POLS 500 – Topics in American Politics, Fall 2007


Wednesday, 3:30-6:10 PM, DU 464

Prof. Barbara Burrell

Rm 115, Zulauf, 753-7050


Office hours:   Tuesdays 3:30-5:00 PM, Wednesdays 1-3 PM and by appointment  


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 and study politics in America 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, construct and implement research designs to test relationships and interpret evidence, and to think about how we might build on these works.  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.


The following books are available in the University Bookstore.


Robert Dahl, Who Governs?, 2nd edition

Morris Fiorina, Culture War?, 2nd edition

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

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

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

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, 1990

Jeffrey Segal and Harold Spaeth 2002, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone

David Mayhew, 2004. The Electoral Connection, Yale University Press  (either edition)


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 or new One-Card procedure, go to general databases and scroll to Jstor.


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 28. Introduction  (In place of August 29)


September 5.  Pluralism

Robert Dahl, Who Governs? 

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


September 12. Voting Behavior

Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes. 1966. The American Voter, New York: John Wiley, chaps 1-10


September 19.  Public Opinion and Ideology

Morris Fiorina with Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope, 2006. Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America. Pearson Longman, 2nd edition.

Alan Abramowitz and Kyle Saunders. “Is Polarization a Myth?” forthcoming in Journal of Politics  (available in Blackboard in Course Documents)

Lawrence Bartels. 2000. “Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952-1996.” American Journal of Political Science  Vol. 44, No. 1 (January), pp. 35-50 (Jstor)


September 26.   Civic Engagement and Political Participation

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone


October 3.  Political Parties

 John Aldrich, Why Parties? Chapters 1-2, 6-9

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)

Walter Dean Burnham. 1965. “The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe.”
The American Political Science Review,  Vol. 59, No. 1 (March), pp. 7-28. (Jstor)


October 10. Interest Groups

Robert Salisbury, 1969. “An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups.” Midwest Journal

 of Political Science (now AJPS) 13 (February):1-32. Jstor

Jack Walker, 1983. “The Origins and Maintenance of Interests Groups in America.”

American Political Science Review 77(June):390-406. Jstor

Robert Salisbury, 1984. “Interest Representation: The Dominance of Institutions.”

American Political Science Review 78 (March): 64-76. Jstor

Hall, Richard and Frank Wayman. 1990. “Buying Time: Moneyed Interests and the

Mobilization of Bias in Congressional Committees.” American Political Science

Review 84(September):797-820. Jstor

Jeffry Berry, 1993. “Citizen Groups and the Changing Nature of Interest Group Politics in America.”  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 528, Citizens, Protest, and Democracy. (Jul., 1993), pp. 30-41. Jstor

Jocelyn Elise Crowley; Theda Skocpol. 2001.The Rush to Organize: Explaining Associational Formation in the United States, 1860s-1920s “,American Journal of Political Science , Vol. 45, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 813-829 Jstor


October 17. 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.  The Electoral Connection, Yale University Press, either edition

David Mayhew, 2001. “Observations On Congress: The Electoral Connection A Quarter Century after Writing It.” PS, 34, 2 (June), 251-252. (Jstor)

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

David Canon, Matthew Schousen, and Patrick Sellers. 1996. “The Supply Side of Congressional Redistricting: Race and Strategic Politicians, 1972-1992.” Journal of Politics 58, 3 (August): 846-862 (Jstor)


October 24. The Presidency

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

 Samuel Kernell.  Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. CQ Press, chaps 1-4


 October 31. 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. (available in Blackboard)


November 7. 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 2002, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model  Revisited, 2,3,7,8.

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.  (JStor)


November 14.  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 28. Gender and Politics

 Barbara Burrell. Gender in Campaigns for the U.S. Congress at the Millennium. Forthcoming


Continue APSA paper presentations.


December 5.

Discussion of research papers and APSA paper presentations   


Course Requirements:


 1) Go to the American Political Science website (www.apsanet.org) and click on Online Program in the middle of the page to search for papers of interest to you.  Click on Annual Meeting Papers to see if the paper has been put online. Download the paper, and load it into the Discussion section of Blackboard.  I will fit the paper in to an appropriate week’s readings and you will lead the discussion on that paper.  You will have approximately 15 minutes to present the paper.  Use your time wisely. Concentrate on the central features of the author’s work. Do not spend a lot of time presenting background material and a literature review.  Feel free to contact the author ahead of time and discuss his or her stimulus for doing this research.


Grade:  10% of course grade. 


 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. At the end of this syllabus is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for the writing of these papers.  


Grade:  45% of course grade


No one will get an A in the class unless they attend class most every week and participate in class discussion with thoughtful comments that contribute to our knowledge building on the week’s subject matter no matter how good your written work is.


Grade: 20% of course grade


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 the publication of a classic article in your analysis. Instead you should focus on only the ones that make substantial use of the classic. You might divide the paper into two parts, one theoretical and conceptual, and one, empirical focusing on data collection and research methodology and findings. I expect the paper to be about 15 pages in length (double-spaced). (Longer is fine.)


Due:  November 28th

Grade: 30% of course grade


These essays will be the basis of class discussion on December 5th.


4) You will help me build a supplemental reading list for this course by posting in the Discussion section of Blackboard, 5 readings from your term paper that you consider to be key readings for a student of American politics


Grade: 5% of course grade.


Reaction Paper Dos and Don’ts (borrowed from Elizabeth Theiss-Morse)


Focus on one main idea.

Draw on and try to integrate all of the readings for the week.

Make connections to previous readings, where appropriate.

Develop an argument.

Push your argument, try to answer the tough questions.

Offer compelling criticism.

Offer ideas for future research.

Pursue an argument you especially liked.

Analyze the methods used, offer idea(s) for better or expanded methods.


Do Not


Just give your opinion on a topic

Pick a bunch of little points to address

Critique the writing style.

Tell me and article or book is and/or boring and/or difficult

Ignore the readings or only look at a small portion of the readings

Ignore relevant parts of the readings.

State the obvious.

Redefine terms, unless you justify


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.