POLS 408: Political Participation and Behavior


Spring Semester 2009

Monday and Wednesday 3:30-4:45pm; Room DU 459

Dr. April Clark

Office: Zulauf 416

Office Hours: Monday 5:00-6:30 p.m. and Wed 2:00-3:30 pm or by appt.

Office phone: (815) 753-7058

E-Mail: aclarkl@niu.edu

(please note the email address is aclark1(one)@niu.edu)




This course examines the origins, content, and impact of voting and political participation. We will address several broad questions: Who votes and why? Which groups are underrepresented at the polls and why? What implication does nonvoting have for the political system? Is a nation better off when large numbers of individuals fail to vote? Are Americans making up for their low turnout rates through other means of participation? How much influence do the mass media have on the electorate’s attitudes and political choices? How do party loyalties, candidates’ personalities, and issues influence voters’ choices among candidates? What can be done to increase turnout levels in the U.S.?


In addressing these questions, specific topics of interest include the role of individual factors, societal factors, and institutional factors in political involvement, differences in participation by age, gender and race and ethnicity, the consequences of political participation, and the influence of participation on elections and policy outcomes.


Students use critical thinking methods when examining and evaluating research findings and authors’ opinions, and when developing analytical essays and research papers. Through these activities students are encouraged to think about political participation and behavior in a critical and analytical way.    


Class Schedule:


Class meets Mondays and Wednesdays, from 3:30-4:45 PM, during the 15-week term – January 12 through April 30, 2008. The final exam is Monday, May 4th at 4:00-5:50 PM.


Course Texts:


Flanigan, William H. and Nancy H. Zingale (2006). Political Behavior of the American Electorate. Eleventh edition. CQ Press: Washington D.C. ISBN:1-933116-67-6


Hill, David (2006). American Voter Turnout: An Institutional Perspective. Westview Press: Colorado. ISBN: 0-8133-4328-3


(+)Wattenberg, Martin P. (2002). Is Voting for Young People? Pearson Longman Press: New York

ISBN: 978-0-205-51807-4


Wattenberg, Martin P. (2002). Where Have All The Voters Gone? Harvard University Press: Massachusetts ISBN: 0‑674-00937-1


Sources indicated with an asterisk (*) will be posted to the class’s Blackboard website and most are also available through electronic reserve, with links to JSTOR available through NIU’s Library ‘Search our ejournals’ search engine.  All articles can then be read online or printed out.  To find these readings click on the library webpage’s located at http://www.ulib.niu.edu:3515/information/alphadb.cfm and scroll down to “JSTOR” and search for the title of the article in the window. The titles of the articles are given in the reading schedule below.


Course Requirements:


Students will be evaluated based on four components:


  • Lecture Reading/Participation (considered in borderline cases): Readings will be assigned for most class meetings. Even though you will not be formally graded on participation in lecture, you are expected to attend all classes, read the assigned readings before each class, and participate actively during the lecture in order to get the most of the course. Good attendance and participation will be taken into consideration to decide borderline letter grade cases. “Class participation” means being prepared for the material to be covered in class each day, asking thought-provoking questions, and providing insightful answers in class.


  • Study Questions (10%)  One of the most important resources for the course is created by the students: reading notes on the course materials. Students are required to submit 3-5 questions based on each particular week’s reading. These study questions are important for two reasons. First of all, they are an important part of your course participation. Students are required to email the study questions to the professor the Sunday (and/or Tuesday) evening prior to the assigned class discussion. These study questions may be used in class discussion and may provide you with a more thorough understanding of the readings by clarifying what you and other students found confusing, incomplete, or unclear. Second, questions considered particularly relevant will be incorporated on the midterm and/or final exams. The student submitting these question(s) will receive three extra credit points per question.


  • A midterm examination (25%): The midterm will be held in class Monday, March 2nd. The midterm will consist of multiple-choice and short answer questions, as well as an essay designed to test your understanding of the readings covered up to this point.


  • Term paper (30%): The term paper (8-10 pages) will be due at the beginning of class on Monday, April 6th. You have two options, and I urge you to come see me sometime during the semester to discuss what you will write about:


1. An analysis of the factors that affect either participation (eg., why some people vote on election day and some stay home) or representation (eg., whether voters are substantially different than nonvoters in their candidate and policy preferences) as well as proposing a way to reform elections to promote more confidence in the electoral system and/or encourage young people to participate in politics.


2. The effect of campaigns and/or the media on political behavior. Do campaigns have as much or more influence on political behavior than the influences of family or friends?

Talk to your friends and others; consider the influence of a campaign on your political

beliefs and actions.


