POL S 299 B: Special Topics in Political Science

Meeting Time: 
TTh 4:30pm - 5:50pm
JHN 026
Randy Pepple
Topic: Modern Political Campaigns

Syllabus Description:


Political Science 299: Modern Political Campaigns (Spring 2019)

Instructors: Cathy Allen (cathy@connectionsgroup.org), Randy Pepple (randy@pepplecom.com)

Time and location:  TTH 4:30-5:50am, Johnson 026

Office hours: TTH 4-4:30 (Allen), 6-6:30 (Pepple), or by appointment, Gowen 48

Website: https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1311180


This course is about the modern U.S. campaign industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of paid professionals annually, supporting the more than one million candidates running for office in a typical presidential year. From fundraising to responding to negatives, from targeting the right voters to broadening your impact through social media communications, managing today’s campaigns is both an art and a science.

The curriculum is organized around well established strategic and tactical axioms which guide modern political campaigns, supplemented by readings providing additional insights and broader academic perspectives. We’ll also explore some of the new (and not-so-new) demons of the campaign business: campaign ethics, voter suppression efforts, disinformation, and gerrymandering.

By the end of the course, you will have a solid understanding of the 20-something key components of campaigns and the many strategic decisions campaign managers face. To bring these lessons home, we will be hearing from candidates, political consultants, pollsters, and digital gurus. We will also be applying what we learn by: monitoring a 2020 Presidential campaign of your choice, practicing asking for donations, responding to negative attacks, devising campaign messages, and identifying and targeting the voters needed to win.

Each student who passes the course will receive a certificate of completion.  Ideally, the course subject matter and experience will move them toward the top of the list of the thousands of applicants for jobs available in campaigns in the 2019-20 cycle.

Learning objectives

It’s an oft-repeated axiom that elections have consequences - and thus the importance of the campaigns that determine which people decide those consequences. This course focuses primarily on the nuts and bolts of running successful campaigns, but many of the lessons have broader application, including:

  • Communication and persuasion skills
  • Raising funds for a cause
  • Dealing with criticism
  • Team building
  • Planning and time management
  • The importance of image and voice


Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due when class begins at 4:30 pm on the assigned due date. Students must upload an electronic version to Canvas by this time and bring a paper version to class.

Over the course of the quarter, students will provide written weekly updates about the campaign of a presidential candidate of their choice followed by a longer paper analyzing the candidate’s campaign to date.  There will also be a midterm paper, and a cumulative final exam that includes both an in-class presentation and a take home written assignment.

  • Participation (10%): For this class to be successful, students need to regularly attend class and be ready to join in discussions of the topic and materials. Participation is based on attendance, evidence of preparation, and contributions to class activities.
  • Presidential candidate weekly assignments (10%): Due every Thursday, starting April 11.
  • Mid-term take home assignment (30%): Due April 30.
  • Crisis Response memo (10%): Due May 21.
  • Final (Written) (20%): Due June 6.
  • Final (Presentation) – 20%: Friday, June 14 - appointments will be scheduled in 15-minute time blocks for individual presentations

Grading scale: Written assignments and exams will report the raw score out of 100, the letter grade, and the corresponding 4.0 grade: 100-90= A range; 89-80= B range; 79-70= C range; 69-60= D range; below 59= F

Grading Criteria. The following rough guidelines will be used in the evaluation of the papers. Written work in the A range is characterized by a strikingly creative, perceptive, and persuasive argument/thesis statement; comprehensive synthesis and analysis of the course material; fully addresses all components of the prompt; considers counter arguments; straightforward yet sophisticated organization of thoughts and error-free prose. Written work in the B range is characterized by sound, original, and reasonably thoughtful argument/thesis statement; addresses nearly all components of the prompt; considers counter arguments; competent analysis of various course material, logical organization; and clear and error-free prose. Written work in the C range is characterized by a relatively underdeveloped, simplistic, or derivative argument/thesis statement; partial, inconsistent, or faulty analysis of course material; partially addresses prompt; convoluted organization; and awkward, or otherwise distracting prose. Written work in the D range is characterized by incoherent or extremely confusing argument; prose minimally engages prompt; superficial or fleeting engagement with the course material; chaotic or irrational organization; and error-riddled prose. Written work that lacks any argument or analysis and is sloppy, earns an F.

Late Assignments.  If you cannot complete and assignment on time or attend an exam, you must notify the instructor ahead of time.  You are responsible for making arrangements for a new exam date.

Late Penalty. Penalties are at the discretion of the instructors. The general policy is a 1.0 grade deduction if it is turned in by the next class day and a 2.0 deduction if it is turned in the class after that. Assignments turned in later will receive a 0.0.

