POLS 501 – Topics in American Politics

Tuesdays, 3:30-6:10 PM

DU 464


Dr. Barbara Burrell

Main office:      164 SSRI



Office hours:     Wednesdays 1-4 PM

Rm 416, Zulauf



This course is designed to introduce students to the field of American politics. Emphasis is on major works in American politics. Some of these readings are "classics" in the sense that they have structured much of our theories and research in the past few decades. Others are more recent leading works that have built on the earlier writings. The important point is to become familiar with the works that have contributed greatly to how we think about politics in America and the study of its politics and to develop skills in critically evaluating these works and research methodologies and approaches. 


The primary aim of the seminar is to acquaint you with the central questions, concepts and research approaches in the field and provide you with tools to delve more deeply into political science and to look forward to further research directions in American politics. We will focus on learning how to evaluate critically research others have done, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in their logic, how they define their concepts, develop empirical measures of them, construct and implement research designs to test relationships and interpret evidence.  I hope you will find the study of American politics to be challenging, that this course stimulates you to further exploration and research in this area, and that you see the comparative relevance of the concepts and studies that we examine.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities


Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the

Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Reading materials for this class are available in several ways. 


1. Journal articles marked with an * are available electronically.  If you are on campus you can go to www.jstor.org to find them.  If you are off campus, connect to the university library site, click on articles, off campus, type in your SS# under authorization, go to general databases and scroll to Jstor.


2. These electronically available articles can also be retrieved through Blackboard. I have enrolled this course in Blackboard. Go to this course and you will find these articles in Course Documents.


3. Articles and chapters that are not available electronically are on reserve in Founders Library.  I have also put a copy of them in a binder that is available in the Political Science Computer Office, 408 Zulauf.  If you take the binder to make copies, please return it promptly.


August 26. Introduction


September 2.  Public Opinion and Ideology


*Herbert McClosky. 1964. "Consensus and Ideology in American Politics." American Political Science Review, 58: 361-82.

*John L. Sullivan, James Piereson and George E. Marcus. 1979. “An Alternative Conceptualization of Political tolerance: Illusory Increase 1950s-1970s.” American Political Science Review 73: 781-794

Philip E. Converse. 1964. “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.”  In Ideology and Discontent, 206-261. (on reserve)

*Miller, Arthur. 1974. “Political Issues and Trust in Government: 1964-1970.”  American Political Science Review 68, (September): 951-972.

*Stanley Feldman and John Zaller. 1992. “The Political Culture of Ambivalence: Ideological Responses to the Welfare State.” American Journal of Political Science 36:268-307 


September 9.   Civic Engagement and Political Participation


Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina. 1999. “Making Sense of the Civic Engagement Debate.”

In Civic Engagement in American Democracy, ed. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina. Washington: Brookings/Rusell Sage Foundation: 1-23. (on reserve)

*Robert Putnam. 1995. “Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America.” PS: Political Science and Politics 28: 664-83.

*Sidney Verba, Kay L. Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Norman Nie. 1993. "Citizen Activity: Who Participates? Why Do They Say?" American Political Science Review 87 (June): 303-318.

*Lawrence Bobo and Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. 1990. “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment.” American Political Science Review 84: 377-94.

Theda Skocpol, Marshall Ganz and Ziad Munson. 2000. "A Nation of Organizers: The Institutional Origins of Civic Voluntarism in the United States," American Political Science Review 94: 527-546. (on reserve)

Morris Fiorina. 1999. “Extreme Voices: A Dark Side of civic Engagement.” In Civic Engagement in American Democracy, ed. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina. Washington: Brookings/Russell Sage Foundation: 395-427. (on reserve)


September 16. Voting Behavior


*Anthony Downs. 1957. “An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy,”  In The Journal of Political Economy 65, 2 : 135-150

*V.O. Key, Jr. 1955. "A Theory of Critical Elections," Journal of Politics 17: 3-18.

Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes. 1966. The American Voter, New York: John Wiley, chaps 6,7, pps.120-167.