The paper should be printed single-sided and double-spaced with standard Word margins and in 12-point font. We will talk more about this project during the course of the semester. However, start working on this early. In order to help you take full advantage of this opportunity to explore your interests in elections, I have a prospectus due Week 7 on February 23rd, in class. This will be a brief, 1-2 page memorandum and will identify the specific topic, research outline, as well as a list of sources you intend to incorporate. Based on your prospectus, I can make suggestions aimed at helping you with the project. More information will be provided about the term paper requirements in class. 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. If you fail to turn your paper in at the beginning of class on the day it is due, you will receive a 0 for the paper, NO EXCEPTIONS. 


  • A final examination (35%): The final exam is Monday, May 4th, 4-5:50 pm. It will be comprehensive though focusing more heavily on material covered since the midterm, and will consist of the same format as the midterm with multiple-choice, short answer questions, and an essay.


Basic Policies


Missed exams. Makeup exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students will be required to support requests for makeup exams with documentation. A signed note from your mother does not suffice. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a course grade of “F” as opposed to an incomplete. NO EXCEPTIONS.


Late papers. : I do not accept late papers.  Papers are due at the beginning of class on the day that it is due. If you 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, NO EXCEPTIONS.


Handouts: Handouts are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because they are registered for the course.


Classroom Etiquette: Attendance at all class sessions is expected, and the instructor will check the attendance regularly.  Students are allowed to miss a total of six hours or two class meetings during the semester.  An additional absence may result in being dropped from the course.  Active and informed participation in class discussion will significantly help students in borderline grade situations. Students are expected to arrive at class on time. Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence.  Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. For instance, it is not acceptable for students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Please silence your cell phone prior to the start of each lecture.  It is not acceptable to use an iPod, read a newspaper, use a laptop for anything other than taking class notes, or engage in other behavior that distracts one from the class proceedings once the session has begun. No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.


Incomplete Requests: Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


Honor Code: Any written work for this class will be checked electronically through on-line databases to assess the originality of the work. 


Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: “students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and 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.” The above statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers that were written by others.  Please note that the instructor retains copies of papers written in previous years. In short, students are advised to do their own work and learn the rules for proper quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.


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 for which they may require accommodations should notify the University's Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Department of Political Science Web Site

Undergraduates are strongly 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, research 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


Undergraduate Writing Awards

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies.  Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing.  Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony, where they will receive a certificate and $50.00.  Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by the end of March.  All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name.  Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award.  However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.


Exams and grading. Regrades on assignments are possible if you believe there was an error in grading. In order to have a reconsideration of your grade, you must provide a 1-page typewritten memo explaining where you feel the mistake in grading occurred, and I will take a look at it.


Course Grades will be distributed as follows:


            Final Average                                             Final Grade

            90-100 %                                                          A

            80-89 %                                                            B

            70-79%                                                             C

            60-69%                                                             D

            Below 60%                                                       F


Other Issues


I encourage you to keep up on current events by reading a major newspaper (i.e., New

York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor). You can

either subscribe to one of these papers, or read daily editions online. I also encourage

you to keep up with popular or current blogs, as these are developing mediums of political news/ideas/commentary.


Finally, I will make use of Blackboard to convey information and class discussion topics – make sure that your email is current with university administration or you may miss out on important course communications. I have also posted the syllabus there, and I encourage you to check the course page frequently.


Course Calendar


The following calendar lists the order of the topics and the date that we will cover them. Courses sometimes do not go as planned and you should be ready to diverge from this syllabus. Any significant changes will be clearly announced in class. You are responsible to stay up to date on course happenings. You should read the texts before coming to class, and try to get an early start on the term paper.


Reading Schedule (additional readings may be added)


Week 1:


Monday – January 12

Readings / Discussions / Activities: Introduction, Expectations, Plan for the quarter


Discuss syllabus and class schedule and introduction to political participation


Barr, Andy. “2008 Turnout Shatters All Records.” Politico (Nov. 5, 2008).


Pew Research Center: “Inside Obama’s Sweeping Victory” (Nov. 5, 2008).


Pew Research Center: “Post-Election Perspectives” (Nov. 13, 2008).


Pew Research Center: “Young Voters in the 2008 Election” (Nov. 12, 2008).


Brookings Institution: “The Generational Turnout War” (Jan. 3, 2009).


Washingtonpost.com: “The Competitive Problem of Voter Turnout” (Oct. 31, 2006).


