POLS100: Intro to American Government and Politics

Sections 1-6, MWF 1010:50

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office: Zulauf 403

Hours: MW 11-12:00 & By Appointment

753-7056 mwyckoff@niu.edu


Teaching Assistants:

Section 1 (DU 276) Mr. Neil Wright nwright3@niu.edu

Section 2 (SH 102) Mr. Michael Cook mcook3@niu.edu

Section 3 (MC 208) Mr. Scott LaDeur sladeur@niu.edu

Section 4 (DU 461) Mr. Shaun Levine slevine1@niu.edu

Section 5 (DU 228) Mr. Lewis Slawsky lslawsky@niu.edu

Section 6 (DU 280) Mr. Travis Smith tsmith11@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 try to keep an eye on the war in Iraq and on this years midterm Congressional elections.





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


         7         Janda, Berry and Goldman, The Challenge of Democracy (8th edition, 2005).


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. With rare exceptions, cell phones, iPODS, etc. should be turned off upon entering the auditorium. Your fellow students and I greatly appreciate your voluntary cooperation with this policy.


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 then study (!) for the exams. Study guides will be provided, but a good set of notes and a familiarity with key readings will be your best guide to the content of the exams.


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). The course outline (see below) will tell you what is required and when each paper is 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. We strongly encourage you to attend your Friday morning discussion section because: (1) participation will contribute 10% to your final course grade; (2) your discussion leader is the one 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.


Computation of Final Course Grades. As suggested by the discussion above, final grades will be computed as follows:


  • Final Grade = .225(Exam1) + .225(Exam2) +.225(Exam3) + .225(average grade on papers) + .10(Attendance/Participation)


Makeup exams and grades of incomplete will be provided cheerfully when needed, but only for reasons of significant illness, family tragedy, being away on university business, or other extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, evidence of the extraordinary circumstance normally must be documented by the student. Should makeup exams be necessary, I reserve the right to switch to an essay format if I deem it necessary.


Extra credit. Sorry, none is available; no exceptions. If you encounter difficulty, seek help early in the semester and we will help you devise strategies to improve your performance on required exams and assignments.


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 accommodation, please let me know. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with NIUs Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). 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 28)



         7         JBG, Ch. 1, pp. 1-24 and bar graphs on pages. 411, 418, & 595.

         7         W. Saletan, "What Reagan Got Wrong," at www.slate.com/id/2101835

         7         S. Chapman, Lebanon and the Unlearned Lessons of Iraq, at www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists



B. Thinking about Democracy (Wednesday, September 6)



         7         JBG, Ch. 2 and p. 265 (responsible party government).

         7         Federalist 10, in JBG, pp. A15-A18. 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. In this regard, does he favor: (1) direct or indirect democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation?



C. Public Opinion and Ideology in America (Week of September 11)



         7         JBG, Ch. 19, pp. 611-620 (the Great Depression and its aftermath).

         7         JBG, Ch. 1, pp. 24-27; Ch. 5, pp. 143-160; Ch. 6, pp. 183-191.

         7         S. Chapman, The Customer is King, Tossing Money at Terrorism, Whos Afraid of Gambling?  and Conservatives are Losing on Gay Rights, at www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists

         7         G. Will, Transformations Toll, (traditional conservatives vs. neoconservatives), at




         7         First, run IDEALOG at www.uspolitics.org (do the readings and the survey you find there). Then write a 1-2 page essay briefly summarizing the value preferences and policy views of each ideological type (liberal, conservative, libertarian or communitarian). If possible cite examples of politicians or political parties that provide illustrations of each type. Due Sept. 15.



D. Political Parties (Week of September 18)



         7         JBG, Ch. 8 and review portions of Ch. 2 dealing with majority rule democracy.

         7         V.O. Key, A Theory of Critical Elections, Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-11 only. (Find at www.jstor.org using an NIU Internet connection).

         7         C. Page, Rescuing the Party of Lincoln, at www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists



         7         In this article, Key argues that some Presidential elections are much more important than others. What are the essential characteristics of a critical election and why are they so important? In his examination of Massachusetts, why did Key choose the particular communities that appear in his analysis (Figure A)? What do the trends for those two communities reveal? Explain in a 1-2 page paper due September 22.



E. Interest Group Politics (Week of September 25)


         7         JBG, Ch. 10 and review portions of Ch. 2 dealing with pluralistic democracy.

EXAM I: Friday, September 29 (administered in your discussion section)





A. Civil Rights (Week of October 2)



         7         JBG, Ch. 7, pp. 214-217 and Ch. 16.

         7         Loving v. Virginia (1967). Locate at www.findlaw.com.

         7         S. Coontz, "The Heterosexual Revolution." Locate at: www.stephaniecoontz.com/articles/article21.htm)



B. Principles of the Constitution I (Week of October 9)



         7         JBG, Ch. 3, pp. 73-78, 86-end; Federalist 51, in JBG, pp. A18-A19.



         7         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. How will his scheme of checks and balances work? One requirement is that every branch have a will of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, certain branches deserve special attention. Comment and explain in a 1-2 page paper (due October 13).



C. Principles of the Constitution II: Federalism (Monday, October 16)



         7         JBG, Ch. 4, pp. 98-112, 121-end.

         7         U.S. v. Lopez, 1995 (locate at www.findlaw.com). Read the first 3-4 pages of Justice Rehnquist's opinion for the Court and the first 3-4 pages of Justice Breyer's dissent (scroll down some 30 pages to find it). Compare and contrast these opposing interpretations of Congress' authority stemming from the commerce clause.


D. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights (October 18, 23, 25)



         7         JBG, Ch. 15, pp. 472-497 and Amendment 1-3 & 14, p. A11-A12.

         7         Engel v. Vitale (locate at www.findlaw.com)

         7         C. Krauthammer, Phony Theory, False Conflict, locate at:




         7         Read Justice Blacks opinion of the Court in Engel v. Vitale and Justice Stewarts dissenting opinion. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations of the establishment clause. Which is most convincing to you? Why? (1-2 page paper due Friday, Oct. 27)



         7         JBG, Ch. 15, pp. 497-end and Amendments 4-10, p. A11.



E. Constitutional Origins (Week of October 30)



         7         JBG, Ch. 3, pp. 56-72, 79-86. Also read the Declaration of Independence, in JBG, pp. A1-A2.

         7         John Roche, The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action, American Political Science Review (1961), Intro and Parts 2-4, pp. 799-800 and 803-811. Locate at www.jstor.org. Save pp. 810-811. You will need them for Part III.B below.


EXAM II: Friday, November 3 (administered in your discussion section)





A. The Supreme Court and Judicial Review (Week of November 6 )



         7         JBG, Ch. 14, pp. 442-452 (organization of court system) and Article III, pp. A9-10.

         7         JBG, Ch. 14, remainder (judicial review and judicial decision making).

         7         C. Krauthammer, "From Thomas, Original Views," locate at:



B. Presidential and Congressional Elections (Week of November 13)



         7         JBG, Ch. 9, pp. 268-293 and Ch. 11, pp. 341-349.

         7         Federalist Paper #68 ( locate at www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm)

         7         John Roche, The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action, American Political Science Review (1961), Part V, pp. 810-811 (at www.jstor.org ).



         7         Writing in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Electoral College is a sophisticated institution carefully designed by the great thinkers at the Constitutional Convention. Based on his reading of the debates that actually occurred at the Convention, Political Scientist John Roche has a different analysis of the origins of this peculiar institution. Explain and discuss in a 1-2 page paper due Friday, November 17.



C. The U.S. Congress (November 20 and 27)



         7         JBG, Ch. 11 and Article I of the Constitution, pp. A6-A8, especially sections 8 & 9.


  • Go to www.house.gov/house/CommitteeWWW.shtml. Investigate several of these standing committees. Then write a paper explaining which committee you would like to work on if you were a member of the House. Things to consider: (a) What kinds of bills would you be dealing with? (b) How would this committee help you represent the district from which you were elected? Discuss in a 1-2 page paper due Friday, Dec. 1.



D. The Presidency & the Executive Branch (November 29 and Week of December 4)



         7         JBG, Ch. 12, pp. 372-379, 384-end and Article II, pp. A8‑A9 (presidential powers).

         7         JBG, Ch. 12, pp. 379-384 and Ch. 13, pp. 406-423 (Executive Branch organization).

EXAM III: 10:00 a.m., Monday, December 11 (administered in Cole Auditorium)




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

Exam II Review Questions


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. 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.


7. Be able to identify the basic contents of Articles I - VII (e.g., Article I defines the legislative branch of government).


8. Why isnt the Bill of Rights found in the main body of the Constitution? Identify: the federalists, the anti-federalists, the Federalist Papers.


9. 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.


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 womens equality.




POLS 100, Professor Wyckoff

Exam III Review Questions


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 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?


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


14. 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).