*Walter Dean Burnham. 1965. "The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe." American Political Science Review 59: 7-28.

Lawrence Bartels. 2000 "Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952-1996." American Journal of Political Science 44: 35-50. (on reserve)

* Abramowitz, and Kyle Saunders. 1998. "Ideological Realignment in the US Electorate." Journal of Politics 60: 634-652.


September 23.  Pluralism and its Critiques


E.E. Schattschneider, 1960. The Semi-Sovereign People, New York: Hilt, Rinehart and Winston chps 1,2.

Robert Dahl, Who Governs?, 1961, 1-8, 163-65, 184-89, 223-301, 311-25.

*Bachrach and Baratz. 1962, "Two Faces of Power," American Political Science Review: 947-52.

*Jack Walker. 1966. "A Critique of the Elitist Theory of Democracy," American Political Science Review 60: 285-295.

*Dahl, “Further Reflections on ‘The Elitist Theory of Democracy,’” American Political Science Review (1966) 60: 296-305.

*Jack Walker, 1966.  “Communications: A Reply to ‘Further Reflections...,” American Political Science Review 60: 391-92.

*Theodore Lowi. 1967. "The Public Philosophy:  Interest-Group Liberalism," American Political Science Review 61: 5-24.


September 30.  Political Parties


*James L. Gibson, Cornelius P. Cotter, John F. Bibby, Robert J. Huckshorn. 1985. “Whither the Local Parties?: A Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Analysis of the Strength of Party  Organizations” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 29: 139-160.

*Schlesinger, Joseph A. 1985. “The New American Political Party.” American Political Science Review, 79: 1152-1169.

*Paul Herrnson, 1986. “Do Parties Make a Difference? The Role of Party Organizations in Congressional Elections.” Journal of Politics 48:589-615.

*John J. Coleman. 1999. "Unified Government, Divided Government, and Party Responsiveness." American Political Science Review, 93: 821-835.

Martin Wattenberg. 1993 “Views of the Parties: Negativity or Neutrality?” in Controversies in Voting Behavior, ed. Richard Niemi and Herbert Weisberg, Washington, DC: CQ Press. 368-382. (on reserve)

John Aldrich and Richard Niemi. 2001. “The Sixth American Party System: Electoral Change, 1952-1992,” in Controversies in Voting Behavior, ed. Richard Niemi and Herbert Weisberg, pp.405-426


October 7. Interest Groups

*Salisbury, Robert. 1969. “An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups.” American Journal of Political Science 13: 1-32.

*Jack Walker. 1983. "The Origins and Maintenance of Interest Groups in America," American Political Science Review 77: 90‑406.

*Anne Costain. 1981. “Representing Women: The Transition from Social Movement to Interest Group.” Western Political Quarterly 34: 100-113.

Jeffrey Berry. 1999. “The Rise of Citizen Groups.” In Civic Engagement in American Democracy, ed. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina. Washington: Brookings/Russell Sage Foundation. (on reserve)

*Gregory Caldeira and John R. Wright. 1998. "Lobbying for Justice: Organized Interests, the Senate, and the Bork, Souter, and Thomas Nominations," American Journal of Political Science, 42: 499-523.

*Hojnaki, Marie. 1997. “Interest Groups’ Decisions to join Alliances or Work Alone.” American Political Science Review 41: 61-87.


October 14. Legislative Behavior


*Nelson W. Polsby. 1968. “The Institutionalization of the House of Representatives.” American Political Science Review 62: 144-68.

*Richard F. Fenno.1977. "U.S. House Members in Their Constituencies: An Explora­tion." American Political Science Review 71: 883‑917.

*Barbara Sinclair. 1992. “The Emergence of Strong Leadership in the 1980s House of Representatives.” Journal of Politics 54: 657-84.

*Richard Hall, 1987. “Participation and Purpose in Committee Decision Making,” American Political Science Review  81, 1: 105-128.