Washingtonpost.com: “5 Myths About Turning Out The Vote” (Oct. 29, 2006)




Wednesday – January 14

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


A Primer on Political Participation


*Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy (2004). “American Democracy in

      an Age of Rising Inequality”, American Political Science Association (APSA).

Flanigan and Zingale: Introduction and Chapter 1


Week 2:


Monday – January 19 – No Class – Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday



Wednesday – January 21

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


A Primer on Political Participation (continued)


                        Hill: Introduction

                        Wattenberg: Preface and Introduction

Film: Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (http://www.unprecedented.org/ )


Week 3:


Monday – January 26

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


A Primer on Political Participation (continued)


Film: Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (http://www.unprecedented.org/ )


Wednesday – January 28

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Suffrage and Turnout


*McDonald, Michael P., and Samuel Popkin. “The Myth of the Vanishing Voter.”

      American Political Science Review (2001), 95(4):963-974.

*Washingtonpost.com: “Turnout’s Not as Bad as You Think” (Nov. 5, 2000)

                        Hill: Chapter 1

Week 4:


Monday – February 2

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Suffrage and Turnout


*Highton, Benjamin. “Voter Registration and Turnout in the United States.”

      Perspectives on Politics (Sept. 2004), Vol. 2, No. 3: 507-515.

Flanigan and Zingale: Chapter 2

                        Wattenberg: Chapter 2


Wednesday – February 4

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Suffrage and Turnout


*King, James D. “Political Culture, Registration Laws, and Voter Turnout

      among the American States.” Publius Interstate Relations (Autumn 1994), Vol. 24,

      No. 4: 115-127.

Hill: Chapter 3

*Mitchell, Glenn E. and Christopher Wlezien. “The Impact of Legal Constraints on Voter

      Registration, Turnout, and the Composition of the American   Electorate.” Political Behavior (June 1995), Vol. 17, No. 2: 179-202.


Week 5:


Monday – February 9

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Worldwide Turnout and Turnout in the States


                        Hill: Chapter 4

                        Wattenberg: Chapter 1


Wednesday – February 11

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Explaining Voter Turnout


Hill: Chapter 2

Wattenberg: Chapter 3

*Brady, Henry E., Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman.  “Beyond SES: A Resource

      Model of Political Participation.” APSR, 89 (June, 1995), 271-294.


Week 6:


Monday – February 16

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Explaining Voter Turnout (continued)


            *Putnam, Robert D. “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Journal of

      Democracy (Jan. 1995), Vol. 6, No. 1: 65-78.

            *Putnam, Robert D. “Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social

      Capital in America.” PS: Political Science and Politics (Dec. 1995), Vol. 28,

      No. 4: 664-683.


Wednesday – February 18

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Explaining Voter Turnout (continued)


*Ladd, Everett C. “The Data Just Don’t Show Erosion of America’s “Social Capital”.”

      The Public Perspective June/July 1996.

*Ladd, Everett C. “The American Way -- Civic Engagement -- Thrives.” Christian

      Science Monitor (1999), Vol. 91, Issue 64: 9-12.

*Aldrich, John H. “Rational Choice and Turnout.” American Journal of Political Science

      (Feb. 1993), Vol. 37, No. 1: 246-278.


Week 7:


Monday – February 23

Assignments Due:


Paper topic, research outline, and tentative reference list for term paper due at the beginning of class        


Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Explaining Voter Turnout (continued)


Hill: Chapter 5-7

*Gerber, Alan S. and Donald P. Green. “The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and

      Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment.” The American Political Science

      Review (Sept. 2000), Vol. 94, No. 3: 653-663.



Wednesday – February 25


Explaining Voter Turnout (continued)


*Goldstein, Kenneth M., and Travis N. Ridout. “The Politics of Participation:

Mobilization and Turnout over Time.” Political Behavior (2002), 24(1): 3-29.


Week 8:


Monday – March 2

Readings / Discussions / Activities:



            **********MIDTERM EXAM – MONDAY, MARCH 2ND**********



Wednesday – March 4

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Does Participation Matter?


*Verba, Sidney.  “Would the Dream of Political Equality Turn Out to Be a Nightmare?”

                              Perspectives on Politics, (Dec., 2003), Vol. 1, No. 4: 271-294.

            *Wolfinger, Raymond E. and Steven J. Rosenstone (1980). Who Votes? Yale

      University Press: Chapter 6

                        Wattenberg: Chapter 5


Week 9:


Monday – March 9 – No Class – Spring Break



Week 10:

Monday – March 16

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Does Participation Matter?


*Highton, Benjamin and Raymond E. Wolfinger. “The Political Implications of Higher

      Turnout.” British Journal of Political Science (Jan. 2001), Vol. 31, No. 1: 179-192.

