POLS 100: Intro to American Government and Politics

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office: Zulauf 403

Hours: MW 11-12 & By Appointment

753-7056 mwyckoff@niu.edu



This course provides a college level introduction to the American political system and serves as a prerequisite for many upper level courses in American Government. Three general topics will be covered during the semester: (1) politics and the democratic process in the United States; (2) basic principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights; and (3) the national policy making institutions of the United States. In addition to the standard textbook topics, we will also keep an eye on this year’s presidential election campaign.



The following textbook is required and should be available at either of the campus bookstores:

Additional required reading assignments are to be located at various Internet websites. Consult the outline below for specific assignments. Occasionally this may involve using a computer at an NIU computing lab to gain access to sites for which NIU has paid subscription fees (for example, www.jstor.org ).



Cell Phones. Cell phones are forbidden and should be turned off upon entering the auditorium. A first violation of this rule will result in a friendly warning. A second violation will result in your removal from the classroom for that day. A third violation will result in a grade of F for the course. Any exceptions to this general policy must be explicitly negotiated, in advance, with the instructor.

General Advice. Your best strategy for doing well in the course is to keep up with the assigned readings, attend class regularly, take good notes, and focus on issues presented in the lecture and discussion sessions.

Exams. Three hourly exams will be given. All will be multiple choice in format and each will contribute 22.5% to your final grade. Even though it is not a comprehensive final, Exam III will be administered during finals week. Barring extraordinary circumstances everyone must take Exam III at that time.

Written Assignments. About every other week you will prepare a brief essay (1-2 pages of text, typed and double-spaced) reacting to one of the lecture topics for that week. The course outline (see below) will tell you exactly when papers are due. Papers not submitted in person during your Friday morning discussion session will normally receive a grade reduction of at least one letter. Exceptions will be made for persons experiencing extraordinary circumstances as defined below under "makeup exams." My TAs and I regard these papers as a serious part of the course, so spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will be taken into account when assigning grades. Together, your short essays will contribute an additional 22.5% to your final grade.

Participation in Discussion Sections. Students are strongly encouraged to attend our Friday morning discussion sections because: (1) participation in these meetings will contribute 10% to your final course grade; (2) your discussion leaders are the ones who will be grading your written assignments (worth 22.5% of your course grade) and who will be there for help when you need it; (3) this is a great chance to discuss issues of government and politics in a small group setting. Those who take the course seriously will want to attend.

Makeup exams and grades of incomplete will be provided cheerfully when needed, but only for reasons of significant illness, personal tragedy, or other similarly extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, evidence of the extraordinary circumstance must be documented by the student. Should makeup exams be necessary, I reserve the right to switch to an essay format.

Extra credit. Sorry, none is available. No exceptions. If you find you’re having trouble, seek help early in the semester. We will be glad to provide assistance if you request it in a timely fashion.

Students with Disabilities. NIU abides by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact me early in the semester so that I can help you obtain needed assistance. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (753-1303). I look forward to working with you to enhance your academic success in this course.



I will do my best to adhere to the following schedule, but I reserve the right to delay a particular exam or modify a reading assignment if I find it necessary or useful to do so.



A. Organizational Issues and Basics of Government and Politics (Week of August 22)



B. Public Opinion and Ideology in America (Week of August 29)




C. Thinking about Democracy (Wednesday, September 7)



D. Political Parties (Week of September 12)




E. Interest Group Politics (Week of September 19)



EXAM I: Friday, September 23



A. Constitutional Origins (Week of September 26)


B. Principles of the Constitution I (Week of October 3)




C. Principles of the Constitution II: Federalism (Monday, October 10)


D. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights (October 12, 17, 19)





E. Civil Rights (Week of October 24)



EXAM II: Friday, October 28




A. The Supreme Court and Judicial Review (Week of October 31 )


B. Presidential and Congressional Elections (Week of November 7)




C. The U.S. Congress (Week of November 14)




D. The Presidency & the Executive Branch (November 21, 28, 30)


EXAM III: Consult Standard Exam Schedule


Pols 100, Professor Wyckoff

Exam 1 Review Questions

1. Define: government, politics, public policy. What functions do governments perform for society?. What alternatives to government are available to us?

2. Be familiar with basic terms: (1) totalitarianism, libertarianism, anarchism; (2) socialism, capitalism, laissez-faire.

3. Be familiar with the values of freedom, order and equality as defined in the textbook and lecture.

4. In 20th Century America the most commonly used ideological labels are "liberal" and "conservative." Know what these terms mean in the context of: (1) economic policy; and (2) social/moral issues. Furthermore, know how economic liberalism emerged in the era of the Great Depression and how this kind of liberalism relates to the policies of the New Deal. Be familiar with the historical circumstances that led to a debate over social and moral issues instead of economics in the 1960s.

5. By cross-classifying economic liberalism-conservatism with social/moral liberalism-conservatism Janda generates four different ideological classifications. Be familiar with them (liberals, conservatives, libertarians, communitarians) and the value tradeoffs that underlie them.

6. Define "political party." What functions do political parties perform for democratic political systems, according to the lecture? Be familiar with "responsible party democracy" as one approach to majority rule democracy.

7. What is a "critical" or "realigning" election and how did V.O. Key demonstrate that critical realignment occurred in the New England region in the late 1920s? Using the New Deal realignment as an example, explain how critical elections have helped promote democracy in America. What kind of party era do we find ourselves in now and how did it come about?

