POLS 600 – Topics in American Politics, Fall 2009


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

Prof. Barbara Burrell

Rm 115, Zulauf, 753-7050


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


This course is designed to introduce students to the field of American politics. Emphasis in this class 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. Finally we want 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. The most important aspect is to reflect on how knowledge has been built over time about the diverse subject matter of the study of American politics. I hope you will find the study of American politics to be challenging, that this course stimulates 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

E.E. Schattschneider, Party Government, Transaction

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

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, 1990

Katherine Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror, Princeton University Press, 2003

Lee Epstein and Jack Knight, The Choices Justices Make 1998

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, Simon and Schuster

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

Barbara Sinclair.  Party Wars,  2006.


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, 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 25. Introduction 


September 1.  Pluralism

Robert Dahl, Who Governs? 

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


September 8. Voting Behavior

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


 September 15.  Public Opinion and Ideology

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

2.      Alan Abramowitz and Kyle Saunders. 2008. “Is Polarization a Myth?” Journal of Politics, 70,   542-555 (available in Blackboard in Course Documents)

3.      Morris Fiorina, Samuel Abrams and Jeremy Pope. 2008. “Polarization in the American Public: Misconceptions and Misreadings.” Journal of Politics, 70,   556-560. Available in Blackboard in course documents.

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


September 22.   Civic Engagement and Political Participation

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone


September 29.  Political Parties

E.E. Schattschneider,  Party Government

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 6. Interest Groups

1.      Robert Salisbury, 1969. “An Exchange Theory of Interest Groups.” Midwest Journal  of Political Science (now AJPS) 13 (February):1-32. Jstor

2.      Jack Walker, 1983. “The Origins and Maintenance of Interests Groups in America.” American Political Science Review 77(June):390-406. Jstor

3.       Robert Salisbury, 1984. “Interest Representation: The Dominance of Institutions.” American Political Science Review 78 (March): 64-76. Jstor

4.      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

5.      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

6.      Theda Skocpol. 2001.Advocates without Members: The Recent Transformation of Americna Civic Life.” In Civic Engagement in American Democracy, eds Theda Skocpol and Morris Fiorina, pp. 461-509 (Blackboard)


October 13.  American Political Development

(borrowed from  Michael Tofias, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Graduate Seminar)


1.      Orren, Karen and Stephen Skowronek. 2004. The Search for American Political Development. Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1 (on electronic reserve).

2.       Key, V. O. 1949. Southern Politics in State and Nation. New York: A. A. Knopf. Pages 3-18, 277-316 (on electronic reserve).

3.       Kernell, Samuel and Michael P. McDonald. 1999. “Congress and America's Political Development: The Transformation of the Post Office from Patronage to Service."American Journal of Political Science. See also the debate with Carpenter (2000 & 2001) in Studies in American Political Development.

4.      Weingast, Barry R. 1998. \Political Stability and Civil War: Institutions, Commitment and American Democracy" Analytic Narratives, edited by Robert H. Bates et al. Pages 148-193.

5.      Skocpol, Theda and Kenneth Finegold. 1982. “State Capacity and Economic Intervention in the Early New Deal." Political Science Quarterly.

6.      Hacker, Jacob. 1998. “The Historical Logic of National Health Insurance: Structure and Sequence 10 in the Development of British, Canadian, and U.S. Medical Policy." Studies in American Political Development.


October 20. Legislators and Representation

1.      Richard F. Fenno.1977. "U.S. House Members in Their Constituencies: An Exploration." American Political Science Review 71: 883‑917. (JStor)

2.      David Mayhew.  The Electoral Connection, Yale University Press, either edition

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

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

5.      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 27. Congress as an Institution

 Nelson W. Polsby. 1968. “The Institutionalization of the House of Representatives.” American Political Science Review 62: 144-68. (JStor)

Barbara Sinclair, 2006. Party Wars


November 3. The Presidency

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

2.      Stephen Skowronek. 1994. “Presidential Leadership in Political Time.” In the Presidency and the Political System, ed. Michael Nelson. 4th, edition. 124-170

3.      George Edwards II and B. Dan Wood. 1999. “Who Influences Whom? The President, Congress, and the Media.  American Political Science Review, 93, 2 327-344.




November 10. Judicial Behavior

1.       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)

2.      Lee Epstein and Jack Knight. 1998. The Choices Justices Make

3.      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 17. Race and Representation

Katherine Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror


November 24. Gender and Politics

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


December 1.


Discussion of research papers and finish 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 10 minutes to present the paper.  Use your time wisely. Concentrate on the central features and contribution 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 all students participating. 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 9 of the 13 weeks of reading. 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 a dialogue with the author(s) 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. Concentrate on the arguments and research of the author. The papers are due by noon on Monday each week. Post your paper on the discussion board in Blackboard for our class. Your work will be shared with the other members of the class who should try to read all papers before class.   Grade:  40% of course grade

3.      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: 10% of course grade


4.       From the list of journals that you will find on our course in Blackboard, review five of them for articles on a particular topic of interest to you in American politics (e.g., congressional elections, public opinion) in the past five years.  Create a bibliographic essay that describes these works that tells us 1) what do the authors consider to be the most important questions, problems, or puzzles still to be asked in that area of research that the authors address in their work.  2) What is their contribution to building knowledge regarding these questions?  3) What hypotheses do they test or questions do they ask? 4) What is their research methodology? 5) Summarize their findings and conclusions and present a reflection on what is the current state of knowledge in this subfield of study.  Your thoughtful response and reflection on these works will be most important. Put your work into a graceful essay.     


Due:  November 24th        Grade: 25% of course grade


5.         Take-home final examination    Grade: 15% of course grade


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.


 Plagiarism: http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml



This is a link on the Political Science website to help you with any questions you might have regarding citing sources and the issue of plagiarism