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Dr. Matt Streb


Office: Zulauf 407


EMAIL: mstreb@niu.edu


Office Hours:

Tuesday, 11:00-12:00; Wednesday, 8:30-11:30;

Thursday, 11:00-12:00





POLS 305: Parties and Elections

Fall 2008

T and R, 9:30-10:45

DuSable 459



Course Description: The previous two presidential elections were two of the most controversial in United States history.  The 2008 election is well under way and promises to be as competitive and exciting.  We will study these elections (and presidential elections in general) in great detail and examine how the results of previous presidential elections have influenced the American political landscape. 

            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 (and who doesn’t), 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 in 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 three or four grades will be given over the course of the semester.  A midterm exam to be taken on Thursday, October 16th and a final exam to be taken on Thursday, December 11th at 10:00 a.m. are required.  The exams will consist of several multiple-choice and short answer questions as well as five identification terms.  I will distribute review sheets to the class including possible identification terms a week before each exam. The final will not be cumulative and will cover only the material discussed after the midterm.  You must bring a bluebook with you to take your exam. 

You must also write at least one paper (6-8 pages in length) and have the option of writing a second.  There are three paper topics from which to choose, each due on a different day.  You must write a persuasive paper on one of the following:


1)  Is America’s two-party system good for democracy?  (Due 10/9)

            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 10/28)

            3)  Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the U.S. Constitution is the electoral college.  Should the electoral college be kept in place or be abolished?  If it should be retained, then are there any reforms to it that should be made?  (Due 11/25)


Although each of these subjects will be discussed in class, students are expected to conduct their own research outside of class. 


If you choose to write a second paper, you may write on any of the three topics above or you have a fourth option.   You can run a presidential simulation using the game President Forever 2008 and write a paper on your strategy (Due 12/2).  The simulation can be downloaded from http://www.theoryspark.com/index.htm for $19.95.  For those interested in the simulation, I will hold a mandatory session on Friday, October 24th at 2:00 p.m. in DuSable 459.   The simulation paper can be completed only if you have handed in a persuasive paper on one of the three topics listed above.   It cannot be substituted as the required paper for the class.


Depending the number of papers you write, each assignment will be worth the following percentage of your final grade:


Write one paper:                                             Write two papers:

Midterm          35%                                         Midterm          30%

Final                35%                                         Final                30%

Paper               30%                                         Paper #1          20%

                                                                        Paper #2          20%


Some things to keep in mind when writing your paper:

  • 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.
  • PROOFREAD YOUR PAPERS!!!  You will be graded based on the persuasiveness of your argument, but also on how well the paper is written.  Students whose papers are replete with typos, grammatical mistakes, and awkward sentences will receive a substantial grade reduction.  A persuasively argued but poorly written paper will not receive a grade higher than a C.  You should read your paper several times before handing it in.   
  • The paper cannot be written in a night.  It will take a significant amount of research.  You do not want to put it off to the last minute.  Start thinking about your papers now!! 
  • When making an argument, it is imperative that you address and refute the other side’s argument.  For example, if you are going to argue that the United States should have a true multi-party system, then, in addition to making your case, you must address the arguments of those who support a two-party system and explain the flaws with those arguments.
  • I will not accept late papers.  The paper is due at the beginning of class.  If you miss the deadline for the first two papers, you may simply write one of the remaining papers.  If you miss the deadline for the third paper (electoral college) and have not turned in a paper previously, you will receive a 0 for the paper portion of your grade. 
  • In addition to handing in a hard copy of their paper, students must submit their papers through SafeAssign via Blackboard.  I will not consider a paper to be turned in if it has not been submitted to SafeAssign. 
  • You must provide a “Works Cited” page at the end of your paper.  Any source listed on this page should be cited in the paper.
  • There is no required number of sources, although good papers usually have around 8 sources.    
  • I will not accept the paper unless it is stapled.  Please do not turn the paper in with a cover or in a folder.   


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.  The way you accumulate PAC money is quite simple: by attending class and getting “PAC quizzes” correct.  Ten 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 to me.  If you miss no more than four classes and get at least 7 of the 10 PAC quizzes correct, you qualify for PAC Money.  If you are late for class or leave class early, you will receive ½ of an absence; in other words, two lates equal one absence.  Class begins at 9:30 and you are expected to be here on time. 

So what can PAC money do for you?  If you qualify for PAC money you can raise the weight of one of your grades by 10% and lower the weight of another by 10%.  Or, you can simply add 5 points to one of your grades.  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:

            Midterm                      90

            Final                            ??

            Paper                           70


You could then make the Midterm count as 45% of your final grade and your paper count as 20%.  Or, you could add 5 points to one of your grades.  If you do not qualify for PAC money, the weight of each grade is simply 30% for the paper and 35% for each exam.  In other words, not qualifying for PAC money can’t hurt you.        


Predicting Presidential Elections:

                On Thursday, October 16th Dr. Charles Franklin (UW-Madison) and Dr. Christopher Wlezien (Temple University), two of the nation’s leading experts on presidential election forecasting, will give a talk on predicting the 2008 election.  The time and place of this event is yet to be determined, although the event will take place in the evening.  I will give students who attend the entire event 2 additional points on their midterm exams.   

