the behavior of voters; and possible election reforms. Students should leave this class with a deep understanding of political campaigns for elective office. Dist: SOC; WCult: W.


American State Politics

A study of the American federal system of government in which authority is distributed between the national and state governments. Readings, lectures, and discussions will focus specifically on likely explanations of the origins, maintenance, and/or changes in public policies in the states. Specific topics include the original and changing federal relationship, cooperative, competitive, and `free rider' relationships among the states, public policy preferences of the public in the states, and similarities and differences among major political institutions in the states. Prerequisite: Government 3, or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA/W.


Congress and the American Political System

This course introduces students to the analysis of public policymaking in the U.S. Congress. Special attention is paid to the evolution of the House and Senate as institutions, to elections and to the interactions among elections, institutional arrangements, and policymaking. Prerequisite: Government 3, or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC; WCult: W.


The Presidency

This course will deepen your understanding of policymaking and make following the news fun. Main topics are: how policy conflicts turn on different interpretations of enduring values such as freedom and equality; how political actors frame issues strategically; how policy instruments such as incentives
work in theory and practice; and 4) how policies and the political process shape each other. Prerequisite: Gov 3 or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA/W.


The Making of American Public Policy

This course will deepen your understanding of policymaking and make following the news fun. Main topics are: how policy conflicts turn on different interpretations of enduring values such as freedom and equality; how political actors frame issues strategically; how policy instruments such as incentives
work in theory and practice; and 4) how policies and the political process shape each other. Prerequisite: Gov 3 or permission of the instructor.  Dist: SOC; WCult: W.


Polling, Public Opinion, and Public Policy (Identical to Public Policy 44)

The results of public opinion polls frequently dominate political news coverage and they often alter the behavior of politicians; moreover, political polls have started becoming news in their own right in recent years.  In this course, we will explore the techniques that pollsters use to examine public attitudes and we will consider how that information can, and should, be used to formulate public policy.  We will engage questions such as: To what degree can the public form meaningful preferences about complex political issues?  What does a political opinion consist of, and how can it be measured?  How can potential errors in polls be avoided?  How does partisanship influence public opinion, and where do Americans stand on key policy issues?  To what extent should politicians try to change public opinion rather than respond to it?  How has the nature and role of public opinion shifted in an era of rapidly advancing polling technology and a changing media environment?  In addition to examining the pertinent literature on topics such as these, we will conduct and analyze an actual public opinion survey as a class.  Through a combination of theoretical and hands-on learning, students will leave the course with a firm understanding of these dynamics. Dist: SOC; WCult: W.


Government and Business

Government and business are inextricably linked, each exerting a great deal of influence over the other. This course examines their interrelationship, focusing in particular on economic and political theories of regulation and subsidization; foreign trade, free trade and protectionism; the power of corporate interests in the policymaking process; and business within the American legal system.  Prerequisite: Government 3, or permission of the instructor. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA/W.