Welcome to the launch page for Intro to American Government and Politics 201.
Americans report record levels of dissatisfaction with their government. Only 19% trust the federal government to do what is right most or all of the time, and 60% think that the federal government has too much power. Approximately three-quarters of Americans say that most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the interests of the country. Moreover, Public Policy Polling opinion polls consistently find that when asked to compare the favorability of Congress to the favorability of a series of people, processes, groups, and other things, the American people rate Congress lower than root canals, head lice, cockroaches, and used-car salesmen.
Our task in this course will be two-fold. First, we will identify why so many Americans have become disenchanted with their government and elected officials. Second, we will critically assess the validity of these perceptions. In order to address these complicated and multi-faceted issues, we will deeply explore the origins, operations, and consequences of our political institutions, as well as how those 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 American government 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 challenges to our country’s political norms; the societal debate over freedom of speech and association; the seemingly perpetual stalemate over policy negotiations; and concerns about fake news during 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?
- What are political norms and why do they matter?
- 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?