*Sides, John, Eric Schickler, and Jack Citrin. “If Everyone Had Voted, Would Bubba and

      Dubya Have Won?” Presidential Studies Quarterly (2008), Vol. 38, No. 3: 521-680.



Wednesday – March 18

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Does Participation Matter?


*Jan E. Leighley and Jonathan Nagler. “Who Votes Now? And Does It Matter?” Paper

      prepared for presentation at 2007 annual Midwest Political Science Association

      Meeting, Chicago Illinois, April 12-15, 2007.


Week 11:

Monday – March 23

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Generation Differences: Age and Participation


                        (+)Wattenberg: Introduction, Overview (pgs. 1-7), Chapters 3-5


Wednesday – March 25

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Generation Differences: Age and Participation


                        (+)Wattenberg: Introduction, Chapters 6-8


Week 12:

Monday – March 30

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Generation Differences: Age and Participation


*Hill, David and Michael D. Martinez. “The Interactive Effects of Electoral Reform,

Competitiveness and Age on Turnout.” Paper prepared for presentation at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA,

            August 28-31.


Wednesday – April 1

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Generation Differences: Age and Participation


                        Teixeira, Ruy. “Generation We and the 2008 Election” (November, 2008)


CIRCLE – The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

“Voter Registration Among Young People”


      “Young Voter Mobilization Tactics”


      “Young State Voter Registration and Election Day laws”


      “Young Voter Registration and Turnout Trends”



Week 13:

Monday – April 6


Assignments Due:


            Term paper due at the beginning of class – late papers are not accepted, no EXCEPTIONS


Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Political Participation of Minorities: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender


*“Women’s Political Participation” Chapter 5 In Women and Political Participation –

Cultural Change in the Political Arena. Conway,  M. Margaret, Gertrude A. Steuernagel and David W. Ahern. Washington D.C.: CQ Press.

*Leighley, Jan E. and Arnold Vedlitz, "Race, Ethnicity, and Political Participation:

Competing Models and Contrasting Explanations," Journal of Politics 61 (Nov. 1999):1092-1114.

*Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, Norman H. Nie, “Race, Ethnicity

and Political Resources: Participation in the United States,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1993): 453-497


Wednesday – April 8

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Political Participation of Minorities: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender


*Tate, Katherine, "Black Political Participation in the 1984 and 1988 Presidential

Elections," APSR 85 (Dec. 1991):1159-1176 (4)
*Shaw, Daron, Rudolfo de la Garza, Jongho Lee, "Examining Latino Turnout in 1996: A

Three State, Validated Survey Approach," AJPS 44 (April 2000):332-340. (8)

Week 14:

Monday – April 13

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


Voter Choices: Too Many? Determinants?


Wattenberg: Chapter 6

            Flanigan and Zingale: Chapter 4 & 8



Wednesday – April 15

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Media and Elections


Wattenberg: Chapter 7

            Flanigan and Zingale: Chapter 7


Week 15:

Monday – April 20

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Media and Elections


*Do Negative Ads Really Hurt? Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2000, Vol. 24, Issue 2

*Lee Sigelman and Mark Kugler. 2003. “Why is Research on the Effects of Negative

      Campaigning So Inconclusive," The Journal of Politics, 65 (1): 142-160.

*The Washington Times, “On Positive Side, Negative Ads Work,” Aug. 10, 2008.

*Newsweek, “Ready Aim Fire Attack Ads,” October 20, 2008.


Wednesday – April 22

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Electoral Reform: What Can Be Done?


                        Wattenberg: Chapter 8

                        Hill: Chapter 8

*Wattenberg, Martin P., “Should Election Day Be a Holiday?” Atlantic Monthly, October

1998, pp. 42-46

*Will computers fix the vote? By: Terrell, Kenneth, U.S. News & World Report,

9/29/2003, Vol. 135, Issue 10

*The Washington Post, “Fix the Vote, But Skip the Uniformity”, Dec. 24, 2000.


Week 16:

Monday – April 27

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Electoral Reform: What Can Be Done?


*Berinsky, Adam J. 2005. “The Perverse Consequences of Electoral Reform in the United States.” American Politics Research 33:471-491.

Majoo, Farhad. Oct. 31, 2000. "Vote Trade: The American Way?" Wired Magazine. Available here: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,39860,00.html


Wednesday – April 29

Readings / Discussions / Activities:


            Wrap up and review



**********FINAL EXAM – MONDAY, MAY 4TH: 4:00 PM TO 5:50 PM**********