POLS 408 Political Participation


Fall, 2006, Dusable 4 61


Professor Barbara Burrell

Room 115, Zulauf Hall



Office hours: Tuesday 2-4 PM,

Wednesday, 1-4 PM

  Demonstrators swept onto the Mall by the tens of thousands on Monday; Ranks of young men who listened in respectful silence, high-school students taking advantage of their spring break, immigrant mothers arriving with young children and day laborers who live in fear of deportation turned out in force.

(The first Weds. of each month I have a meeting from 1-3; will have office hours from 3-5 on Weds. that week)




Major Questions of the Course:


Who participates in political activities? Why do people participate?


What issues motivate people to get involved?


How do people attempt to influence the political process?


What difference does political participation make?


We will explore what political philosophers have had to say about political participation and look at what we know about actual participation.  Our focus will be on political participation in American politics with as special emphasis on the 2006 election.  Our vantage point for studying the 2006 midterm elections will be from the perspective of political candidates.  Classes will include mini lectures and lots of student participation in class discussion.


Required Texts:


Craig Rimmerman, The New Citizenship, 3rd edition, Westview Press

Paul S. Herrnson, Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and in Washington, 4th edition, CQ Press


Class Schedule:


The following schedule is a flexible one.  We may move faster or slower depending on the depth of our discussions and new issues that arise during the semester.


August  29      Introduction


August 31       DVD – Street Fight, the story of the 2002 Newark, NJ mayoral race


September 5    Finish Street Fight and general lecture about major questions regarding political participation

                                    Readings: New Citizenship, chapters 1 and 2

                                                    Congressional Elections, Chapters 1-3


September 7    How are people participating in politics today and what issues are they becoming active about?

Assignment:    Students should scan the news media for articles on people participating in politics during the previous week.  Collect news stories and other efforts to influence public policy in the news media.  Answer the following questions:  who is participating, what activity are they engaging in, what is the issue they are involved about, who are they attempting to influence?  You should make a list of your collection of activities in a column format with each aspect of the activity in a column.

This assignment is due in class on September 7th, 5% of course grade. 


September 12, 14   What have political philosophers had to say about political participation?

                                    Readings:  Aristotle, Politics, Book I, chapter 2, Book IV, Chapter 4

                                                     Federalist Papers #10, # 51 – available on the Internet

Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America,  Vol 1. Chapter 4, Vol 2, Chapter 5 

                                           Walter Lippman, The Phantom Public, Chapters 1 and 2, Blackboard


September 19, 21   Trust, Efficacy, Social Capital    

                                Readings: New Citizenship, Chapter 3  

     Robert Putnam, “Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social  Capital in America    PS: Political Science and Politics Vol. 28, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 664-683  go to www.jstor.org and search for the article

                                          “Hey buddy, can you spare a vote—for me?” Blackboard 

     Michael Falcone, “What If They Held an Election and No One Ran?” New York     Times, September 21, 2003, p. 30 Blackboard.       


September 26, 28  Who votes? and  The nature of midterm elections

                                         Readings:  Congressional Elections, chapters 4, 5, 7, 8, 9


October 3        Review and catch-up


October 5:       Midterm examination


October 10, 12  Some challenges to traditional ideas about political participation

Readings: Benjamin Ginsburg, Benjamin Ginsberg, “Polling and the Creation of a Virtual Public” Blackboard

Benjamin Barber, “Neither Leaders Nor Followers: Citizenship Under Strong Democracy” Blackboard


October 17, 19  First Case Study: The Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act

                                    Readings: The New Citizenship, chapter 4

                                    Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail   Blackboard and online


October 24,     Invited speaker: John Laesch, candidate for Congress, 14th Congressional district, tentative


October  26      Campaign Finance

                         Congressional Elections, Chapter 1, pp. 12-17, Chapters 5, 6, 11

How much have your candidates raised and spent and how have they raised their money?


October 31      Campaign TV ads

                                    We will watch and critique some of your candidates’ TV ads.


November 2    Election predictions

Paper due: Students should turn in a 1-2 page paper predicting the result of the election assigned to you. Students need to document the reasons for your prediction. This material can then be used in your final paper.


