POL S 202 A: Introduction To American Politics

Meeting Time: 
MWF 11:30am - 12:20pm
SMI 120
Mark Smith
Mark Alan Smith

Syllabus Description:

Click here for Smith's grading scale 

Click here for the full syllabus

September 28 Introduction to the course.

September 29 Sections:  Read Hans NoelView in a new window, “Ten Things Political Scientists Know That You Don’tView in a new window

September 30 What is political science, and where does the study of American politics fit within it?

October 3 How the meaning of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have evolved.

October 4  Sections:  Read David Wearing, “How Scientific is Political Science?View in a new window”, Jill Lepore, “Long Division:  Measuring the Polarization of American PoliticsView in a new window,” and Arvind Kumar, “Essay on Whether Political Science is a Science or an Art?

October 5 Changing beliefs, institutions, and practices related to majority rule

October 6  Sections: Read James Madison, The Federalist #10Preview the document; excerpts from James Madison and Alexander HamiltonView in a new windowThe Federalist #63, 68, and 71View in a new window; and John Judis, "All the Rage"

October 7 Does America have majority rule today?

October 10 How the meaning of the Bill of Rights expanded over time

October 11  Sections:  Read Peter SchuckView in a new window, “James Q. Wilson and American ExceptionalismView in a new window”; Andrew RobertsView in a new window, “What Americanists Don’t Know about American PoliticsView in a new window” 

October 12 The development of judicial review.

October 13  Sections:  Read Steven TelesView in a new window, “Kludgeocracy in AmericaView in a new window”; Suzanne Mettler, “Our Hidden Government BenefitsView in a new window

October 14 The development of the Electoral College and the presidential selection system.

October 17 Party nominations.

October 18  Sections:  Read The Economist (unsigned), “The Art of the Lie; Charlotte Alter and Michael Scherer, "The Truth is Out There"; Peter Wehrer, “Confirmation Bias and the Limits of Human Knowledge”; Peter Wehrer, “Have You Ever Been Wrong?”

October 19 The two-party system in America.

October 20  Sections: Read Gil Troy, “The Campaign TriumphantView in a new window”; and Kenneth Goldstein, Matthew Dallek, and Joel RivlinView in a new window, “Even the Geeks are Polarized:  The Dispute over the ‘Real Driver’ in American Elections

October 21  First exam.

October 24 The competence of the American electorate.

October 25  Sections:  Read Larry Bartels, “The Irrational ElectorateView in a new window,” Matthew Iglesias, "This is the Best Book to Help You to Understand the Wild 2016 Campaign" and R. Douglas ArnoldView in a new window, “Can Inattentive Citizens Control Their Elected Representatives?View in a new window”  Paper assigned.

October 26  Initiatives and referenda.

October 27  Sections:  Read Jamelle Bouie, “How Trump HappenedView in a new window”; Amanda Taub, “The Rise of American AuthoritarianismView in a new window”, and Mark Bauerlein, "A Conservative Scholar Makes the Case that Trump is the Disruptive Force America Needs"

October 28  Political parties, interest groups, and social movements.

October 31 Measuring public opinion.

November 1  Sections: Read Matthew Yglesias, “American Democracy is DoomedView in a new window”; Ezra Klein, America’s Political System Isn’t Going to CollapseView in a new window

November 2  Interpreting public opinion polls.

November 3  Sections:  Read Didi Kuo, “Polarization and Partisanship”; Gary AndresView in a new window, “Campaign-Style Advocacy:  A Broader View of LobbyingView in a new window”; and Melinda Burns, “K Street and the Status QuoView in a new window.  Paper due.

November 4  Parties and political polarization

November 7  Presidential campaign ads.

November 8  Sections:  Read Dylan Matthews, "Hillary Clinton's Quiet Revolution"; David Roberts, "Voting by Mail Is Fair, Safe, and Easy.  Why Don’t More States Use It?"

November 9 Election recap

November 10  Sections:  Read Mark Fischer, "How Donald Trump Broke the Rules of Politics--and Won the White House"

November 11  No class (Veterans’ Day).

November 14 Immigration, ethnicity, and religion in American politics.

November 15  Sections:  Read Lee Drutman, “How Race and Identity Became the Central Dividing Line in American Politics”; The Economist, "The Last Liberals"; Lee Drutman, "Trump's Supporters Revealed"

November 16  Race in American politics.

November 17  Sections: Read Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for ReparationsView in a new window

November 18  Second exam.

November 21  How we arrived at the current American health care system.

November 22  Sections:  Read David Wong, "How Half of America Lost its F**king Mind";  Ezra Klein, “Unpopular MandateView in a new window”; R. Douglas ArnoldView in a new window, “Politics at the Precipice:  Fixing Social Security in 2033View in a new window

November 23  How institutional rules affect political outcomes.

November 24  No class (Thanksgiving break).

November 25  No class (Thanksgiving break).

November 28 Presidential powers.

November 29  Sections: Read Ezra Klein, “The UnpersuadedView in a new window”; Kenneth S. Lowande and Sidney MilkisView in a new window, “’We Can’t Wait’:  Barack Obama, Partisan Polarization, and the Administrative PresidencyView in a new window”; Jonathan Rauch, "How American Politics Went Insane"

November 30  Why Supreme Court justices make the decisions they do.

December 1  Sections:  Read University of Virginia School of Law, “Scalia Defends Originalism as Best Methodology for Judging Law”; Ralph Rossum, “Justice Scalia’s Legacy of OriginalismView in a new window”; Ronald Lindsay, “Justice Scalia and Originalism:  May They Rest in PeaceView in a new window; Jedediah Purdy, “Scalia’s Contradictory Originalism

December 2 The causes of bureaucratic red tape.

December 5 The news media:  How journalists determine what qualifies as news

December 6  Sections:  Read Paul Starr, Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption)View in a new window”; John Heltman, “Confessions of a Paywall JournalistView in a new window; Johan Norberg, “Why Can’t We See That We’re Living in a Golden Age?”

December 7  The news media:  How journalists cover politics and elections.

December 8  Sections: Read Shanto IyengarView in a new window, “The Media Game:  New Moves, Old StrategiesView in a new window,” Brent Cunningham, “Re-thinking ObjectivityView in a new window" ; Craig Silverman, "This Analysis Shows How Fake News Stories Outperformed Real News on Facebook"

December 9 The news media and the rise of Donald Trump

Wednesday, December 14  Final Exam from 2:30-4:30


Catalog Description: 
Institutions and politics in the American political system. Ways of thinking about how significant problems, crises, and conflicts of American society are resolved politically. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements: 
Introductory Courses
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:45pm