8. How do interest groups differ from political parties? How do interest groups try to influence public policy? What type of democracy do interest groups tend to promote? What are the pitfalls of relying too much on interest groups to provide democracy?

9. There are many ways to think about democracy and how democratic political systems work. Discuss and evaluate democracy in America using the ideas encountered in this course (in the lecture and in Chapter 2 of Janda, Berry and Goldman).

10. In Federalist 10, founding father James Madison is worried about self-interested groups (factions) and how to design a democratic system to protect the nation from them. Where do factions come from? Can they be gotten rid of? In dealing with factions does he prefer: (1) direct or indirect democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation? Explain.



Pols 100, Professor Wyckoff

Study questions for Exam II

1. In the 1760s and 1770s, the British government adopted a variety of policies that greatly offended the colonists. Why, given their history, did the colonists react so negatively?

2. What body served as a national government for the colonists during the Revolutionary War? What two significant founding documents were adopted by this body (one with the help of Thomas Jefferson)?

3. What kind of national government operated in the U.S. during most of the 1780s? What factors led to its demise?

4. What kinds of people attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787? What major issues were debated and what major agreements were achieved there? According to Roche, what does all of this tell us about the founders of the Constitution?

5. Still concerned about the dangers of factions, in Federalist 51 Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of checks and balances. Discuss the logic of his separation of powers/checks and balances system. One requirement is that every branch have a "will" of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, certain branches deserve special attention. Explain.

6. Why isn’t the Bill of Rights found in the main body of the Constitution? Identify: the federalists, the anti-federalists, the Federalist Papers.

7. Over the course of our history, the relative powers of the national and state governments have varied with the outcomes of presidential elections, wars, and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., McCulloch v. Maryland). Be familiar with major events and turning points discussed in the lecture on federalism.

8. Know the opinion of the Supreme Court in Barron v. Baltimore (1833). Why is Amendment 14 such an important addition to the original Bill of Rights? Define: "selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights."

9. In Engle v. Vitale, the Court’s majority decision and Justice Stewart’s rebuttal display two different interpretations of the establishment clause. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations. Which is most convincing to you? Why?

10. Know the key provisions of Amendment I (discussed in class) and how those provisions have been interpreted by the Supreme Court in Near v. Minnesota (1931), N.Y. Times v. U.S. (1971), Miller v. California (1973), Schenck v. U.S. (1919), Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

11. Know the key provisions of Amendments IV- VIII (discussed in class) and how those provisions have been interpreted by the Court in Mapp v. Ohio (1961), Miranda v. Arizona (1966), and Gideon v. Wainwright (1963).

12. Know how a Constitutional "right to privacy" was defined by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and know how that right has a bearing on the decision of Roe v. Wade (1973).

13. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for racial equality (e.g., Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857; Civil Rights Cases, 1883; Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965) discussed in the lecture on civil rights in America.

14. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for women’s equality.

15. Be able to identify the basic contents (e.g., Article I defines the legislative branch of government) of Articles I - VI and Amendments 1 - 15.



Pols 100, Professor Wyckoff

Study Questions for Exam III

1. The American court system: (1) in reality we have two different court systems; why? (2) within each system there are courts with different functions; what are those functions and what names do the courts go by? (3) how do judges in Illinois differ from federal court judges with regard to manner of selection and terms of office? (4) what conditions must be met to bring a case before the U.S. Supreme Court? (5) what happens when a case is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court?

2. Judicial Interpretation: (1) what is the power of judicial review, and what is the source of that power? (2) There are two general schools of thought with regard to how judges should go about interpreting the Constitution: "judicial activism" and "judicial restraint." Be familiar with the basic tenets of each.

3. According to Madison, "In a republic the legislative authority necessarily predominates." What did he mean by that and what evidence do we have that the founders really believed in this principle?

4. Be familiar with legislative reapportionment redistricting. When do these processes occur and why? Who is responsible? What is gerrymandering?

5. What factors favor incumbents in House and Senate races?

6. Bicameralism: Know the basic differences between the House and Senate.

7. Be familiar with the various stages in the legislative process: (1) introduction and referral; (2) processing in committee; (3) scheduling (e.g., by the House Rules Committee); (4) floor debate (note House and Senate differences here); (4) conference committee adjustments; (5) presentment to the president.

8. Regarding party leadership and organization: (1) what is a party caucus? (2) who are the day-to-day party leaders in the House and Senate? (3) who are the Constitutional presiding officers in each house and why are two of them relatively unimportant most of the time? (4) why is it advantageous to be a member of the majority party in Congress?

9. Nominations: (1) what are primary elections and how did we come to use primaries as the principal method of making nominations in the U.S.? (2) how do primary elections differ from state to state?

10. Presidential nominations involve both primaries and conventions. Explain. What does it take to win a presidential nomination?

11. Know the basic rules and procedures involved in the Electoral College. What potentially undesirable outcomes can occur with this method of presidential selection? Why did the Framers of the Constitution adopt the Electoral College?

12. What are the major elements of the White House Executive Office and why are these groups sometimes more important than the Cabinet?

13. Define the term "bureaucracy." Know the major kinds of bureaucratic organizations found in the federal government (departments, independent executive agencies, independent regulatory boards, and government corporations).

14. What major Constitutional roles or powers are granted to the President in Article I and II? What other kinds of informal powers and resources are required for effective presidential leadership? Why are some presidents more successful with their legislative proposals than others?