Grade Appeals. Students must submit a written (1 page) appeal within one week of receiving their grade. This appeal should articulate your understanding of the assignment or question, and why the grade is inappropriate. The instructor then has two weeks to respond and may assign a new grade (higher or lower) as part of the review process. Students then have the option of appealing to the department chair, which exhausts the grade appeals process.


Required. Cathy Allen, Taking Back Politics: An Insider’ Guide to Winning (1996) Jalapeno Press (ISBN 0965311201).; This book covers the essential skills and strategies of modern campaigns.

Other required reading materials will be available electronically (see the course outline below) or will be provided by the instructors.  The readings are listed on the day they will be discussed (in other words, they should be read prior to that class period).


If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to either one of your instructors as soon as possible so we can discuss your needs in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Course Conduct

Every student brings a different perspective to the classroom (as do the instructors). We encourage differences of opinion but they must be expressed with respect for the views of other students. If you have suggestions for improving the course, we would also like to hear them.

Students engaging in behavior that is disrespectful, disrupting or distracting (such as texting, talking on the phone, websurfing, talking to other students, etc.) may be asked to leave.  All cases of suspected academic misconduct will be referred to the Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Conduct, and may result in a grade of 0.0 for the assignment in question. 

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-120-024) defines academic misconduct as: (a) "Cheating," which includes, but is not limited to: (i)The use of unauthorized assistance in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations; or (ii)The acquisition, use, or distribution of unpublished materials created by another student without the express permission of the original author(s). (b) "Falsification," which is the intentional use or submission of falsified data, records, or other information including, but not limited to, records of internship or practicum experiences or attendance at any required event(s). Falsification also includes falsifying scientific and/or scholarly research. (c) "Plagiarism," which is the submission or presentation of someone else's words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to: (i)The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or (ii)The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.   (d) Prohibited collaboration. (e) Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class instruction or in a course syllabus.   (f) Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express permission of the instructor(s). (g) Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to gain an advantage for oneself or another. (h) The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the instructor(s), and/or the dissemination or use of such unauthorized records.

University policies and guidelines regarding cheating and plagiarism can be found at https://depts.washington.edu/grading/pdf/AcademicResponsibility.pdf.

Improve your writing by visiting the Writing Lab!

Good writing is a skill that is learned (and requires lots of practice and feedback). Fortunately, the Political Science Writing Center is here to help! They offer a number of useful tip sheets (e.g. plagiarism; proper citation) at http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/forstudents.html.  In addition, you can schedule an appointment with one of the student advisors at https://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/ .  They get busy, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead!

Course Outline: Introduction to Campaign Management

**Please note the instructors reserve the right to update this syllabus during quarter**

This course includes Tuesday Lectures by the instructors, and guest speakers. The Thursday Sections will focus on the lessons of the “Taking Back Politics” textbook, supplemented with interactive exercises and discussions.

Week 1 (April 2 and 4)

LECTURE: The Evolution of 21st Century Political Campaigns, from independent  expenditures to the digital explosion. This session introduces you to each other, lets you meet your lecturers, provides an overview of how campaigns have evolved over the last 40 years, and previews the building blocks of current campaigns. We will be discussing how the changing nature of campaigns is already impacting the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign, and you will select a Presidential campaign to provide weekly updates on, and even offering advice on what your chosen campaign should do as the course unfolds.

ASSIGNMENT (for April 4 section): Select a presidential campaign to monitor throughout the course.

SECTION: Professional opportunities in political campaigns. There is a big difference between who would be better at serving in office and who is better on the campaign trail: they are two very distinct jobs, with different skill sets. That's why campaigns matter, and why politics has become very professionalized in recent decades, with various specialties within each campaign. What’s the market? The pay? These questions will be discussed, as will how you get started in a campaign, how to determine if your candidate has a chance to win, and the importance of getting the basic campaign plan down on paper, as we kick off our introduction of  the course’s main text – Taking Back Politics.

READINGS: Taking Back Politics, “Deciding to Run”, “Off and Running”, and “Campaign Plan”, and “The Message”.

Gary Jacobson (2015) How Do Campaigns Matter? Annual Review of Political Science


ASSIGNMENT (for April 11th section): Bring at least one ‘real life’ example from this week where you tried to persuade someone on any matter; and one example where someone successfully persuaded you that they were right. The examples can be about anything (not just politics)!

Week 2 (April 9 and 11)

LECTURE: Thinking Inside the Box – Getting your Message Box right. We will dive into campaign messaging, develop an introductory “message box” and discuss ways for staying in that box during a variety of campaign situations. A message box helps dictate a campaign plan – how do you consistently state your campaign’s best case for winning.