C. Lawrence Evans. 2001. “Committee, Leaders, and Message Politics,” in Congress Reconsidered, 7th edition. Lawrence Dodd and Bruce Oppenheimer, ed. Washington: CQ Press (on reserve)


October 21. The Presidency


*Lyn Ragsdale and John J. Theis, III. 1997. “The Institutionalization of the American Presidency, 1924-1992.” American Journal of Political Science 41: 1280-1318.

Neustadt, Richard E. 1990. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. (chps 1-5) (on reserve)

Skowronek, Stephen. 1988. "Presidential Leadership in Political Time. In The Presidency and the Political System, 2nd ed. E. Michael Nelson, pp. 115-59, CQ Press. (on reserve)

Paul Light. 1999. The President’s Agenda, 3rd edition. Baltimore, MD.: The Johns Hopkins University Press,  Introduction, chps. 1,2 12 (on reserve)

*Kenneth Mayer. 1999. “Executive Orders and Presidential Power,” Journal of Politics 61, 2 (May), 445-466. and Chapter 1, By the Stroke of a Pen, available electronically in Blackboard


October 28. Judicial Behavior


Robert A. Dahl. 1958. "Decision‑Making in a Democracy: The Supreme Court as a National Policy‑Maker." Journal of Public Law 6: 279‑95.  (on reserve)

*Jonathan D. Casper. 1976. "The Supreme Court and National Policy Making." American Political Science Review 70: 50‑63.

*Norpoth, Helmut, Jeffrey Segal, William Mishler and Reginald S. Sheehan. 1994. “Popular Influence on Supreme Court Decisions.” American Political Science Review 88: 711-724.

Jeffrey Segal and Harold Spaeth 2002, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited, chapters to be assigned.  

*Melinda Gann Hall, "State Supreme Courts in American Democracy: Probing the Myths of Judicial Reform," American Political Science Review  95 (June): 315-330


November 4.  Policy Agendas


Charles Lindblom. 1959. “The Science of Muddling Through,” Public Administration Review (Spring 1959): 79-88.

Hugh Heclo. 1978. “Issue Networks in the Executive Establishment,” in Anthony King (ed.), The New American Political System (1978), pp. 87-124. (on reserve)

*Jack Walker. 1969. “The Diffusion of Innovations among the American States,” American Political Science Review 63: 880-99.

Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones. 1991. “Agenda Dynamics and Policy Subsystems,” Journal of Politics, 53, 4: 1044-1074.

John Kingdon. 1984. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies Boston: Little Brown.  Chapters 6, 8, 9.


November 11. Gender and Politics


*Lyn Kathlene. 1995. "Alternative Views of Crime: Legislative Policymaking in Gendered Terms," Journal of Politics 57: 696-723.

*Sue Thomas. 1991. “The Impact of Women on State Legislative Policies.” Journal of Politics 53: 958-76.

Barbara Burrell. 1994. A Woman’s Place Is in the House: Campaigning for Congress in the Feminist Era. University of Michigan Press, chp. 6.  (on reserve)

*Kirsten la Cour Debelko and Paul Herrnson. 1997. “Women’s and Men’s Campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives.” Political Research Quarterly 50: 121-135.

Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless. “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office,” American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming. (on reserve)

Michele Swers. 2002. “Transforming the Agenda: Analyzing Gender Differences in Women’s Issue Bill Sponsorship.” In Women Transforming Congress, ed. Cindy Simon Rosenthal. Pp. 260-283 (on reserve)


November 18.     Representation


*Jane Mansbridge. 1999. “Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent ‘Yes,’” Journal of Politics 61 3 (August), 628-657.

*Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro. 1983. "Effects of Public Opinion on Policy," American Political Science Review 77 (March): 175-190.

Lawrence R. Jacobs and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1998. “The Politicization of Public Opinion: The Fight for the Pulpit,” in Margaret Weir, ed. (on reserve)

Benjamin Barber. 1998. “Neither Leaders nor Followers: Citizenship under Strong Democracy,” Chap 7 in A Passion for Democracy Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 95-110.

