POLS 300, American Presidential Elections

Spring 2009

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office:  Zulauf 403, Wednesday 2:00 – 5:00

753-7056  mwyckoff@niu.edu





The first American politicalparties were organized by our founding fathers even though many of those menwere quite ambivalent about the desirability of parties and, indeed, about thevery idea of allowing the masses to vote in presidential elections.  Despite their doubts, founders likeJefferson, Madison and Hamilton soon came to the conclusion that mass electorateswere a fact of life and that parties were needed to help organize and bringcoherence to the electoral process. Since then, a two-party system (with occasional input from smaller,third parties) has almost always been present to help structure Americanpresidential elections.  Althoughour party system may appear to be static, in fact the parties have reorganizedand renewed themselves many times through a process of “realignment.”


Just as political partieshave reinvented themselves over time, political campaign styles and strategieshave changed greatly over the years. Originally, presidential candidates were not expected to campaign atall, and most of them didn’t!  Butshortly after the turn of the 20th Century, candidates learned thevalue of traveling around the country making public speeches during campaigns,and eventually they learned to take advantage of new electronic media to gettheir messages out to the people. And as we watch the current campaign, it is obvious that the Internet isnow having profound effects on how campaigns are organized, funded, andexecuted.       


Voters, too, have changedover the years.  Voters in theearly years were drawn from a nation of small farmers, and initially only whitemales who owned property were thought to be properly qualified to vote.  Later electorates have been shaped byprocesses of industrialization and modernization, and over the years exclusionsbased on race and gender were grudgingly abandoned.  Furthermore, major blocs of voters have been known to changetheir party loyalties.  Whitesoutherners, for example, used to be steadfast Democrats.  Today most of them are loyalRepublicans.       


POLS 300 will examine thesechanging aspects of American presidential elections and we will study in somedetail the candidates, issues and partisan trends that have appeared inAmerican presidential elections during the post-World War II era.





The books shown below arerequired for the course and are available for purchase at our campus book-stores (and elsewhere): 


John Kenneth White and David M. Shea, NewParty Politics: From Jefferson andHamilton

   to the Information Age (2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2004).


KathleenHall Jamieson, Packaging the Presidency (3rd ed., Oxford,1996).


Also, please notethat several additional required readingsmust be located online.  Consult the outline below for specific assignments.  The online version of this syllabus,available on Blackboard, contains links that will be helpful in accessing thosereadings.  E-reserves, for example,may be accessed from Blackboard.





Exams.  Two midterms and a final exam will begiven contributing 25%, 35% and 40%, respectively, to your final grade.  All exams will have a significant long essaycomponent plus a few additional items such as multiple choice, identification,or matching questions.  Asignificant portion of the final exam will be cumulative in nature, requiringyou to deal with themes encountered throughout the course.   


Attendance is notformally computed into your grade but naturally I expect you to come regularly,to be on time when at all possible, and to do the assigned readings onschedule.  To encourage this Ireserve the right to increase a final course grade by up to one-third of aletter as a reward for good class participation.  To help me learn names I will set up a seating chart andwill keep a daily record of attendance.


Makeup exams and grades of Incomplete willbe provided cheerfully when needed but only for reasons of significant illness,personal tragedy, or other similarly extraordinary circumstances, anddocumentary evidence of the extraordinary circumstances normally must beprovided by the student.


Cell Phones & Class Decorum.  Please silence and refrain from usingyour cell phone and other electronic devises during class.  Also please be civil, use common sense,and respect the needs of your fellow students, not to mention the needs of thegrouchy old professor (“get off my lawn!”) who is trying to offer you a decentlecture each day.  


Extra Credit.  Sorry, but none is available.  No exceptions.


Students with Disabilities. NIU abides by theRehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations forqualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and require some type of instructionalaccommodation, please contact the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR),located in the University Health Services building (753-1303).





I will try to adhere to thisschedule as closely as possible, but I reserve the right to make adjustments ifnecessary.  I may occasionally adda reading to the schedule (for example, one or more readings dealing with the2008 presidential election need to be added).  It is your responsibility to be in class regularly and tocheck the syllabus on Blackboard regularly so that you will be aware of theseoccasional modifications.


Week 1 –Introduction to the course and some fundamental characteristics of theelectoral process  (Week ofJanuary12)


Read:    White/Shea,Ch. 1, pp.16-22; Ch. 10,pp. 308-322 (why a two-party system?)

            Jack Rakove, “The Accidental Electors,” NY Times (12/19/00).  (Blackboard)

            FederalistPaper #68; locate at:  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/fed.asp



Week 2 –Evolution of the Election Processes: Nominations and Campaigns (Week of January19)


Read:    White/Shea, Ch.5, pp. 134-159, Ch.7, pp. 214-219.

Parsonsand McCormick, “Obama's Formula: It's the Network; Technology Helped Campaign

   Take Off and Change the Game,” ChicagoTribune, 2008.  (Blackboard)

BethFouhy, “Thirst for Change Trumped Clinton'sExperience,” Chi. Tribune. (2008)


Jamieson,Ch. 1, “Broadsides toBroadcasts”



Week 3  History and Evolution of Political Partiesin America  (Week of January 26) 


Read:    White/Shea,Ch. 2-3 and Ch.10, pp. 325-339.



Week 4  Voter Decision Making and PartyRealignment (Week of February 2)


Read:    White/Shea,Ch. 6.

            V.O.Key, “A Theory of Critical Elections,” Journalof Politics 17 (1955): pp. 3-11.

            V.O.Key, “Secular Realignment and the Party System,” Journal of Politics (1959):

              pp. 198-201, 208-210.



MIDTERM EXAM I:  Monday, February 9



Week 5  Presidential Elections, 1952-1956  (February 11 and 13)


Read:    White/Shea, pp. 170-175 in Ch.6.

           Jamieson, Ch. 2-3.



Week 6  Presidential Elections, 1960  (Week of February 16)


Read:  Jamieson, Ch. 4.



Week 7    Presidential Elections, 1964  (Week of February 23)


Read:    Jamieson,Ch. 5.



Week 8  – Presidential Elections,1968  (Week of March 2)


Read:    Jamieson,Ch. 6.



Spring Break:  Week of March 9



Week 9  – Presidential Elections,1972-1976  (Week of March 16)


Read:    Jamieson,Ch. 7-8.



MIDTERM EXAM II:  Monday, March 23



 Week 9  – Presidential Elections,1980  (March  25 and 27)


Read:    Jamieson,Ch. 9.



Week 10  – Presidential Elections,1984-1988  (Week of March 30)


Read:    Jamieson,Ch. 10-11.



Week 11  – Presidential Elections,1992  (Week of April 6)


Read:    Jamieson, Ch.12.



Week 12  – Presidential Elections,1996  (Week of April 13)


Read:     Sabato,"The November Vote: A Status Quo Election," (e-reserves)

             Additional reading TBA.



 Week 13  – Presidential Elections,2000-2004  (Week of April 20)


Read:    Nelson,“The Setting: George W. Bush, Majority President,” (e-reserves).

Pomper,“The Presidential Election: The Ills of American Politics After 9/11,”(e-reserves).



Week 14  – Presidential Elections,2008  (Week of April 27)


 Read:   TBA   



FINAL EXAM – May 4,12:00-1:50