POLS 500 – Topics in American Politics


Thursdays, 3:30-6:10 PM


DU 464



Dr. Barbara Burrell


Main office: 164 Monat Building





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 and to think about where we go from here in terms of research. 




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, and 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.




The following books are available in the University Bookstore.




Robert Dahl, Who governs?, 2nd edition


Morris Fiorina, Culture Wars?


David Mayhew, Congress: the Electoral Connection, 2nd edition


Samuel Kernell, Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership, 3rd edition


Jeffrey Berry, The New Liberalism


John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd edition  


Angus Campbell, Warren Miller, Philip Converse and Donald Stokes, The American Voter


Matthew Streb, The New Electoral Politics of Race


Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents


Jeffrey Segal and Harold Spaeth 1993, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model


Katherine Tate. 1993. From Protest to Politics: the New Black Voters in American Elections




Copies of these books have also been put on Reserve in Founders Library.




Some journal articles are available through JStor.  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. They are marked in the readings for each week.




Some of the journal articles and book chapters can be obtained through Blackboard. I have enrolled this course in Blackboard. Go to this course and you will find these articles in Course Documents. These readings as marked as Blackboard in the syllabus.




August 25. Introduction




September 1.  Pluralism




Robert Dahl, Who Governs?, 2nd edition, skim Book I , Read Books II-VI


Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz. 1962, "Two Faces of Power," American Political Science Review: 947-52. (JStor)


Sidney Verba, 2003. “Would the Dream of Political Equality Turn out to Be a Nightmare?” Perspective on Politics 1 (4) December: 663-679. (Blackboard)




September 8. Voting Behavior


Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes. 1966. The American Voter, New York: John Wiley, chaps 2, 6-9.  (18-37, 120-265)


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




September 15.  Public Opinion and Ideology




Morris Fiorina with Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope, 2005. Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. Pearson Longman.


Alan Abramowitz and Kyle Saunders.  2005. “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Reality of a Polarized America,” The Forum Berkeley Electronic Press. (Blackboard)


Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro. 2001. “Rational Public Opinion” in Controversies in Voting Behavior,” Ed. Richard Niemi and Herbert Weisberg, Washington, D. C.: CQ Press.  164-179. (Blackboard)



September 22.   Civic Engagement and Political Participation




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


Everett C. Ladd. 1996. “The Data Just Don’t Show Erosion of America’s ‘Social Capital’” in The Public Perspective, June/July: 1- 22. (Blackboard) 


Theda Skocpol. 2004. “Voice and Inequality: The Transformation of American Civic Democracy,” Perspectives on Politics 2. 1 (March): 3 -20. (Blackboard)


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. (Blackboard) 


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. (Blackboard)


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



September 29.  Political Parties




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


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


Martin Wattenberg. 1999 “Negativity or Neutrality?” (Chapter 4) in The Decline of American Politics Parties, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 50-72. (Blackboard)


John J. Coleman. 2003. “Responsible, Functional, or Both? American Political Parties and the APSA Report after Fifty Years.” In The State of the Parties, 4th edition, eds. John C. Green and Rick Farmer, New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 300-322 (Blackboard)


Peter Francia, Paul Herrnson, John Frendreis, and Alan Gitelson. 2003. “The Battle for the Legislature: Party Campaigning in State House and State Senate Elections.” In The State of the Parties, 4th edition, eds. John C. Green and Rick Farmer, New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 171-189 (Blackboard)



October 6. Interest Groups



Berry, Jeffrey M. 1999. The New Liberalism: The Rising Power of Citizen Groups. Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press.


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


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




October 13.Legislators and Representation




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


David Mayhew, 2004. The Electoral Connection, 2nd Edition. Yale University Press 


Mansbridge, Jane. 1999. “Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent  ‘Yes.’” Journal of Politics 61 (1999(: 628-57. Jstor and Blackboard





October 20. The Presidency




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


Samuel Kernell. 1997. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. CQ Press, chaps 1-2.


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. (Blackboard)




October 27. Congress and the Presidency as Institutions




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


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


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


Lawrence Dodd. 2005. “Re-Envisioning Congress: Theoretical Perspectives on Congressional Change—2004.” In Congress Reconsidered, 8th edition, eds. Lawrence Dodd and Bruce Oppenheimer, Washington, DC: CQ Press, 411-445. (Blackboard)


David Epstein and Sharyn O’Halloran. 2000. “The Institutional Face of Presidential Power: Congressional Delegation of Authority to the President.”  In Presidential Power, eds. Robert Y. Shapiro, Martha Joynt Kumar, Lawrence R. Jacobs, New York: Columbia University Press, 311-338. (Blackboard)



November 3. Judicial Behavior




Robert A. Dahl. 1967. "The Supreme Court’s Role in National Policy‑Making." In Pluralist Democracy in the United States, Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 155-164. (Blackboard)


Jeffrey Segal and Harold Spaeth 1993, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model , 2,6,7,8.


Kevin T. McGuire and James A. Stimson. 2004. “The Least Dangerous Branch Revisited: New Evidence of Supreme Court Responsiveness to Public Preferences.” Journal of Politics 66, 4 (November): 1018-1035. (Blackboard)




November 10.  Policy Agendas




John Kingdon. 1995/2003. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd edition. Boston: Little Brown. 


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




November 17. Gender and Politics




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


Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless. 2004 “Entering the Arena? Gender and the Decision to Run for Office,” American Journal of Political Science, 48, 2 (April): 264-280  (Blackboard)


Hawkesworth, Mary. 2003. “Congressional Enactments of Race-Gender: Toward a Theory of Raced-Gendered Institutions.” American Political Science Review 97, 4, (November): 529-550.


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


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. (JStor)


Jennifer Lawless. 2004. “Women, War, and Winning Elections: Gender Stereotyping in the Post-September 11th Era.” Political Research Quarterly 57, 3 (September): 479-490. (Blackboard)




December 1.     Racial and Ethnic Politics



Matthew Streb. 2002. The New Electoral Politics of Race. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, chaps. 1-3, 5-6, 10


Rodolfo O. de la Garza, Angelo Falcon, and F. Chris Garcia. 1996. “Will the Real Americans Please Stand Up: Anglo and Mexican-American Support of Core American Political Values.”


American Journal of Political Science, 40, 2 (May): 335-351. (JStor)


Katherine Tate. 1993. From Protest to Politics: the New Black Voters in American Elections, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, chapters1, 2, 4, 7, 8.



Course Requirements:




1) Go to the American Political Science website (www.apsanet.org) and click on the 2005 Annual Meeting Program box, then click on Annual Meeting Papers in the left hand column. That site will take you to the papers that have been submitted for presentation at the 2005 American Political Science Association meeting being held September 1-4.  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 1- 2 pages commenting on some aspect of the readings on 10 of the 14 weeks. You could focus on a methodological concern, a theoretical concern, or a question that the authors raise or leave unanswered.  Do not spend a lot of time describing authors’ writings.  What I am looking for is reactions, and thoughts that can be used for the basis of discussion and learning in class. 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 office in the Monat Building.




Percent of course grade:           50%




No one will get an A in the class unless they attend class most every week and participate in class discussion no matter how good your written work is.




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 and reflect upon where 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:         30%




Due:  November 17th




4) The final examination will be a “mini” graduate field exam. You will have several 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.  The final exam will be given during finals week.  You can establish your own time as to when you want to take the exam.  You will be required to tell me when you want to take it and we will set up for me to email you the exam. You can then work on it at home or wherever in your pajamas or whatever and email it back to me by a specified time.




Percent of Course Grade:       20%