SECTION: Persuasion: the backbone of winning. What changes people’s minds?  What convinces someone that they need to go on the attack rather than defend their own position?  From influencing one elected official to an entire legislature, we explore the art and science of persuasion. Since great speeches have often moved a country, we’ll look at famous political speeches that demonstrate the principles of persuasion. We will then try to identify the rhetorical strategies used in these speeches, before we reveal the effect they had.

READINGS: Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, (William Morrow. 1934) pp.xi-xiv, 1-16, 114,166 - 207.; Taking Back Politics, “Campaign Team” and “Fundraising.”

ASSIGNMENT (for April 18 section): Identify a cause or candidate (no cause is too big or too small). Prepare a public “pitch” – no more than one-minute - on behalf of that entity for a donation. Determine your target individual/audience, and be prepared for what to say if they say they don’t want to give.

Week 3 (April 16 and 18)

LECTURE: Working the Grid – the “Leesburg Grid”.  Once your campaign has its messaging down, it’s crucial to remember that you are not competing against yourself. Developing a Leesburg Grid helps you put your messages into competition with what your opposition will say about your candidate, and what you say about them.

ASSIGNMENT: Mid-term, which is due April 30, is to create a Message Box for your chosen presidential campaign.

SECTION:  Show me the money! A key consideration for all campaigns: How will you get the funds you need to run the campaign you want? Message, target, timing, and endorsements: all are important, but if you do not have the money to let voters know you have them, you are going nowhere. Students will make their pitches to professional fundraisers and other students, learning how to refine the art of the ask.

READINGS: Taking Back Politics, “Speech and Image,” and “Endorsements”.

Yasmin Dawood (2015) Campaign Finance and American Democracy, Annual Review of Political Science


 Week 4 (April 23 and 25)

LECTURE: Projecting victory through Image, Voice and Messaging. Appearing self-confident (whether you feel that way or not) makes you more hirable (or even electable). Your image and voice can be pivotal. Are you able to project authority, authenticity, and likeability in the first 30 seconds that employers/voters see and hear you? Will others believe and invest in you? Several current and past political candidates demonstrate their self-confidence, commanding voice, and overall charm.

READINGS: Kathleen Hall Jamison, Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking, (Oxford, 1988), pp. 43-66); Give Your Elevator Speech A Lift, Lorraine Howell, (Book Publishers Network 2006), the entire 40-page book. 

SECTION: Practice! On camera! We’ll be recording introductions of who we are, focusing on showing our appeal to a prospective candidate.

Week 5 (April 30 and May 2)

LECTURE: Political Polling and Research. Polling can provide objective information about public opinion and knowledge that can be used to develop winning strategies. Polls can also be constructed just to help your candidate look good. We will learn how to develop – and even better, understand -- polls, and to examine the cross-tabs which provide real insight into reaching the voters needed to win.  

READINGS: “Polling Matters”, Frank Newport, Editor in Chief of the Gallup Report; Taking Back Politics: “Polling and Research”.

Adam Berinsky (2017), Measuring Public Opinion with Surveys, Annual Review of Political Science



SECTION: Two local political pollsters join us to discuss the merits of quantitative vs. qualitative research. They will then each conduct a  focus group with half the class. Your lecturers and the pollsters will discuss the conclusions they might take to a candidate based on the results, to help you gain a better understanding of how key messages can be tested even with an amateur audience.

ASSIGNMENT (for next Thursday section): Presidential campaign updates: Students will give two-minute presentations about the candidates they have been following over the past few weeks. What voter groups are they targeting? How are they doing differentiating themselves from other candidates? What would you advise them to do moving forward?

Week 6 (May 7 and 9)

LECTURE: Voter contact: Identity Politics, or Following My People. Which voters should you focus upon? Can you win by focusing primarily on selected special interest groups (such as women, young people, labor, and/or ethnic groups, others)? Who will vote for you without outreach efforts on your part, and who will you need to reach out to? How do you appeal to special interest voters without alienating ``regular’’ voters? 

SECTION: Reality check – is any presidential candidate breaking away? Students will make presentations on what groups/issues their chosen presidential candidates are focusing on for votes, and offer an assessment on how the campaign is doing in defining a path to victory.  

READINGS: Democratic Pollster Mark Mellman’s column from “The Hill”; 1/9/19 on Asymetrical Loyalties;

Shanto Iyengar, Yphtach Lelkes, Matthew Levendusky, Neil Malhotra, and Sean J. Westwood (2018) The Origins and Consequences of Affective Polarization in the United States, Annul Review of Political Science.