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:

Three books are required for this course:


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

America, 6th ed.

  • 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). 


In addition, I will regularly post articles on BlackBoard for which students are responsible.  These articles will deal primarily with the current presidential election.  In the past, I have assigned four books; these articles take the place of the fourth book.  We will discuss some in class, but all are fair game for exams. 


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 met few people who have regularly missed my class and passed the course. 


2.  Be on time:  Class begins promptly at 9:30 a.m.  Please be in your seats and ready to go at 9:30 a.m.  Two tardy arrivals are the equivalent of one absence.  If you are not a morning person and will have trouble making it to class on time, then you should consider taking another course.  If you are a commuter, please set aside an appropriate amount of time for travel and to find a parking space to be certain that you are in class on time.  If you must be late, please enter the class quietly and quickly and sit in the back. 


3.  Cell phones must be on vibrate!:  Because of February 14th, I will allow students to keep their cell phones on vibrate.  Unless the student has an extenuating circumstance (e.g., pregnant spouse, day care, etc.), under no circumstance should he/she answer the phone.  If you have an extenuating circumstance, please let me know.  Any student who is text messaging during class will be told to leave. 


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.  The paper is due at the beginning of class.  If you miss the deadline for the first two papers, you may simply write one of the remaining papers.  If you miss the deadline for the third paper (electoral college) and have not turned in a paper previously, you will receive a 0 for the paper portion of your grade. 


6.  Contacting me:  The best way to get in touch with me is to come to my office hours.  If you cannot 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.  Extra credit:  In addition to the predicting presidential elections event mentioned above, the class can take part in a presidential election prediction contest.  This contest will be explained in greater detail in class.  The first place winner will receive 10 additional points on his/her final; second place=5 pts on final; third place=2 pts on final.  Other than that, I do not allow for extra credit.


8.  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.  The NIU Undergraduate Catalog states:

Good academic work must be based on honesty. The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university. (Undergraduate Catalog)

Don’t plagiarize or cheat.  I will catch you!  If you are not sure what constitutes plagiarism, ask.  Ignorance will not be tolerated as an excuse. 


9.  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 now, 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.

            Also, I will post Powerpoint slides on Blackboard before each class period.  However, the slides are only a guide to where we are going in that day’s class.  Students who only rely on the Powerpoint slides and do not take detailed notes will not do well in the class. 

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. 


Course Outline:


NOTE:  Readings should be completed by the day in which it is assigned.  For example, students should have read Wayne, chp 3 and Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 212-225 by the beginning of class on September 2nd.

*I reserve the right to change the course outline. 


August 26th                 T                      Introduction to the Course


August 28th                 R                     No Class.  APSA conference.




September 2nd              T                      Where is the American Voter?

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


September 4th              R                     Where is the American Voter?, cont.


September 9th              T                      Is the American Voter Informed?

                                                                        (Wattenberg, Preface-chp 4)

September 11th            R                     Is the American Voter Informed?, cont.   


September 16th            T                      Is Voting for Young People?

(Wattenberg, chps 5-8)


Political Parties

September 18th            R                     What is a Party?  

The History of American Parties

(Bibby and Schaffner, chps 1-2)

September 23rd            T                      The Party in Government

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, chp 9)

September 25th            R                     The Party Organization

(Bibby and Schaffner, chp 4)

September 30th            T                      The Party Organization, cont.


October 2nd                  R                     The Party in the Electorate

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 225-254)

October 7th                  T                      The Party in the Electorate, cont.                  


October 9th                  R                     Third Parties

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, chp 3)

                                                            Two party/multi party paper due!

October 14th                T                      Politics without Parties

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, chp 10)


October 16th               R                     Midterm


Presidential Elections


October 21st                T                      The Nomination Process

(Bibby and Schaffner, chp 6; Wayne, chps 1, 4-5)

October 23rd                R                     The Nomination Process, cont.


October 28th                T                      The New Hampshire Spectacle and What the

Heck Is a Caucus?

                                                            Reforming the nomination process paper due!

October 30th                R                     Reforming the Nomination Process


November 4th              T                      The Need for Money, Money, Money

(Wayne, chp 2)


November 6th              R                     Post-mortem on the 2008 presidential election


November 11th            T                      One Big Party:  The Nominating Convention

(Wayne, chp 6)

November 13th            R                     How to Run a Winning Campaign


November 18th            T                      The Role of the Media in Presidential Elections

(Wayne, chps 7-8)

November 20th            R                     Presidential Debates: Is Anyone Paying Attention?

                                                                        (Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 291-292)


November 25th            T                      Movie: War Room

                                                            Electoral College paper due!


November 27th            R                     No class.  Happy Thanksgiving!


December 2nd              T                      Movie: War Room, cont.

                                                            Presidential simulation paper due!


December 4th               R                     The Electoral College

(Bibby and Schaffner, pp. 274-284; Wayne, chps 9-10)


December 11th            R                     Final (10:00-11:50)