November 7    Election Day


November 9    Second Case Study: Women’s Community Activism

                                    Readings:  Celene Krauss, “Challenging Power: Toxic Waste Protests and the Politicization of White, Working-Class Women” and Roberta M. Feldman, Susan Stall, and Patricia A. Wright, “The Community Needs to be Built by Us” in Community Activism and Feminist Politics, ed. Nancy Naples, New York, Routledge. Blackboard


November 14  Third Case Study: Case Study: Dover PA School District Intelligent Design Case

This case involves the decision by the school board to mandate the teaching of intelligent design. This decision stimulated a great deal of controversy including a court case and new elections for the school board in 2005.  Please go online and read some articles describing the events of this case before class. Begun in late 2004 and continued to early 2006.


Campaign Paper due:  Final versions of students’ indepth campaign paper are due in class, November 14.  Late papers will not be accepted.


November 16  Colloquium and lecture on the Midterm elections


November  21, 23 – No class but do the following exercise: Go to the following website: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15&year=2005. Using the methodology and tables and  charts sections, find out what freedom consists of in terms of political rights and civil liberties.  How much freedom is there in the world? What countries are free? What countries are not free?  Write just a 1-2 page summary in your own words of what the political rights and civil liberties are that comprise freedom and give some examples of free and not free countries.

Assignment is due on November 28.  


November 28,  Discussion of political rights and civil liberties from  Freedom House.

                                    Freedom House assignment due in class.      


November 30 “The New Citizenship”

                                    Readings:   The new Citizenship, Chapters 5,6


December  5, 7   Summing Up


Final Examination:   Tuesday, December 12, Noon-1:50 PM 

Do you have some answers to the questions posed at the beginning of this syllabus?


Research Paper


Each student will write an indepth case study of a competitive race for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives.  You will randomly select a race to focus on from a list that I will construct.


The research paper should address at a minimum:


The economic, social and political context of the district or state race you are covering.

Trace the activities and events of the campaigns through the fall campaign season.

Describe the campaign organizations of both candidates.

Examine the fundraising efforts of the candidates.

Explore media coverage of the race.

Watch debates, if any, on CSPAN if you have access to it.

What issues are the candidates stressing?

What role are the party organizations at different levels playing? What about the involvement of various interest groups?

Who gets endorsed by the local media and why?

Republicans are attempting to make the midterm elections turn on local issues while the Democrats are attempting to make the election national in nature as a referendum on the Bush administration.  In what ways do you see your race shaping up in this manner?

Explain the outcome.

Develop an electronic relationship with a member of the campaign and a political reporter who is following the campaign to provide you with information about the campaign.



Through discussions with your colleagues in the class and following the national election process, you should be able to note distinctions in your campaign and make some comparisons across campaigns.  You should conclude your paper with a reflection on the campaign process and what it suggests about political participation.  The reflection part of your paper is very important in terms of how I will grade the exercise. You should put some special thought and effort into this part of your paper.


How long should the paper be?  I would expect the paper to be at least 15 pages double-spaced pages, with no more than one inch margins and using a font no larger than 12 point. Your paper might be much longer. The important point is to cover the race in an indepth manner linking it to Congressional Elections and the idea of political participation in a democracy. Spelling and grammatical correctness are extremely important.  Feel free to include material and stories about the campaign as examples or illustrations.   I am looking for both quality and quantity.



In the weeks before the election we will look at the financing of your campaigns and the candidates’ advertising.  Be prepared to contribute to this aspect of the exercise.  




I do not plan to take attendance but I expect students to attend all classes and to come to class having done the reading assignments and to participate in class discussions.  If you do not attend class every day, show that you have done the readings on time and contribute to class discussion, you will not get an A in the class no matter how well done your written assignments are.  Since the class is not very large I should very quickly know who is attending and participating and who is not.  Classes will consist primarily of mini lectures and questions for discussion.  Since this class is a high level undergraduate and graduate class, I do not believe that I have to spell proper classroom behavior.  


Political Activities assignment:                       5% of course grade (10 points)

Freedom House assignment:               5% of course grade (10 points)

Midterm Examination                         20% of course grade (40 points)

Campaign paper                                              50% of course grade (100 points)

Final examination                                20% of course grade (40 points)


A= 90-100%




F=Below 60%

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 any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.

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