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Dr. Matt Streb


Office: Zulauf 407


EMAIL: mstreb@niu.edu


Office Hours:

Tuesday, 9:30-10:30; Wednesday, 8:30-11:30;

Thursday, 9:30-10:30





POLS 305: Parties and Elections

Fall 2007

T and R, 2:00-3:15

DuSable 459



Course Description: The previous two presidential elections were two of the most controversial in United States history.  The pre-primary stage for the 2008 election is well under way and promises to be competitive and exciting.  We will study these elections (and presidential elections in general) in great detail and examine how the result of previous presidential elections has influenced the American political landscape.  We will also analyze what could be in store for the 2008 primaries and general election.

            In a representative democracy, political parties and elections are essential.  Citizens must vote for our political system to truly work and parties provide some semblance to a complicated process.  It is important then for us to understand political parties, voting, and elections.  This course will begin by examining theories of voting.  We will discuss who votes, why they vote, and how they vote.  Next, we will turn to political parties.  Why are they essential for democracy?  What roles do parties play?  Why do we only have two major parties in the U.S?  Should we have more?   Finally, we will analyze presidential elections.  We will cover topics including candidate recruitment, the nomination process, the impact of party organizations and interest groups on elections, the electoral process, the influence of money on elections, and campaign strategy. We will relate all of these topics to the previous presidential elections and to what we can expect in 2008.


Grading: Depending on your decision, either four or five grades will be given over the course of the semester.  A midterm exam to be taken on Thursday, October 18th and a final exam to be taken on Tuesday, December 11th at 2:00 p.m. are required.  The exams will be comprised of an essay question, five multiple-choice questions, and four identification terms.  I will distribute review sheets to the class including possible IDs or essay questions a week before each exam. The final will not be cumulative and will cover only the material discussed after the midterm.

            You must also write at least two papers (5-8 pages in length) and have the option of writing a third.  There are four paper topics to choose from, each due on a different day.  For the first three paper topics, you will write persuasive papers on the following:


                        1)  Discuss whether you believe America’s two-party system is good for democracy (Due 10/4)

                        2)  The presidential nomination process has become increasingly controversial because of the frontloading of states’ primaries and caucuses.  What is the solution?  Put forth and defend a reform to the nomination process (Due 10/30)

                        3)  Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. Constitution is the electoral college.  Should the electoral college be kept in place or abolished?  If it should be retained are there any reforms to it that should be made?  (Due 11/27)


Although each of these subjects will be discussed in class, students are expected to conduct their own research outside of class.  Unless you are downloading a journal article or accessing a newspaper or news magazine article electronically, the Internet is not to be used for research.  If you have any questions, please see me.  

            For the forth paper, you will run a presidential simulation using the game President Forever 2008 (Due 12/4).  The simulation can be downloaded from http://www.theoryspark.com/index.htm for $19.95.  For those interested in this fourth option, I will hold a mandatory session on Tuesday, October 23rd at 5:00 p.m. in Davis Hall 116.    

All four paper topics will be discussed in greater detail during class.

If you choose to write only two papers, then each paper and both exams will be worth approximately 25% of your final grade.  If you choose to write three papers, then each paper and both exams will be worth approximately 20% of your final grade.  You may not write more than three papers.  Also, I will not accept late papers.   


                PAC Money: Political Action Committees are organizations that provide presidential candidates with campaign money in order to help those candidates become elected.  Just as PACs are said to “buy” influence over legislation (although we will discuss whether this claim is true), you will have the opportunity to “buy” your grade.  Students’ PACs may donate up to $5,000.  The way you accumulate PAC money is quite simple.  For each class you attend, your “PAC” will give me $150.  Attendance can earn you as much as $4,050 (27 class periods, not including the midterm exam).  You have to be in class when I take attendance to earn PAC money.  Class begins at 2:00 and you are expected to be there on time.  Also, nine times during the semester, I will ask you a simple question on the readings or lectures.  If you answer the question correctly, your “PAC” will make a contribution of $100.  PAC quizzes can earn you as much as $900.  You all automatically start with $50. 

So what can PAC money do for you?  Depending on how much money your PAC gives me, you can either make your grade on an exam or paper count for a greater or a lesser percentage of your final grade or add points to one of your grades.  Each $100 you earn allows you to increase or decrease the weight of a grade by .2% or you can increase one grade by .1 points.  For example, say you earned $4,000 by the end of the semester and you received an A on your midterm.  Instead of your midterm counting 25% of your final grade, it can now count 33% of your final grade.  You could then make your second paper, for example, only count 17% of your final grade.  Or, you could simply choose to add 4 points to one of your grades.  However, I am not easy to buy.  You must be able to donate at least $4,000 in order for me to change the weight of your grade.  Also, if you miss more than four classes or get more than three PAC quizzes incorrect, you do not qualify for PAC money.  You must let me know how you want your PAC money spent before you take your final exam and cannot change the percentage of more than two grades. PAC money will be explained in greater detail on the first day of class.


Examples of How PAC Money Can Be Used:

            You attend 25 of the 27 class periods                                    $3,750

            You get 7 of the 9 quizzes correct                              $700

            Free money                                                                 $50

            Total PAC Money                                                       $4,500


You receive an A on the midterm, a B on your first paper, and a B+ on your second paper.  You decide that you do not think that you are going to do very well on the final.  Therefore, you decide to make your midterm count for 34% of your final grade and the final count for 16% of your final grade.  Or, you could simply add 4.5 points to one of your grades.


            You attend 15 of the 27 class periods                                    $2,250

            You get 2 of the 9 quizzes correct                              $200

            Free money                                                                 $50

            Total PAC Money                                                       $2,500


Your contribution does not persuade me to change the weight of your grades because you earned less than $4,000.


Grading Scale:

93%-100%      A         90%-92.9%     A-        87.5%-89.9%  B+      

83%-87.4%     B         80%-82.9%     B-        77.5%-79.9%  C+      

73%-77.4%     C         70%-72.9%     C-        67.5%-69.9%  D+      

63%-67.4%     D         60%-62.9%     D-        Less than 60%   F


In rare instances, I will raise a final grade slightly if the student regularly attends class, participates, and shows progress. 


Required Course Materials:

Four books are required for this course:


            -John F. Bibby and Brian F. Schaffner’s Politics, Parties, & Elections in

America, 6th ed.

-Matthew J. Streb’s Law and Election Politics

-Martin P. Wattenberg’s Is Voting for Young People?

            -Stephen J. Wayne’s The Road to the White House 2008


These books are available at the NIU Bookstore.  Students are strongly encouraged to visit sites such as www.campusi.com to find cheaper, used versions of these books (although, students should not buy earlier editions of the Bibby and Schaffner or Wayne books since they have been updated substantially). 


Course Policies:


1.  Attendance:  Simply put, you are expected to be here.  If you want to have any hope of passing the class or doing well, you will need to be in class.  I have yet to meet a person who has regularly missed my class and passed the course. 


2.  Be on time:  Class begins promptly at 2:00.  Please be in your seats and ready to go at 2:00.  If you must be late, please enter the class quietly and quickly and sit in the back. 


3.  Turn the cell phones off!:  My policy is that if your cell phone goes off in class, I’m the one who answers it.  Unless you want me talking to your parents, siblings, or boyfriend/girlfriend, turn the cell phones off.  If you have an extenuating circumstance (e.g., pregnant spouse, day care, etc.), please let me know. 


4.  Makeup exams:  I will only give a makeup examination under extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact me as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam.  If you fail to contact me before the scheduled exam, you will receive a 0 for the exam.  Students may be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation.


5.  Late papers:  I do not accept late papers.  If you want to write a paper on, say, the two-party system, but do not hand in the paper at the beginning of class on the day that it is due, it will be counted as though you skipped the option or writing that paper.  If you have to hand in a paper in order to meet the two paper requirement and fail to do so at the beginning of class on the day that the paper is due, you will receive a 0 for the paper. 


6.  Contacting me:  The best way to get in touch with me is to come to my office hours.  If you can not make my office hours, then please send me an email with several dates and times that you are available to meet and I will be happy to set something up.  If you send me an email, I will respond as quickly as possible.  However, I will only respond to emails that use capitalization and punctuation and are not replete with grammatical errors.  i will not rspnd 2 u if i recve a messge that look like this lol  


7.  Academic dishonesty:  In preparing for your work and meeting the requirements of this course, you are expected to adhere to all the rules, regulations, and standards set forth by the Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University, and the scholarly community.  This statement encompasses intentional and unintentional plagiarism; cheating on examinations; using, purchasing, or stealing others’ work; misusing library materials; and so forth.  Failure to honor these rules, regulations, and standards could result in a failing course grade and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.  Don’t plagiarize or cheat.  I will catch you!


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


Web Pages of Great News Sources on Parties and Elections:

The New York Times                                       www.nytimes.com

The Washington Post                                      www.washingtonpost.com

The Los Angeles Times                                   www.latimes.com

USA Today                                                      www.usatoday.com

CNN                                                               www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/index.html

Roll Call                                                          www.rollcall.com

Project Vote Smart                                         www.vote-smart.org

Campaigns and Elections                                www.campaignline.com

Open Secrets (Money)                                    www.crp.org

The Democratic Party                                     www.democrats.org

The Republican Party                                      www.rnc.org

The Green Party                                              www.gpus.org

The Libertarian Party                                      www.lp.org


You can find individual candidates’ web pages from both major parties as well as third parties and an incredible amount of candidate information from the Project Vote Smart page.                                              


How Can I Do Well in this Course?

                This course is no more difficult than most other 300 level courses you have had, if you keep up with the work!!  It is essential that you are regularly in class, take good notes, do all of the readings, and spend some time reflecting on what you have read.  Because there is a significant amount of reading in the course, make sure you keep up with it.  Doing all of the assigned reading the night before the class will keep you from contributing much to the class.  More importantly, it will keep you from getting the most out of the course.  If you do not do the readings, you will not do well in this class. 

            Each class you will be introduced to “key terms.”  I highly recommend that you make notecards after class that include the definition and significance of the term.  These are the terms that may appear on your tests.  Making notecards after each class may seem like more work, but it will actually cut your work time in the end and allow you to write much stronger IDs.  Instead of preparing for the IDs before the exam (they start to add up), you will already have the IDs ready to go and can begin studying earlier.  Writing out the IDs after class will allow you to write higher quality IDs because the information will be fresh in your mind, and if you don’t understand something it will become apparent quickly.

Finally, I strongly encourage students to visit me during my office hours if you have questions about the course material. 


Department of Political Science Web Site:

Undergraduates are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu.  Also, if you would like to receive the department’s e-announcements that feature information on internships, scholarships, lectures, POLS club activities, and other important information via email, please send me an email asking to be added to the list. 


Internships with Presidential Candidates:

            With the Illinois primary just around the corner, presidential candidates are actively seeking interns to work on their campaigns.  There is no better way to learn about a presidential election than to experience one.  If you are interested in working on a presidential candidate’s campaign, please contact the department’s internship coordinator, Dr. Vicki Clarke (vclarke@niu.edu).  


Course Outline:


NOTE:  Readings should be completed by the day in which it is assigned.  For example, students should have read Wayne, chp 3 by the beginning of class on September 4th.

*I reserve the right to change the course outline. 


August 28th                 T                      Introduction to the Course

August 30th                 R                     No Class.  APSA conference.




September 4th              T                      Where is the American Voter?

(Wayne, chp 3; Bibby and Schaffner, pp.


September 6th R                     Where is the American Voter?, cont.

                                                            Theories of Voting

(Wattenberg, Preface-chp 4)

September 11th            T                      How Smart Is the American Voter?

September 13th            R                     Is Voting for Young People?

(Wattenberg, chps 5-8)


Political Parties

September 18th            T                      What is a Party? 

The History of American Parties

(Bibby and Schaffner, chps 1-2)

September 20th            R                     The Party Organization

(Bibby and Schaffner, chp 4)

September 25th            T                      The Party Organization, cont.

                                                            The Party in the Electorate

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 225-254)

September 27th            R                     The Party in the Electorate, cont.

October 2nd                  T                      The Party in Government

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, chp 9)

October 4th                  R                     Third Parties

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, chp 3; Streb, chps

1 and 3)

                                                            Paper option #1 due!

October 9th                  T                      Politics without Parties

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, chp 10)

October 11th                R                     TBA

October 16th                T                      Midterm Review Session

October 18th               R                     Midterm


Presidential Elections


October 23rd                T                      The Nomination Process

                                                                        (Streb, chp 2; Bibby and Schaffner, chp

6; Wayne, chps 1, 4-5)

October 25th                R                     The Nomination Process, cont.

October 30th                T                      The New Hampshire Spectacle and What the

Heck Is a Caucus?

                                                            Paper option #2 due!

November 1st               R                     The Need for Money, Money, Money

(Streb, chps 4-5; Wayne, chp 2)

November 6th              T                      One Big Party:  The Nominating Convention

(Wayne, chp 6)

November 8th              R                     How to Run a Winning Campaign

Winning on Television: The Role of the Media in

Presidential Elections

(Streb, chps 6-7; Wayne, chps 7-8)

November 13th            T                      Winning on Television, cont.

November 15th            R                     Movie: War Room

November 20th            T                      Presidential Debates: Is Anyone Paying


                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 291-292)

November 22nd          R                     No class.  Happy Thanksgiving!

November 27th            T                      Movie: Debating Our Destiny

                                                            Paper option #3 due!

November 29th            R                     A Crazy Way to Choose a President? The

Electoral College

(Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 274-284)

December 4th  T                      Predicting Presidential Elections

(Wayne, chps 9-10; Streb, chps 8-9)

                                                            Paper option #4 due!

December 6th  R                     Review for Final Exam


December 11th            T                     Final (2:00-3:50)