*Charles Cameron, David Epstein and Sharyn O’Halloran. 1996. “Do Majority-Minority Districts Maximize Substantive Black Representation in Congress?” American Political Science Review 90; 794-812.


November 25  Media and Politics


*Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw. 1972. “The Agenda Setting Function of the Mass Media”  Public Opinion Quarterly 36: 176-187.

*Michael Robinson. 1976. “Public Affairs Television and the Growth of Political Malaise.” American Political Science Review 70:409-432.

*Shanto Iyengar, Mark D. Peters, and Donald R. Kinder. 1982.  "Experimental Demonstrations of the 'Not-So-Minimal' Consequences of Television News Programs." American Political Science Review 76: 848-58.

*Thomas E. Nelson, Rosalee A. Clawson, and Zoe M. Oxley. 1997. “Media Framing of a Civil Liberties Conflict and Its Effect on Tolerance.” American Political Science Review 91: 567-84.

*Jeffrey J. Mondak. “Newspapers and Political Awareness.” American Journal of Political Science, 39: 513-527.

*Tim Groeling and Samuel Kernell. 1998. “Is Network News Coverage of the President Biased?” The Journal of Politics  60: 1063-1087.


December 2. Studying Political Science in the American Context


*Robert Dahl, "The Behavioralist Approach," American Political Science Review  60:4 (December, 1961): 763-72.

*Richard Fenno, "Observation, Context, and Sequence in the Study of Politics," American Political Science Review  80:1 (March, 1986): 3-15.

*Theodore J. Lowi, "The State in Political Science:  How We Become What We Study." American Political Science Review  86:1 (March, 1992): 1-7.

Thomas Mann. 2003. “Linking Knowledge and Action: Political Science and Campaign Finance Reform.” Perspectives on Politics 1: 69-83. (on reserve)


Course Requirements:


1) Go to the American Political Science website (www.apsanet.org) and click on Proceedings. That site will take you to the papers that have been submitted for presentation at the 2003 American Political Science Association meeting being held August 28-31.  Search for a paper in some area of American politics that you would like to read and discuss.  Download the paper, email the paper to me. I will fit the paper in to an appropriate week’s readings and you will lead the discussion on that paper with me. Your grade will be factored with #2.


2) The quality of this seminar depends on participation from all students. Active and informed participation in class discussions is expected. Students are required to have completed all of the readings before class.  It is essential to have a good understanding of each reading, not only individually but also how they fit together. To encourage this process, each student is required to write a thought piece of not more than 2 pages commenting on some aspect of the readings on 11 of the 14 weeks. You could focus on a methodological concern, a theoretical concern, or a question that the authors raise or leave unanswered. You should think of these writing assignments as opportunities to think about and record your own reactions to the readings. The papers are due by 9 AM on class day. You can email them to me or drop the paper off in my SSRI office.


Percent of course grade:           50%


3) A bibliographic term paper or essay that traces the major developments in the literature and research in one on the topical areas from the course syllabus through the last quarter of the 20th century to the beginning of 21st century.  Choose a classic piece of work in American Politics such as The American Voter or Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power and show how political scientists have used the theoretical approach, concepts, and research methodology of this work to develop knowledge in this area and discuss where do we go from here. Consider the ways in which the thesis of this work has been expanded and challenged. The purpose of the bibliographic term paper is to summarize and analyze some of the most important work published in addition to the assigned readings. You should not try to include each and every derivative work since a classic article in your analysis. Instead you should focus on only the ones that make substantial use of the classic. I expect the paper to be about 15 pages in length (double-spaced). (Longer is fine.)


Percent of Course Grade:         25%


4) The final examination will be a “mini” graduate field exam. You will have two-three hours to answer a few questions that synthesize the major themes, approaches and methodologies and critique them from some of the subfields and from your bibliographic essay. Closed-book. We will discuss procedures in class.

Percent of Course Grade:       25%