Week 7 (May 14 and 16)

LECTURE: Voter Contact: The Power of your Digital Presence. Digital communications are becoming increasingly important in campaigns. According to the PEW Research Center, 32% of 18-to-29 year olds get most of their political news from online and social media sources. Older voters are more likely to rely on other sources (for example, those in the 30-to-45 age bracket still get 2/3rds of their news from cable TV and newspapers). Campaigns are now spending 20% (or more) of their budgets on digital tactics, including candidate websites, YouTube videos, interactive programs, and email messaging. Students will hear from local digital experts on their evolving discipline, and see samples of current digital tactics.


When The Nerds Go Marching In, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/11/when-the-nerds-go-marching-in/265325/

Inside The Cave, Engage Research, power point deck, 92 slides

SECTION: The Field Game. From door-to-door to online strategies, the growing importance of the “new field” operations, and their growing personalization. Guests will include staff members from the state legislative caucuses, who will provide examples of the “extreme” field work they require of candidates who want their support.

READINGS : Taking Back Politics, “Field Operations”, “Volunteers”.

ASSIGNMENT (for May 21 lecture): Come to class with an example of a bad mistake or scandal from your own past, or something credible that you fear someone might say about your presidential candidate. A one paragraph description of the potential crisis is enough. They will be collected before class.

Week 8 (May 21 and 23)

LECTURE: What’s in your closet? Crisis Communications: From Social Media disinformation posts to online whispering campaigns, from media trolling to third party and PAC attacks, how do you cope and respond to negative hits that slam and slur your candidate – whether they are true or not? Responding to negative attacks: the art and science!

READINGS : Taking Back Politics: “Going Negative”, “Damage Control.”

ASSIGNMENT: Students will select one of these negative attacks provided by their fellow classmates – anonymously - and have a two-page crisis response memo due before the next lecture.

SECTION: I thought there were no rules in a knife fight. The myths and truths of the rules of campaigns. In the last decade, governments have passed many laws and regulations designed to make campaigns more transparent and fair. We’ll look at some examples (such as Democracy Vouchers in the City of Seattle). To what extent  have these reforms achieved their objectives?

READINGS: https://www.pdc.wa.gov/learn  (how campaign laws work in WA); https://www.atg.wa.gov/enforcement-campaign-finance-laws (examples of penalties!)

Week 9 (May 28 and 30)

LECTURE: Campaigns aren’t run in a vacuum: Engaging the opposition.  You can try to persuade voters to vote for you, or you can persuade them to vote against your opponent. Let’s talk about opposition research – how do you dig up the truth (or dirt) on your opponent? When is a negative campaign effective and when can it backfire? What types of negative information have the greatest impact on voters? How do you protect yourself from your opponent’s negative attacks?

READINGS: Taking Back Politics: “The Press”, “Paid Media”.

ASSIGNMENT: Written final, due June 6. Prepare a Leesburg Grid for your presidential candidate’s campaign. 20% of grade.

SECTION: The Negative Spot Hit Parade. Let’s look at some of the best negative ads of the past two decades and how they moved voters and made last minute heroes out of long shot challengers. What made the political hits so effective? Two City Council candidates who are running for office this fall will explain how negative attacks affected their political history, and how they will try to get back into politics despite their pasts.

READINGS -- Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, Going Negative: How Political Advertisements Shrink and Polarize the Electorate (Free Press, 1995) pp. 1-16

Richard Lau and Ivy Brown Rovner (2009), Negative Campaigning, Annual Review of Political Science


Week 10 (June 4 and 6)

LECTURE: The End Game: Why the last three weeks of a campaign are critical to success. Pushing to the finish can be the hardest part of a campaign. How do you manage the stress and uncertainty of the final days of a campaign?  How do you ensure that your voters will turn out? How will you protect your candidate against last-minute attacks? Have you reserved sufficient resources for a strong media presence leading up to the election?  

SECTION: Now what? Dealing with winning or losing. What do winning candidates need to know? And do? Can you concentrate on the office you just won, or do you keep the campaign going? Where’s the balance? On the other hand, how do you help a candidate who has worked for months (or years) and come up short? Is there any consolation prize? We’ll talk to a few former elected officials who have had both experiences.

FINAL (June 14): Presentation advising your candidate how to respond to an issue, selected by Cathy/Randy, from your Leesburg Grid turned in the previous week. Each student will have an assigned 5-minute time slot to make their pitch to the candidate. 20% of grade


Catalog Description: 
Examines a different subject or problem of current interest within the discipline.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm