Welcome to the launch page for Intro to American Government and Politics 201.
A recent Public Policy Polling opinion poll found that when asked to compare the favorability of Congress to the favorability of a series of institutions, people, processes, groups, and other things, the American people rate Congress lower than root canals, head lice, cockroaches, and used-car salesmen. Yet, in the 2012 election, more than 90% of incumbent members of Congress were re-elected.
Puzzles such as this frustrate the public and motivate hours of cable news coverage but can often be explained parsimoniously by thinking about how political institutions shape the preferences and behaviors of voters and the people they elect to represent them. The goal of this course is to help you better understand the incentives and motivations of these various actors in the American political system so that you can interpret what you read and hear about American politics in a more analytical fashion. Consequently, this course serves simultaneously as both an introduction to the American political system and an introduction to the theories and methods of studying political science more generally.
We will focus on applying the ideas and theories generated by scholars in the discipline to understand the contemporary political and policy issues facing our country, including the societal debate over gun control; legal issues pertaining to marijuana legalization, “bathroom bills,” and voter identification laws; the perpetual stalemate over budget negotiations; and the 2016 election. We will discuss these and other current topics in order to address broader questions about American politics, including:
- How do the constitutional “rules of the game” structure the choices that political actors make?
- Why have debates about the proper role of the federal government persisted for over 200 years?
- Why is Congress so dysfunctional?
- What is the relationship between the public and their elected representatives?
- How has growing polarization altered the political behavior of both elected officials and voters?